Thoughts & Feelings: A Christian Perspective

Why we Grossly Exaggerate the Importance of Thoughts & Feelings

Christian Help

scrupulosity

By Grantley Morris

Some of this page in German


It not only breaks my heart, it surely breaks God’s heart, to see people needlessly tormented by a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of feelings in the Christian life. They mistakenly imagine that feelings matter to God, when the truth rests in the opposite direction. In fact, it is not God but the devil (the deceiver), who wants us to examine our feelings and be guided by them. Whenever we feel guilty or hard-hearted it is almost always the devil hoping to fool us into focusing on ourselves so that we needlessly worry and take our eyes off our Savior.

To worry about being hard-hearted, for example, is as ridiculous as worrying about not worrying enough. If you are worrying about this, it proves not that you are worrying too little but too much. To worry about feeling hard-hearted means you have become so addicted to worry that the moment you stop worrying, you start worrying about not worrying.

If, like most people, who think love, joy and peace are feelings, it is because you have missed the Bible’s meaning of those words. It shows that what you mean by those words is not what God means but what worldly people mean when they use these words.

Over and over the Bible commands us to love, rejoice and “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18), “Make every effort to live in peace with all men . . .” (Hebrews 12:14) and so on. To command anyone to feel something is ridiculous. People can only obey commands to do things, not to feel things. Feelings are involuntary and they are natural, not spiritual.

It is easiest to see the stark difference between the worldly definition and God’s definition of these words by looking at what romantic novels mean by love and comparing it with what Jesus meant when he told us to love our enemies. The Bible defines love not by what one feels but by what one does: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” (Luke 6:27-28,35). Again, when Jesus was asked to explain what it means to love one’s neighbor he gave the parable of the good Samaritan in which love is not about feelings but about looking after a wounded traveler (Luke 10:27-37). James 2:16 demonstrates how useless and unimportant feelings are when it says, “If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

Likewise, joy and peace are about what one chooses to do and believe, regardless of what one feels.

God’s Word places love, joy and peace with the fruit of the Spirit:

    Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. . . .

This proves that when God speaks of love, joy and peace, he is referring to spiritual qualities, not fleshly/carnal emotions. They come from the heart of God, not from the human heart. All of the fruit of the Spirit are virtues, not feelings. This applies as much to the first three as to any of the others. Just as patience and self-control (also fruit of the Spirit) are displayed when one feels explosive anger but refuses to be dominated by that feeling and instead controls it, so love, joy and peace are not feelings but are manifested when one rises above feelings to choose to act virtuously.


It is also a common mistake to think one should use feelings as an indicator of divine leading. To slightly adapt what I have written elsewhere:

    The enemy of our souls is the master deceiver because that is all he can do. The devil cannot change reality. He cannot change the fact that God loves you with all of his unlimited love and that Christ died for the sins of the entire world, which has to include every sin you have ever committed. So all he can do is mess with your feelings, hoping that you will start to believe them rather than believe in the cleansing and forgiving power of Christ and the love of God.

    Even if you feel you are beyond God’s forgiveness, that feeling is a lie from hell as serious as claiming that Christ did not die for the sins of the world.

    Until you realize that false feelings will continue no matter how devoted you are to Christ, you’ll be so vulnerable to false feelings that the tempter will keep piling them on more than ever. None of us ever gets to the point where we are no longer tempted. Unwanted thoughts and feelings would only slightly taper off if the tempter has tried so often without it ruffling your feathers that he begins to believe that such an attack will never succeed with you and it is a complete waste of his time to keep playing with your feelings. If in the past he has had a lot of success out of confusing you with false feelings, however, it will take a long while before he is convinced that this approach will no longer fool you.

    We cannot stop powerful feelings that are contrary to God’s truth – even Jesus was tempted – but we can repent of caving into the temptation to accept those feelings as truth. We should repent of being so carnal as to think that a mere feeling, rather than God’s Word, indicates spiritual truth. From now on, we should steadfastly refuse to believe that any feeling, no matter how strong, persistent and convincing, is a more reliable source of truth than the Bible.

Another big mistake people make is to assign magical powers to thoughts. All sorts of weird thoughts flit through the human brain. They are just part of being human and often they are temptation, but what matters is not whether bad thoughts come but whether we act on them or go out of our way to cultivate them. Even if we were to act on bad thoughts, however, Jesus is eager to forgive us. He died precisely so that we could be forgiven of all sin.

It is sheer superstition to think that our thoughts affect other people or that unwanted thoughts affect our relationship with God. An anxiety disorder is the most common reason for people falling into such superstitious fear. Anxiety keeps nagging away at us, causing us to worry about things that feel so real and yet are actually of no concern. It is not unusual for people to suffer from anxiety disorders without realizing it. You need to read other pages on this website (such as Forever Lost Your Salvation? Spiritual Fear & Worry Examined and When I Feel Guilty or Beyond Forgiveness) to understand the weird things that anxiety disorders produce.

Are Feelings As Important as we Suppose?

feelings

Feelings versus Reality

In many Christian circles today there is an undue emphasis on feelings. Some people understand the limits of such expressions. Others, however, end up confused and bewildered by the emphasis. Even more distressing, are those with the highest intentions for whom looking to feelings unknowingly degenerates into what could actually be called superstition.

Every day, I hear from casualities of this spiritually unhealthy practice. From all over the world, distressed people keep writing to me, needlessly worried about their relationship with God. Not surprisingly, their e-mails are filled with the word feel. They can barely say anything about their relationship with God without using the word every few sentences. Their own words highlight the heart of their problem.

Spiritual things are not physical, but neither are they emotional. We all understand the first part of that truth, but many of us are highly confused about the second. We know how ridiculous it would be to try using a ruler to measure spiritual growth, or a heart monitor to detect spiritual activity. Using feelings as a spiritual indicator is equally inappropriate. In fact, exalting feelings to that position is downright dangerous. It is as ungodly as using tarot cards, or some other occult practice, for spiritual guidance. Why? Because we are called to live by faith, not by feelings or circumstances.

God and his Word never change. Feelings, on the other hand, are as fickle as the wind.

Imagine being hoodwinked into believing if the wind blows from the east, God loves you; if it blows from the west, God is furious with you; if it blows from the north, you are eternally damned. That would be both terrifying and insulting to God. What is just as terrifying and insulting to God, however, is being conned into believing our feelings indicate God’s attitude toward us. It is a nightmarish, spiritually dangerous superstition that is nonsensical to the spiritually mature but grips some people so powerfully that they actually believe it.

To treat the wind as an indicator of our relationship with God would be to dethrone God in our lives and deify the weather. Expecting our feelings to reveal how God sees us, however, is just as mistaken. To be freed from this bondage is to be free indeed.

The enemy of our souls – the deceiver – cannot mess with God’s truth, but he readily messes with our feelings. God allows it, because he expects us to live by faith. Feelings toss us around like a boat in a storm, but faith keeps us anchored to God, preventing us from drifting onto rocks.

chilled out cat

Forget about feeling God’s presence, or feeling peace, or feeling forgiven, or feeling loved, or feeling anything else. Let go of all of that. It has nothing to do with spiritual reality. Instead, honor God by resting in the certainty that no matter how you feel – numb, scared, confused, in physical or emotional pain, or whatever – God is with you. Emotions may rage within, keeping you from feeling peace. Nevertheless, you have peace with God. You are no longer God’s enemy, but his friend, because of the spiritual miracle Christ worked by his death and resurrection. That means that no matter how bizarre, or even terrifying, your circumstances, God is with you, and he is all you need. Regardless of how much everything within and without screams the opposite, God remains warm, good, patient, kind, gentle, loving, understanding, compassionate and generous.

Our emotions and sensibilities are as changeable as the weather, but God remains steadfast and faithful. No matter what the weather is outside, the God who has made your body his home (Scriptures) remains in you, in all his power and wonder. On cold, dreary days, the God enthroned in you is just as warm, powerful, loving, and delightful, as on exquisite, sunny days.

The Christian life is not about feeling, nor about doing, but about being.

various feelings

Surprising Reasons for Feelings Going Berserk

Through absolutely no fault of their own, even spiritual giants can be hurled into bewilderingly deep and prolonged anxiety or depression. Moreover, either of these conditions not only send one’s feelings haywire, many experiencing it have not the slightest clue as to what is happening to them. In fact, it is not uncommon to even not realize one has anxiety or depression. The afflicted, of course, are acutely aware of bizarre or disturbing thoughts and emotions but often have no clue of the cause. This makes it disturbingly easy for spiritual people to leap to the wrong presumption that what is happening to them must be spiritual in origin.

In the general community, there is so much ignorance about depression and anxiety that appallingly many people not only make fools of themselves, but grieve God, by stupidly blaming the victims, even though they typically battle the onslaught with such intensity and heroism that all of heaven wants to cheer their efforts. Self-appointed experts shoot off two-bit advice with the arrogance of an ignoramuses thinking they can dismantle a nuclear warhead.

    Sidenote: We often unknowingly blunder into situations that are more critical, delicate and complex than we ever imagine. At such times, the desperate need is to be graced with enormous helpings of humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, compassion and self-control, beyond anything we have ever before known. Blurting out the first thing that enters less than God-sized minds is as safe as firing a shotgun into a crowd in the hope of killing a fly that might possibly be what is bothering someone.

feelings

Anxiety and depression are so closely related that professionals often prescribe the same treatment for them. It is not unusual, in fact, to be assaulted by both maladies at the same time.

Let’s look briefly at these two conditions, just to highlight how divorced from spiritual factors both they, and the unexpected feelings they generate, are.

Tragedies such as child abuse, trauma, betrayal, abandonment, death of a loved one, and so on, can not only send one reeling at the time but, unless fully resolved instead of shoved into the back of the don’t-go-there closet, they can leave a person with emotions that for decades are out of sync with current reality.

In addition to a wide range of experiences, any of which can play havoc with a normal emotional response, there are also a wide range of imbalances in our body chemistry, any of which can likewise mess with our feelings. Our bodies are so finely tuned that a little too much or too little of just one aspect of our body chemistry can do it. Hormones (serotonin is just one) and even a vitamin or mineral deficiency can hurl a person into long term depression or anxiety that stubbornly resists concerted efforts to heave oneself out of. Even an iron deficiency can mysteriously plunge a person into bewildering, on-going anxiety. Imagine thinking oneself a spiritual failure because of a vitamin or mineral deficiency! It happens.

When we fail to grasp the difference between the emotional and the spiritual, or between current circumstances and eternity, it is inevitable that we – ably supported by Satan – will squander too much of our lives needlessly beating ourselves up.

No matter how cleansed of sin a person is in the eyes of the Holy Lord, anxiety can feel indistinguishable from a nagging, or even torturously guilty, conscience.

Anxiety is so unsettling that it floods many others with overwhelming doubts, no matter how Spirit-filled and faith-filled, they might be.

Courage does not mean lacking fear, but forcing oneself onward, despite it. Actually, courage cannot even exist where there is no fear. Without fear, it might be ignorance, foolhardiness, or simply the luck of having lived a sheltered life, but it is not courage. Likewise, faith is not the absence of doubt, but forcing oneself onward, despite it.

Anxiety also robs its victims of a feeling that people typically mistake for peace, even if the person is exceptionally godly and spiritually powerful. For any who come to Christ, all enmity with the Holy Lord is removed. They have the most precious thing in the universe: peace with God. Yet, despite being totally at peace with God, any Christian plagued with this medical condition feels no peace. For them, spiritual peace is choosing to believe God is in control, despite every inner alarm blaring.

As we can guess from what we have seen, spiritual joy is not the absence of sorrow, or absence of problems, nor is it being in physical or emotional peak health. It is about wrenching your eyes upward, despite all that hell throws at you. Paul described himself and his world-changing, Spirit-filled companions, as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Clinical depression not only makes those it afflicts feel joyless, it makes them feel emotionally numb. People who confuse the emotional with the spiritual, however, are likely to mistake this for a spiritual problem. Emotional deadness has absolutely nothing to do with spiritual deadness, and it being hard to feel, has nothing to do with hardness of heart.

different emotions

Regardless of the precise reason for feelings going haywire, however, the end result is a priceless opportunity for vital spiritual growth, by learning to live by faith, not feelings. What makes this so precious is that we might acquaint ourselves with various spiritual principles by reading or pew-warming but only through such challenging opportunities can we actually build these principles into our lives so they become life-changing and eternally rewarding.

It is not God’s way to cause babies to instantly become competent adults. Neither is it his way to zap us into spiritual maturity in an instant. Just as one cannot become a concert pianist overnight, it invariably takes year upon year of painstaking practice to become proficient at living by faith, instead of being thrown by feelings. It is not loud-mouthed spectators or well-read academics who, in heaven’s eyes are the spiritual elite, but those who keep slogging it out in the daily grind of oppressive circumstances. Earth might not recognize these achievers – and they themselves might think they are failures – but heaven will honor them for all eternity.

Peter was walking on the water, and doing fine – until distracted by the wind and waves. That’s like us in our walk with God. Emotions and circumstances are superficial. The substance is Christ. Even if, like Peter, you momentarily forget Jesus and begin to sink, your Lord is still there to grab you and keep you safe (Matthew 14:29-31). Keep your eyes on him, however, and astonishing things can happen.

Because you are human, you have feelings. At the same time, because you are a child of God, you are greater than your feelings. Just as our physical bodies are part of God’s creation, so are emotions. It is wrong to despise either of them, but that does not mean they always function perfectly, nor that we can rely on either of them for spiritual guidance. Since “. . . the things of God’s Spirit . . . are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, emphasis mine) do not expect them to be emotionally discerned. Times when we cannot sense God with our emotions should surprise us no more than when we cannot detect him with our physical senses.

Having feelings is fine; being bullied by them is not. Your feelings do not define you, nor limit you. Just as money is not spiritual currency, neither are feelings. Feelings are a part of your earthly existence, but when it comes to spiritual discernment, keep devaluing them until they mean nothing to you. Don’t fear or run from unpleasant feelings, nor become enslaved to nice ones. Neither try to eradicate feeling. Simply dethrone them. Let God, not feelings, be your God. This has nothing to do with escapism, and everything to do with embracing spiritual reality.

Just as faith takes you way beyond what you see, it soars way beyond what you feel. To live by faith is to be freed from earthly restraints. It takes you into spiritual reality; an entirely different dimension that is not limited by what you see or feel.

Feelings are simply feelings.
They don’t have to believed,
obeyed, or even noticed.

                              – Grantley Morris

When Feelings Let Us Down

Every one of Jesus’ disciples – all those faithful followers, who meant so much to him – deserted him when he most needed their comfort and support. Was he shocked? He expected it (Mark 14:27). He even expected one of them to betray him; turning him over to his enemies. Likewise, you can expect to be deserted and even betrayed by your feelings when you seem to most need them. Nevertheless, as your Leader remained steadfastly faithful to God despite all the abandonment, loneliness and anguish, so can you. In fact, it was not when Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:2-3), nor when multiplied thousands were flocking to hear his every word, but during this devastating time of apparent failure that he most glorified God. Likewise you, his follower, can glorify God the most when every warm fuzzy, and every hint that God is with you, flees.

God and feelings are opposites. God is rock solid; feelings are fickle. God is eternal; feelings are fleeting.

To expect feelings to consistently line up with spiritual reality is demanding far too much from them. You might as well expect them to tell you the winning lottery number. To backslide from living by faith that the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin, to looking to feelings to confirm God accepts you, is to gamble away your eternity.

Jesus said that doing his father’s will was his food (John 4:34). He hungered for it. It sustained, strengthened and satisfied him. In what Hebrews 10:7 cites as a Messianic prophecy, Psalm 40:8 says Christ delights to do God’s will. It could not, however, have felt less like that on that bleak night in the garden when sweat poured from him as he agonized over doing God’s will. For our holy Lord, there was not tripping on some spiritual high when things grew grim. By steadfastly resisting his feelings when they screamed the opposite of what he knew he should believe, he was showing us what living by faith really looks like. It was his glory. Likewise, you pressing on when your feelings scream the opposite of what God declares to be true, is your glory.

worried

No one’s feelings are divine. They originate not from the spiritual, God-sensitive side of us but from a part of us that, like our physical bodies, we inherited via our fallen ancestors. The emotional side of us reflects hints of our Creator’s genius but is flawed because of the fall. Its imperfections will remain with us for as long – but only for as long – as our mortal bodies.

Try not to interact with your feelings and unwanted thoughts. Disconnect yourself from them, so that you neither act on them, nor believe them. Merely observe them like you would a stranger. As you do, note how they are just thoughts and feelings. They wash over you but they are not divine. They are neither all-powerful, nor infallible. They are not to be feared, nor trusted. Your Lord is far more powerful than any feeling that hits you. And his is love. His perfect love cancels any need for fear. Fears will come but only as deceptive feelings, not as any reason for concern.

happy

Imprisoned

Imagine languishing in solitary confinement, in an appalling prison, decade after decade until you finally die. That’s what missionary Andrew Brunson was facing. If anyone needed the encouragement and comfort of God’s presence, it was him, and yet in his entire two years of incarceration, he felt no such thing.

Turkey is a strongly anti-Christian country that makes it very hard for the few followers of Jesus living there. Brunson labored there as a missionary for twenty years. It was quite eventful. He was even shot at once. Then he was suddenly arrested and accused of the most ludicrous, but terrifyingly serious crimes. He was kept in solitary confinement for fifty days then, for the rest of his time, forced into an oppressively crammed cell, filled with devout Muslims and not one Christian.

For years previously, Brunson had not only been devoted to God, he had specifically sought out God’s presence and experiences with God. Now he could draw upon all that time he had devoted to God, right? It never happened.

His predicament hit the media around the world. He became a pawn in a serious international battle between Turkey and the U.S.A. Numerous times, President Trump was personally involved in trying to negotiate his release. People were praying for him like perhaps – given current world population – no missionary has ever been prayed for before. He felt all those prayers, right? Not in the slightest.

It broke him. He had expected that when the chips were down, God would turn up, filling him with strength, joy and grace. Instead, he lost fifty pounds, and fell into such deep despair that he wanted to die. Of course, after a few months, he began to feel God’s presence, right? Not for his over two years of imprisonment, despite it seeming he needed those feelings more than at any time in his life.

Brunson was experiencing such a common human reaction that I would call it normal for anyone suffering such intense pressure. The only thing a little uncommon is his honesty in admitting to the world how much it affected him spiritually.

He was caught in a vicious circle. Understandably, many aspects of his incarceration induced depression. Depression inevitably dampens one’s ability to have any positive feelings, including feeling God’s presence, or his love, or his approval. A serious deprivation of positive feelings feels deceptively like being abandoned by God. This, in turn, completed the loop by increasing his depression.

Brunson ended up taking antidepressants in prison. This was both an intelligent and spiritual move. In fact, it was a faith statement. It was acknowledging that the problem was merely depression; not that God had actually left or failed him.

Only at times was he able to access a Bible and, he honestly confesses, often it did not help him. One Scripture that struck him, however, was Isaiah 50:10 “. . . He who walks in darkness and has no light, let him trust in the Lord’s name, and rely on his God.” That might not have been what Brunson wanted to hear, but it certainly matched his unchanging experience. The obvious solution for anyone languishing in darkness would be to be granted light. Instead, the divine survival strategy seeded in this verse is to keep relentlessly trusting, despite the continual darkness. Unwelcome advice, perhaps, but it was what he needed.

Devastatingly convincing feelings screamed unceasingly that he was spiritually dead and abandoned. To keep believing those mind-numbing feelings, however, would be spiritual suicide. No matter how often overwhelmingly powerful emotions floored him, he had to get up again.

Like never before, he had to learn how to ignore feelings, and hold on by sheer faith. It was a humungous struggle, day after day after day and day. It would take him almost the entire day to heave his spirits up a little, only for each morning his spirits to slump back to rock bottom, and he would have to be begin all over, agonizingly trying to lump up his spirits up again, just a little.

In a determined effort to be ruled by his will, and not by his emotions, he decided to dance before the Lord. He was hopeless at dancing, but that was as irrelevant to spiritual truth as his emotions. Joy had deserted him, and would persist in doing so, but he still had two legs. By sheer willpower, he made dancing a part of his daily routine.

Brunson kept visualizing all his doubts locked away in a box, where he could no longer examine them. No matter how insistently doubts nagged, he refused to unlock the imaginary box, and peek inside. Momentary lapses were inevitable, especially at first, but whenever he found himself beginning to revisit doubt, he would reinforce that image of a locked box; reminding himself that every doubt was now entirely off-limits. Like almost all of life, what matters is not how often he slipped up, but whether he kept trying.

Eventually, through this process of closing his mind to feelings and the impossibility of his situation, and stubbornly clinging to nothing but faith, when even that felt useless, he began to rebuild. In fact, by the end of over two years (and right up until then, it looked as if he could be there for life) he says he was stronger than when he had begun his prison time.

Like him, keep it up for long enough, and progress is inevitable.

Brunson’s spiritual survival hinged on him learning to wean himself off any dependence on feelings. So might yours. It might be agonizing, but it is of immense importance.

~ ~

In the next page, we will add to what we are discovering about feelings, to include what, for brevity, I call signs. By that, I mean hoping for other confirmation of God’s acceptance beyond faith or even feelings. You might not go to the extreme of demanding from God worldly success, a new car, or a fairytale marriage to prove God accepts you. More likely, you are hoping for the Bible to open at a meaningful verse, a miraculous deliverance from a besetting sin, answered prayer, a personal prophecy, a supernatural vision, or some such thing, to confirm that God is with you.

Feelings might be flimsy – as vague and fleeting as vapors – but what I call signs are tangible proof of divine approval. Can they provide the assurance we crave? Gaining a correct understanding of this is critical to our spiritual well-being. That makes this next page of extreme importance:

Next: Signs of God’s Approval

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2020 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.

Vital Help

I suggest you follow the above link but if you want a change of pace, the following is here for you.

Urgent Questions?

The Beginning The only way to not miss any of this feast of uplifting webpages about false guilt is to start at Feeling Condemned? There’s Hope! and follow each link. You won’t regret it!

Feeling Rejected by God An important part of this series of webpages

Unforgivable? The part of the series that deals with the unforgivable sin

Testimonies They thought they were unforgivable

Scriptures Some of the vast number of Scriptures proving that you can be forgiven

Does God Love Me? God’s Love for You Revealed A separate, very important series

Demons The beginning of a series of webpages

Dealing with Depression and Discouragement

God & Suffering Coping with fears that God might be harsh and unloving

Becoming a Winner Breaking addictions and besetting sins

Encouragement When You Feel Defeated

Index to Entire Site A treasure trove of stimulating, compassionate, often humorous, webpages for Christians by the same author on a vast number of topics. This website is enormous!

[Much More!] [Daily Quotes] [My Shame]