Biblically defined, feelings are a part of our “soul” (mind, will and emotions), and our soul is that part of us that we have a degree of control over, i.e. being free persons who have the right to choose. Someone once defined emotions to me this way: “Emotions (feelings) are just feelings, they are neither right nor wrong; they just are.” Based on this definition, it sounds like feelings are random and can’t be changed. Which by itself has elements of truth; however, in Christ we can ex-change them—trade them for His feelings. This is one of those choice decisions that require a laying down of self and choosing the right emotion rather than just the random emotion that sometimes overtakes and overwhelms all of our senses, causing us to behave in an out-of-control manner.
Making the Choice to Change Feelings
Making this choice is simple in theory, but feels impossible in a real-life situation. The simplicity is that by taking about 15 seconds before responding emotionally, and breathing out a short prayer to Jesus, “I am feeling such and such and it is about to take over all of my rational thought—can I quickly exchange these feelings for Your thoughts and feelings and reactions about this situation?” we are choosing His reactions, His thoughts, His feelings, His opinions over our “soulish” reactions, thoughts, feelings, opinions, and then responding as though He were responding instead of us. Doing this requires effort—it is an act of the will and it is based on a belief system that we have a God who really wants to do this—we aren’t twisting His arm—this is what Jesus modeled (i.e. taking a moment to stop the tide of emotional upheaval in the crowd, and writing on the ground).
Changing the Way We Feel Begins With Changing the Way we Think
Changing the way we feel begins with changing the way we think. God isn’t trying to destroy our “will;” rather He wants us to exercise our will to make His decisions and choices for our lives. “Changing the way we think will lead to a change in the way we feel. That is the essence of the ‘renewed’ mind of Romans 12:2. As long as we keep thinking the same old thoughts, we’ll keep feeling the same old feelings” (Beth Moore, The Patriarch’s, p. 110).
Changed Thoughts=Changed Feelings=Changed Behaviors
In the sanctifying process, we are in a constant process of unlearning old behaviors and thought processes and letting Jesus teach us how He did His faith: bringing every thought captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Making the choice to bring the mind, will and emotions, (the soul), under the control and authority of the Holy Spirit, (the Spirit) is a day-by-day, moment by moment choice; definitely not something learned overnight; it is a life-time process. Which means that all of us—all of us!—are in varying stages of that process. Let’s give each other a break can we? We’re all in this process. We let fly with an emotional tirade against someone, completely ignoring the whole “taking the thoughts captive” stuff and then we criticize someone else for doing the same thing to us?
I still mess this thing up; in fact I messed it up big time recently, reacting to a situation in my soulish emotions. I knew how to stop it—I had the tools right there, but I actually consciously chose to go with my gut feeling. While I could have chosen to take a minute and get Jesus’ response, I wanted to act according to what I was feeling. I did not want to choose. I wanted to respond and I did. Later I saw why Jesus had allowed that situation to surface and how He had the response ready for me to exercise it, and how He wanted to show Himself to that person. Instead they saw me. I wanted them to see condemnation, punishment, judgment. Jesus wanted them to see Him, the righteous Judge.
My response after the fact was not guilt or self-chastising or even condemnation; it was remorse and repentance for an opportunity lost. What I felt after the fact was repentance and a hurt heart for the person who needed to see Jesus, but even deeper than this was the hurt because I knew the right response and chose my own. I can thank Him now that even this is under His blood and He can redeem something out of it and will redeem something out of it. But the reminder is there, stronger than before—take that 15 seconds and listen to Him! It doesn’t cost anything (except pride)! Stop, ask Him for a 15 second exchange—He will do it; He wants to do it! It is Christ working in me to will and to do of His good pleasure. This is His good pleasure! And I want what He wants more than anything else in this life, so He will give me other opportunities and I pray constantly that I will get it!