I’ll never forget my first roller-coaster ride. Neither will my sister, Michele—my unfortunate companion.
Poor Michele. She, who even at ten years old loved roller-coasters, didn’t know that during our hour-long wait in line, my second thoughts were multiplying. This was my first roller-coaster, and I was beginning to think this wasn’t such a great idea. By the time we were being seated, I was truly afraid.
As we pulled the lapbar down from above, I remember saying, “Why am I doing this? I want to get off.” But it was too late; we were already chugging up that first incline for the first drop.
Emotions are a little like roller-coasters, aren’t they? Up and down and looping around. Even as you’re going up, you find your stomach bracing for the coming plunge. And that’s on the good days.
Then there are the really scary days when the coaster takes us upside down, and we feel like we’re turning inside out. Sometimes we get stuck spiraling through loops of anxiety, depression, anger, or other emotions from which we fear we’ll never escape.
Speaking of escape, that’s a lousy goal for emotional victory. To escape from emotion would be to escape from an element of God’s reflection in our nature. God created us with emotions, and they reflect Him. Anger at injustice, sorrow over loss—these are the marks of God on our souls. To escape from them would be to become less human, less in the image of God.
Emotional victory is not the same as emotional suppression. In other words, to experience victory in our emotions isn’t the same as experiencing no emotion.
Think of the godly people in the pages of Scripture who experienced strong emotions.
- Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet.” I’m guessing that’s because he cried. A lot. Privately and publically. (See Jeremiah 9:1.)
- Job experienced such depths of sorrow that the only words for it were an understatement: “his grief was very great” (Job 2:13).
- David “exceeded.” He lost emotional control as he said goodbye to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:41). On another occasion, he wept until he had no more strength to weep (1 Samuel 30:4).
- Jesus Himself expressed anger at injustice and sacrilege (John 2:13–16), sorrow for His friends (John 11:33–35), and anguish in the garden (Matthew 26:37–38).
Sometimes in our care to note that God cares more about our holiness than our happiness, we fail to see that He does care about our happiness. Hebrews 4 tells us that He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities and thus offers for us to come boldly into His presence to find help in every area of need.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.—Hebrews 4:15–16
So, if emotional victory is not the same as emotional suppression and if God cares about our emotional stability, what is it that we’re aiming for?
Emotional victory is when our emotions are controlled by the Holy Spirit.
- It’s not when we don’t cry; it’s when we choose hope in the Lord through our tears.
- It’s not when we don’t feel personal loss; it’s when we allow our loss to drive us to experience the sufficiency of Christ.
- It’s not when we feel no anger; it’s when we are freed from the wrath that seeks to protect self and our anger is directed at that which assaults the goodness or holiness of God.
- It’s not when we’ve forgotten what fear feels like; it’s when our hearts are at rest in the sovereignty of God.
But how do we get to this place? How do we bring unruly, rollercoaster-like emotions under the control of the Holy Spirit?
The simple answer is one word: truth. We don’t want to escape from our emotions, but we can use truth to escape from out of control emotions. To get off the roller-coaster.
God has not left us defenseless against the onslaught of overwhelming emotions. He’s given us the weapon of His truth. How do we wield it?
(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;—2 Corinthians 10:4–5
1. Recognize that Your Mind Is the Battlefield
Feelings are attached to thoughts. What are the thoughts specific to your emotional struggle?
- I’m a failure.
- I’ll never be good enough.
- I can’t stand her.
- I can’t control how I feel.
- My situation is hopeless.
- It will never get better.
What makes untrue thoughts so dangerous is that they are “against the knowledge of God.” They aren’t consistent with the truth of who God is.
To say, “I’ll never be good enough” is to deny the sufficiency of “Christ in me.” To say, “I can’t control how I feel” is to deny the power of the Holy Spirit and His willingness to help me. To say, “My situation is hopeless” is to deny the care of Christ and His promises to stand by me.
But we will never be able to cast down these imaginations if we don’t first identify them.
So, what are the thoughts stuck on repeat in your mind?
Single them out.
They are waging war against your soul.
2. Realize that without God’s Word, There Is No Ammunition
Emotional battles aren’t won by mental debate. They aren’t won by me trying to convince myself to feel differently with a pep talk. If we treat them that way, we lose every time.
This is why 2 Corinthians 10:4 tells us that our weapons aren’t carnal—fleshly, empty, or based on human reasoning—but mighty through God. The weapons God has given us to fight the thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God are powerful.
Think, strength of the Lord powerful. Think, sword of the Spirit powerful: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6: 10, 17).
Picture yourself standing empty handed on a first-century battlefield with an army of negative thoughts and their corresponding out of control emotions coming at you. This is the way we feel on those days we’re experiencing emotional defeat—defenseless and helpless.
Now picture yourself clothed in impenetrable armor wielding a sword with supernatural power. This is the power of God’s Word.
3. Use the Sword
Remember those thoughts—the ones attached to your feelings—you identified a minute ago? Thoughts and emotions that cripple us are brought into captivity through the power of God’s Word.
Knowing the truth isn’t enough; you must use it. This is why 2 Corinthians 10:5 instructs, “brining into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
Wars are not won without weapons, and you will not win your emotional battles without the Sword of the Spirit.
Use the Sword.
Release from the Ride
If it sounds like the path to emotional victory can be reduced to “three easy steps and you’re good,” that’s not correct.
Everything noted here is important—identifying your thoughts, recognizing the power of God’s Word to confront them, and using God’s Word to speak truth to yourself.
But ultimately, the Sword of the Spirit is the Sword of the Spirit. And our weapons that are mighty through God are mighty through God.
This isn’t a game. It’s not a memory club where we learn the right verses and know when to recite the right truths. It is allowing God Himself to use His Word in our hearts and trusting that as we resist the enemy with His truth, He will use it.
Sometimes that’s a process—pouring out our hearts to God and claiming His promises and crying out for His help. Sometimes it’s a willingness to wait on the Lord while being of good courage. But always, it is a dependence on the Holy Spirit.
That is when the weapons of our warfare are mighty. Mighty enough to release us from the roller-coaster.