What do you do when stuff happens? Do you get stressed or depressed? Do your emotions take over? How hard is it to get free of the negative ones? What is your strategy for mastering your emotions and returning to the river of peace Jesus provides?
Many Christians are held captive by their emotional life. If this is you, there is hope, but you will have to learn how to fight for your freedom. Be forewarned, I don’t mean fighting to make events and other people go the way your emotions would prefer. That kind of quest for control is doomed from the start. There is nothing Christian about it.
People will be people no matter how hard you try to please them or pressure them to “behave” in ways that give you peace. Neither can you keep unwanted events from showing up. In a world filled with problems and problem people, we need effective strategies for gaining and maintaining our freedom. Since we can’t “fix” what’s outside of us, why not work on what’s inside?
The number one rule of the spiritual life, in terms of our inner state, is that the real problem is not what happens, but how we respond to what happens. Will we look to find a way to respond as Jesus would want us to, even in the midst of things the enemy launches against us or our loved ones? If so, we will have peace. Or will we react based on emotions pre-programmed into us by the world, the flesh and the devil? In that case there will be no peace.
The truth is that you are in a fight whether you want it or not. Everything and everyone you care about—including your peace of mind—is under attack by a relentless enemy. What are you going to do? Rather than be crushed by the realization that you have to face opposition, you can learn to fight back!
The focus for this battle is our emotional state, because it holds the key to all the other victories needed in the spiritual life. Jesus told us to seek the kingdom of God first. Through Paul we know that the kingdom is readily identified by “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Who doesn’t want peace and joy? Yet, even though the Holy Spirit is always in our hearts, the peace and joy often go missing. We would do well to heed Solomon’s warning:
Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 MKJV
Under the incredibly generous terms of the New Covenant, our inner state is meant to be characterized at all times and in all situations by freedom, peace, bright hope and confidence in God. This is our birth right. This is our inheritance in Christ. This is what Jesus died to give us. Anything less than this is an oppressive invasion by the enemy into our interior space!
Jesus desires to “dwell” in our hearts at all times—not be shoved to the side. The sign that He is being properly attended to by us is His peace. Naturally, the enemy is going to try to steal the peace of Christ from you—using you to do it.
No amount of saber-rattling is going to win this battle for you. It takes learning how to guard our hearts God’s way, and doing it with “all diligence.” Oh, but it is worth it to float through the day in that river of peace!
When events go against us, when people are unkind, when our hopes or plans are dashed, an array of negative emotion assails us, seeking to become a stronghold, robbing us of the peace of Christ.
Many Christians often lose their peace connection, yet still stay within the moral boundaries. This lack of peace, however, slowly turns their life into a barren wilderness with no life-giving river flowing through their heart, leading them out into each new day. The springs of life are blocked.
There are others, however, such as the men I work with at the Mission, who not only lost the peace regularly, they overran the moral boundaries and fell even further—into life-wrecking addictions. This is almost an advantage for them now, because it will make warriors out of them, if they seize the opportunity. Unlike “normal” believers, they can’t afford to lose the peace of Christ and not deal with it. They have to learn how to quickly recover an empowered emotional state when they lose it.
Whatever your situation is, I hope you will use this article to better equip yourself for the battle we all face if we want to live in the river of peace.
The peace of Christ, bright hope and confidence in God form an empowered interior state. With it filling our heart, we are energized for facing the many challenges of life. Without it, we are already suffering defeat before we head out the door. Your interior state is well worth fighting for!
Father God delights in giving us victories, but just like the ancient Israelites, we have to fight for the “land” that is promised to us. Our land—our inheritance—is the kingdom of God as Paul described it, a kingdom that lies within our hearts. To live with an empowered emotional state, we have to be willing and able to go into our hearts and do battle there.
The chief task of the [spiritual] athlete is to enter into his heart.
Macarius the Great, Desert Father (300-391 AD)
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “Where there is fruit, there’s a root”? Past emotional brokenness (the root) always means messed up emotional reactions in the present (the fruit). Because we didn’t learn how to restore our heart to the peace of Christ over issues in the past, we are ill-equipped to deal with similar emotional turmoil in the present. We won’t make satisfying progress unless we deal with both sides of this equation.
That’s why, if we are ever to live in the river of peace on a regular basis, we will have to learn two highly effective strategies for mastering our emotions: one for the present and one for the past. We need to learn God’s ways for recovering from past brokenness and gaining true mastery over present emotional reactions.
I call these two strategies “Basic Discipleship” and “Inner Healing.” Basic Discipleship enables us to survive emotional reactions in the present, restoring us to Jesus’ peace. Inner Healing enables us to gain victories over emotional brokenness from the past. The first helps us to survive; the second enables us to thrive!
These two strategies are what the Lord began teaching me many years ago as He led me out my own emotional ruin left in the wake of a dozen horrific years of occult oppression (see Rescued from Hell at Amazon). My new birth was a marvel of deliverance, but it soon became clear that it was one thing for the Lord to save me from my sins; it was wholly another to free me from my emotional brokenness.
By turning to Basic Discipleship whenever my emotions went haywire, the Lord kept me growing steadily towards my destined purpose while keeping me well within the moral boundaries—stumbling at times, but not falling away. Then, as Inner Healing mended the deeply broken places in my heart, He greatly enlarged the flow of His peace and joy within me. I could not have made it without either one.
Every Christian needs these two strategies at some level. Sadly, only those who know that they have been losing a battle for their inner state, will go to the trouble to gain the equipping that is needed. Is this you? Are you yearning for the peace of Christ to be more than sprinkles and puddles? Do you want to be carried each day in that river of peace Jesus said would flow from the heart of His believing people?
Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” John 7:37-38 ESV
Mastering Basic Discipleship
The first thing we need to master is Basic Discipleship. Without it each new “emotional ambush” will rob us of peace and carry us off course. This is the lifeline that connects us to the Lord in the present moment. It has three main components: 1) trust and obey, 2) cling and call, and 3) contain and carry. I know that sounds like a lot, but riding a bicycle, driving a car and using a computer were also intimidating the first time out.
1) Trust and Obey
Jesus is our Leader. He approaches us each day just as He did the early disciples. He didn’t recruit them by saying, “Believe in Me and I will get you to heaven.” What He actually said was “Follow Me!” The elementary choice for every believer every day is “Am I going to lead myself, or follow Jesus?” That’s why “trust and obey” has to be learned and practiced first. Otherwise, we are putting ourselves first and that is definitely out of order.
Whenever we choose to trust the Lord with what He allows and follow Him in what He asks of us, we are set free to start the day’s journey at His side, enjoying the river of peace and doing “the next right thing” as His Spirit leads the way. Now, you don’t really expect the enemy to sit on his hands while all this is going on, do you? Of course not! Something always happens to disrupt the flow of peace. What is your strategy for those times?
2) Cling and Call
Have you noticed that losing the peace of Christ and being filled with negative emotions go hand in hand? This dynamic presents us with a choice: life or death. Unchecked by us, these negative emotions will certainly carry us into attitudes we deplore or actions we would otherwise wish to avoid. Instead, we can fight back by clinging to Jesus and calling on His Name.
I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life… and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days. Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NKJV
The Lord guarantees that anytime we call on Him, He will rescue us—no matter what the situation is; no matter how little we may deserve it (Romans 10:13). The only qualification is that we have to call on Him and cling to Him until He carries us through to the peace and joy on the other side of the negative emotions that are now blocking us.
3) Contain and Carry
Now that you are choosing to look to God and go His way, you have to find something positive to do with the negative emotions that flooded into you. They may have to be put into “containment” for a brief period; otherwise, they will overflow on to the people around you. That never helps! But neither does stuffing them indefinitely.
Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 NKJV
Look for a time when you can carry your unwanted, negative emotions as captives to the Lord. Then hold them up to Him in prayer seeking His way of releasing them. Not only will you learn how His peace is restored, you will be growing in intimacy with Jesus—a double blessing!
When stuff happens these tried and proven measures will always return you to peace. This will mend you in the midst of present problems. The problems may remain, but you will have your peace back and be in a much better position to be guided by Him towards resolution. Best of all you will be learning how to convert a loss of peace (fairly) quickly back into greater peace!
As good and necessary as Basic Discipleship is, it will wear you out without the breakthroughs that Inner Healing provides. Discipleship is how we prune away bad fruit; Inner Healing enables us to pull up the roots that keep producing bad fruit. Then there is much less emotional turmoil to deal with.
Through Inner Healing we address those issues that broke our trust in the past and still drain away our peace when we remember them. Often, we don’t even want to look into old wounds because we had no remedy for how to mend them at the time. The truth is, however, that we could have been free a long time ago, if we had been shown how to carry our wounded heart to God and been willing to do what He requires for our mending.
As far as I have been able to discover there are five main ways which the Lord uses to mend our emotional brokenness. They all require a generous measure of our own effort and cooperation. These five ways are: our tears, the prayers of others, forgiveness, believing truth and divine interventions.
1) Our Tears
Jesus says in the Beatitudes that those who mourn are truly blessed. He is definitely not saying that it is a blessing when our loved ones die, or our dreams are shattered, or when terrible things happen to us. No, the blessing is on “those who mourn”—those who carry their tears and their grief to God and give it to Him until their heart becomes cleansed and transformed. Think of tears as liquid prayers; then let them flow freely to the Lord, trusting His response.
2) The Prayers of Others
Help is promised to those who bring the issues they struggle with to others for prayer (James 5:16). Choose to become open, honest and vulnerable with close Christian friends you can entrust with your heart. God wants to use the Body of Christ as an instrument of healing. This keeps us humbled and dependent upon one another, enables us to receive the benefit of their wisdom and prayers, and rebuilds trust that was damaged in the past.
Receiving forgiveness brings healing, but so does releasing it. You and I are required by our God to forgive absolutely anyone that we have “anything” against—no matter what it was that hurt or offended us (Mark 11:25). We will never be healed of our past and become the grace-filled, mercy-giving beings we have been redeemed to become, if we don’t practice full forgiveness from the heart. The beauty of this is that when we do it, all the pain of the past is gone and a childlike innocence is restored!
4) Believing Truth
The Lord has gone way out on the limb promising that no matter what happens, He will always make it work for our good. He will do this whether we believe it or not, but what a difference it makes if we really believe it. Don’t demand to see how it will come true; embrace the truth and experience the immediate benefit of believing it. Most of the mending of my damaged emotions happened as I fought to actively believe the “Magnificent Promise” of Romans 8:28 over every painful event in my past. It really works! Now (many years later) I am also seeing the evidence of His work.
5) Divine Intervention
The Lord gives dreams, visions, healing of memories, visitations and prophetic words—these have tremendous healing power. Although they are sovereign acts of God, we can increase our availability for receiving them a) by cultivating greater intimacy with the Lord and b) by going “on pilgrimage” to places where the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power is being manifested. He bids us to seek Him where He can be found…
LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared A Check List for Building Emotional Intelligence (One page PDF) to help you walk your heart through these ABCs the next time you get tangled up in those pesky negative emotions. It’s free—download here.]
The River of Peace
Obviously, seeking to be healed of our emotional baggage from the past requires a journey of growing in understanding and working through many, if not all, of the five ways God heals us. It takes time, plus focused effort on our part for our lives to become a river of peace. In the meantime, Basic Discipleship is always available to come to our rescue when the enemy robs us of peace through our reactions to some unwanted or unexpected events. Together they form an incredibly effective strategy for mastering your emotions and living in the freedom of a fully empowered emotional state!
Follow this link for a FREE DOWNLOAD of the expanded original article, Fruit and Roots: For Mastering Your Emotional State (2865 word PDF).