Controlling Your Emotions
About the Guest
Are you controlling your emotions? Or are they controlling you? Pastor Brian Borgman, author of the book, "Feelings and Faith," shares how some of our emotions, like fear, can be overcome by combating them with the truth of God's Word.
Are you controlling your emotions?
Controlling Your Emotions
Bob: Sometimes when your emotions are all stirred up, all riled up, you need to start preaching to yourself. You need to tell yourself what’s really true. Here is Brian Borgman.
Brian: We are bringing the Word of God to bear on faulty thinking because, again, you cannot make a disconnection between thinking and feeling. So when we are thinking in ways that are dishonoring to God, we need to actually come back with truth and combat those faulty thoughts with God’s Word.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Counseling our soul with what is true; well, it’s easier said than done. We’re going to talk about how we do it, though, today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, as we talk this week about emotions and about how we’re to understand them biblically, how we’re to express them, how we’re to process them, I guess I’ve never really asked the question, “Is it possible to have sinful joy?” We always go right to those destructive, negative, bad emotions.
Dennis: Like anger.
Bob: Anger, fear, anxiety.
Bob: Right; but is it possible to have sinful happiness, sinful joy, sinful peace?
Dennis: Well, let’s ask our guest.
Bob: I think we should.
Dennis: Brian Borgman joins us again on FamilyLife Today. What about it, Brian?
Brian: Absolutely. If you take joy in the wrong things, if the object is wrong, then the affection is wrong.
Bob: And I guess it’s possible to delight too much. Is it possible to delight too much, even in a good thing?
Brian: Probably. I don’t know exactly what that might feel like, but I’m willing to give it a shot and see.
Dennis: I could imagine someone who really liked chocolate.
Bob: Right, who delights in chocolate, and there’s nothing wrong with delighting in chocolate; is there? Please tell me there’s nothing wrong with delighting in chocolate.
Dennis: Well, not in just delighting in chocolate; but if you take it to the extreme—
I want to introduce Brian to our listeners. He’s a pastor, he’s a writer, he and his wife Ariel have been married for 20 years in northwest Nevada; and he’s written a book called Feelings and Faith. In the front of your book, you have a quote by a very famous English preacher.
You’d have to know who this guy is. Brian, you do. You quote him. Martin Lloyd Jones is his name.
Bob: The Doctor.
Dennis: He is a brilliant theologian. You wouldn’t expect him to make a quote or a comment about emotions, as you share in your book. I just want to read this. He says:
I regard it as a great part of my calling in the ministry to emphasize the priority of the mind and the intellect in connection with the faith.
But though I maintain that, I am equally ready to assert that the feelings, the emotions, the sensibilities, obviously, are of very vital importance. We have been made in such a way that they play a dominant part of our makeup. Indeed, I suppose that one of the greatest problems in our life in this world, not only for Christians but for all people, is the right handling of our feelings and emotions.
You really believe that, and that’s why you wrote this book.
Brian: Absolutely. I’ve seen it over and over, and Lloyd Jones encapsulates that for us. Again, you wouldn’t think that he, the British preacher, would have emphasized such a thing; but he gets onto something that I think is absolutely critical. We don’t think about the emotions properly, and we don’t handle the emotions properly.
Bob: I think many of us have this sense that the way we’re supposed to deal with our emotions is to try to deaden them as much as possible because, if we deaden them, then they can’t bite us. If we can just take some of the teeth out of them, if we can short-circuit some of the feeling, just dial it back, then we can live life in a very controlled way; and we don’t get too angry and we just stay mild-mannered, and everything is okay. What’s wrong with that?
Brian: Well, first of all, it’s not realistic. The idea that somehow you’re able to just scale them back is just unrealistic; but it’s more than unrealistic. I think it’s unbiblical because we are actually to reflect the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus, and Jesus did not scale back his emotional life.
Dennis: To illustrate what you’re talking about here—I would say the first half of our married life—Barbara and I are coming up on 39 years of marriage—and so you kind of look at it in decades. They kind of run together, and so now it’s 20 and 20—but I’d say the first half of our years together, I was too free in expressing my emotions when my expectations went unmet.
I’m looking back on that now thinking, “I wish I’d been a little more mature and schooled,” according to your book and what you’ve written about here because I wasn’t handling my emotions as God would have me handle them.
So I look at how I’ve handled emotions in the second half of our marriage; and I take a step back and I go, “You know, I’ve learned that it’s not always best to express everything you’re feeling.” But it is good to express the disappointment, the unmet expectation, and to talk about that—but not have it energized or flaming with the emotion fueling around it. Do you agree?
Brian: Correct. Correct. It comes down to, “Are you going to control the emotion and the display of it, or is it going to control you?” The minute it’s controlling you, you’re not being controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Dennis: You tell a story about speaking in a prison, illustrating what we are talking about here. There was a guy who got angry with you.
Brian: Yes. I was preaching in the drug and alcohol unit; and I was talking about how our will, our choosing faculty, is really bound to our sinful nature. And he was getting angrier and angrier, visibly angry. Finally, he just blurted out, “Are you telling me that I’m not free to do what I want to do?” I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I think that’s what the Bible is teaching.
Dennis: “If you’re not a Christian”—is what you’re saying.
Brian: Right. “If you’re not a Christian”; right.
Dennis: “If you’re not a Christian, you’re enslaved to your sinful, selfish nature.”
Brian: Exactly. And, of course, he blurted out that he was in firm disagreement with me; and so I just asked him. I said, “What are you in here for? Is it a drug- or alcohol-related offense?” Of course, I knew what the answer was because we were in the drug and alcohol unit; and he looked at me and he said, “Yeah.”
So I just asked a simple question. I just said, “Well, haven’t you ever just decided to stop?” And he said, “More times than you could imagine.” And I said, “Well, if you’re so free, then just stop.” It just illustrates that we are enslaved; and when Christ comes, He sets us free.
Bob: I want to ask you about the emotion of fear. I have been at the top of buildings, looking over the side; and I don’t like to get too close to the side. Somehow I’ll stand there and my mind just kind of goes to the thought of tumbling over the side, and I’ll just back away. You know people who have fears and phobias that control their lives; and they would say to you, “I hate that, but there is nothing I can do about it.” Is there something they can do about their fear?
Brian: Yes. Let me say, Bob, that if you’re feeling a little queasy right next to the edge of a high building and you feel fear, then that’s God’s way of saying, “Step back”; alright?
Bob: Okay—so good. (Laughter)
Brian: There are good fears like that. I wish my youngest son had some more of them because fearlessness leads to multiple trips to the emergency room, but the idea that I am captive to my fears is just simply not true. We have a man in our church, and I love this brother. When I first met him, he was a mess. I mean he was a mess. He had been in law enforcement for a number of years, and he suffered from panic attacks.
The doctors had him on all kinds of stuff to try to control the panic attacks; and the whole issue of medication is a real touchy, sensitive issue. But as I talked to him, I began to realize that he had a very, very small view of God and, actually, a quite mistaken view of God. But he is so much better off than he was a number of years ago because he came to understand God’s love for him, the security that he has in Christ, and started to learn some biblical tools to deal with that fear and anxiety.
Bob: It is interesting that the Bible has a number of commands that tell us not to fear. So the angel comes to Mary and says, “Don’t be afraid.” We can read that, and it’s kind of like he’s just trying to calm her down; but he’s really telling her that, “What you’re feeling—stop feeling that.” Okay, how do I stop feeling that if that’s what I’m feeling? Is there a way to stop feeling fear if I’m feeling it?
Brian: Absolutely, and I’m glad you asked that question because I’d like for you to look at a passage.
Brian: You guys do that; right? Look at Bibles?
Bob: We do that; yes.
Dennis: All the time.
Brian: In Isaiah 41, God is speaking to the generation that one day would be exiled and hoping to come back to the land. God says in Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear.” That’s the command to stop feeling afraid; alright? Then He tells them why they are going to be able to not fear—“for I am with you. Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
So God not only gives us the command to stop fearing, but He also gives us the reasons why. Generally speaking, fear comes down to, “Stop thinking wrong things; start thinking right things.”
In the book, I tell a story about my wife and I when I was a seminary student. We were as poor as church mice, and I did subcontracting janitorial work. My bread and butter job was an $800-a-month account. Now this is 20 years ago, but that might as well as been $80,000-a-month to us.
Bob: It was what you needed. If you didn’t have it, you weren’t going to pay the bills.
Brian: Right. No groceries, no utilities. So I got a call that they wanted to talk to me. I felt a little anxiety about that, but then thought maybe they are just going to talk to me about some extra cleaning duties or something. But then, I was cleaning in the library a few days later; and I found a new janitorial contract in the copy machine. So I knew what that meant was we were out because we were underbid by at least $200 a month.
So that twinge of anxiety went straight to fear; and I started thinking about, “How am I going to take care of my wife, how am I going to take care of my baby daughter?” I was just beside myself. That went on for a couple days; but the morning of the meeting, for whatever reason—the Holy Spirit does these things; right? I thought, “Preach
Isaiah 41:10 to yourself.”
It was a text that I had memorized; and as I sat there waiting for this meeting, I kept preaching that text to myself. “Do not be afraid. I am your God; I am with you.” The reality of God being with me, being for me, upholding me, gave me the assurance that He was not going to let me starve. He was not going to let our family be destitute. A lot of times it is preaching the truth of God to ourselves that helps us handle our emotions.
Dennis: I just want to point out the obvious because you took us to the Scripture, which tells us the truth about ourselves, about our circumstances, and about who God is. It is, ultimately, as we align ourselves and have the Scriptures in our minds, that we can begin to combat some of these emotions that otherwise we would be in bondage to.
What you’re saying is, “You preached it to yourself.” Bob, one of your favorite quotes that has to do with this—
Bob: It’s from Martin Lloyd Jones, who talks about the fact that we spend way too much time listening to ourselves and not enough time preaching to ourselves. You’re familiar with the quote. We feel the feelings and we think they are determinative and authoritative; and Lloyd Jones is saying, “No. We can train, we can teach, we can instruct our feelings.”
Dennis: We can counsel our hearts.
Brian: Right. Amen. Amen.
Bob: So when we’re feeling afraid, when you had that twinge, that anxiety, was it sinful to have it in the first place?
Brian: No, I don’t think that the initial sensation of it is inherently wrong.
Bob: Because you were responding to a God-given responsibility to provide for your family—you know that’s on your shoulders—so that’s appropriate to feel some concern there; right?
Brian: Exactly. If we go back to that definition of the emotions expressing what we value and how we evaluate, then that is going to happen.
Dennis: And we look at the biblical definition of what temptation is and when temptation becomes sin. It’s only when we take the bait. Many times I think we’re tempted to feel something and to allow it to control us but what God wants us to do is to turn from the temptation, and turn to Him, and say, “Lord, I need to remind my soul. I need to—” as Bob was saying, “need to counsel my soul—preach to my soul—the truth about life, the truth about You, and believe that.”
It’s not just the power of positive thinking; we’re talking about placing your faith in the one true living God at this point.
Bob: I always think of David, in the Psalms, who is experiencing depression, “Why so downcast, oh my soul?” “Why am I feeling this way?” And what does he say next?
Brian: “Put your hope in God.”
Bob: So he is preaching to himself, “I should be trusting in God. This is where my confidence should be. I know I’m feeling this thing.” And that’s not just trying to talk yourself out of what you’re feeling or denying what you’re feeling; is it?
Brian: No, not at all. In fact, this is nothing like self-help talk. This is actually combating lies with truth. We are bringing the Word of God to bear on faulty thinking because, again, you cannot make a disconnection between thinking and feeling. So when we are thinking in ways that are dishonoring to God, we need to actually come back with truth and combat those faulty thoughts with God’s Word.
Bob: It’s a question of what is going to be authoritative in your life. Is it the emotion that’s stirring up in you, or is it what God says is true? So when God says, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and you’re feeling anxiety about the job—and, by the way, I’m just curious. How long before the income was replaced?
Brian: It was a struggle. I’d love to say, “And the next day we had a $1,000-a-month account,” but that’s not how it worked. We struggled for a few months, and then God provided a job that had benefits and everything else. I am thankful to God for that, but it doesn’t always happen that way.
Bob: Sometimes He’s taken you into a season of life where you’re going to be challenged, and you’re going to be called on to trust Him, and it’s going to get hard, and the knuckles get white as you hang on; but God, in the end, brings you through; doesn’t He?
Brian: Yes, He does.
Dennis: I’m reminded of Romans Chapter 12. This doesn’t speak of emotions, but it does speak of a way of thinking. It says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Brian, it’s really easy to rush past this, but one of the things in your spiritual arsenal to deal with emotions was your own knowledge of the Bible and that you had committed some key passages to memory.
So I’d say to that person who has a besetting emotion that tends to mug you and take you off into an area where you are in bondage to that emotion, dig into the Bible and find a handful of great verses to address that emotion—and to train your mind to think the way you counseled yourself.
Bob: And I just have to say here because some people will hear Dennis say that and they’ll say, “Oh, there he goes. It’s one of those simplistic ‘take these two Bible verses and call me in the morning and everything will be fixed.’” Is there anything wrong with what Dennis has just said?
Brian: No, it’s actually great counsel. If we think about it in terms of, “First of all, I have to breathe in certain truths all the time. I have to preach the Gospel to myself all the time. I have to live in the reality that God has accepted me in Christ because of His righteousness, His blood. I’m going to have struggles in this life. I have to have a framework that is established by God’s Word—biblical truth.”
Then I also have to have that arsenal of those specific texts that deal with my specific problems. It is actually bringing the Word of God to bear in the power of the Holy Spirit that actually helps me to control my emotions. You actually have examples of this in the Bible.
Dennis: We had a couple who came to our Weekend to Remember ® marriage conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This woman sent a prayer request during the weekend, “I’m despairing of life and of this relationship.” At the end of the conference, we ran across her evaluation. She said, “She and her fiancé”—so it wasn’t a marriage; they were living together—“have decided to move out, and we’re going to stay pure until we get married.”
On the other side of the evaluation, it had a box checked that she had received Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord at the conference. I turned to a friend, as we were leaving the meeting, where we had heard that story; and I said, “You know, it’s not that that young lady is not going to experience more struggles, more challenges, more temptations; but she now has the One who will empower her, enable her, and will help her when she fails to get back up and press on—instead of being so despairing of life that she wanted to take her own life.”
I think we do have a lot of challenges in life, and I certainly don’t want to make the Christian life out to be this simplistic, “A plus B plus C equal D; and everything is going to be smooth sailing all the way to the end.” That’s not how it works. Faith is a constant struggle to maintain your belief and right understanding of who God is, His Word, and keep on exercising your faith. That’s really what we’re trying to help people to do here on this broadcast, Bob.
Bob: I think people, who have seen how their emotions and their response to their emotions can get them into trouble, can be dishonoring to the Lord, can damage relationships, I think they’ll find real help in getting into a book like the one that Brian has written called Feelings and Faith, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; and there will be information right there about the book, Feelings and Faith. You can order it from us online. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call toll-free 1-800-358-6329. That’s probably easier to remember as 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” When you get in touch with us, ask about Brian Borgman’s book, Feelings and Faith; and we’ll make arrangements to have a copy of it sent out to you.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I don’t know what your family does in terms of celebrating that holiday, but I do hope you will be intentional about drawing your family’s attention to the need to be grateful to God for His blessings. One way we can help you with that is by sending you a copy of Barbara Rainey’s book, Growing Together in Gratitude, a devotional book for families—seven stories all designed to promote the idea of gratefulness and thanksgiving in our hearts.
The book is our thank-you gift to you this month if you’re able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. If you do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com, it’s very easy. Click the button online that says, “I Care”; and that will take you straight to the page where you fill out the donation information. When you do that, we’ll send you a copy of Growing Together in Gratitude; and we’ll send you a Thanksgiving prayer card as well.
If you make your donation by phone, just call us at 1-800-FLTODAY; and when you’re done with the donation, just mention that you’d like Barbara’s book on gratitude. We will be happy to send it to you. We want to express our gratitude to you for your support of this ministry. We really do appreciate you.
And we hope you’ll be back with us tomorrow. We’re going to continue our conversation on faith and feelings and how those two come together. Brian Borgman will be here again; and I hope you can be, too.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back here next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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