How to Control Your Thoughts and Feelings
In the process of God changing you there is one issue that has a dramatic effect on your success or failure. This issue is the battle between your feelings, desires, and God’s commands. Every day you must make a decision whether you will yield to your feelings and desires or obey His commands. The writer of Hebrews declared that Moses had to make this choice. He chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). This is the choice that each of us must make on a daily basis. Consider for a moment the importance of your feelings and desires.
1. A Biblical Look At Feelings and Desires.
A. Yielding to feelings and desires is what caused Adam and Eve to disobey God’s direct command in the garden (Gen. 3:6).
B. Yielding to feelings and desires is what caused the children of Israel to disobey God in the wilderness. Scripture declares that they "yielded to their intense craving" (Num. 11:4). They did this because they didn't trust God (Num. 14:1-10).
C. Moses overcame his thoughts and feelings of inadequacy by simply obeying the command of God (Ex. 4:1-20). This example reveals the way to overcome your thoughts and feelings. You must simply make a choice to obey God in spite of your thoughts and without regard for what the circumstances or consequences may be.
D. Jesus gave another very important instruction to His disciples concerning how they could overcome their feelings of not wanting to forgive when others offended them. He taught them that even if a person sins against you seven times in one day, and repents each time, you must forgive him. The disciples were amazed when they heard this teaching. They said, "increase our faith." Jesus proceeded to tell them a simple story concerning a field worker. This man had worked all day and was tired when he came home. He didn't feel like doing any more work that day; but his master said, come and serve me, then you can sit down to dinner. Then Jesus said, “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not” (Luke 17:9). Jesus is relating the action of this servant to His disciples and their responsibility to forgive even when they don’t feel like it. His point is that they must forgive simply because they are commanded to forgive. Therefore, if you wait for a feeling of forgiveness to come you'll never do it. Do what is right because you are commanded to it, like the field worker.
E. All aspects of the Christian life and the victory you hope for will be determined by your decision to obey God’s commands in spite of your feelings. Don't wait for a feeling before you obey God. Choose to obey Him whether you feel like it or not. The correct feelings will always follow your correct obedience (John 13:17). Remember, you probably didn't feel like getting up out of bed this morning to go to work. However, you chose to get up and go to work because your boss commanded you to be there at a certain time. After you got up and were off to work your feelings changed.
2. How Do Feelings, Thoughts, and Your Behavior Work Together?
A. First, you must understand the connection between your feelings, your thought life, and your behavior.
1. Your feelings are directly associated with your thoughts. If you want to control your feelings you must first control your thought life. In Mark 14:72, when Peter thought about his denial of Jesus it declares that, he wept. Notice that his feelings and emotions were directly controlled by what he thought. In Lamentations 3:19-20, when Jeremiah remembered all of his afflictions he said, “My soul…sinks within me.” When Jeremiah speaks of his soul sinking he is undoubtedly referring to his emotional state. However, when he thought on God's mercies he experienced hope within his mind (Lam 3:21-23).
David explains this same connection between his thoughts and feelings in Psalms 73:16. When he incorrectly thought that the wicked would escape the judgment of God, it was too painful for him. He became upset and angry. However, when he went into the Sanctuary of God and turned his thoughts toward heaven (vs. 17-28), the Lord gave him a new perspective and he found strength (vs. 26).
2. Your feelings are directly associated with your behavior. If you want to control your feelings you must also change your behavior. When your behavior is sinful your conscience will accuse you. These accusations enter your mind through your thoughts and then affect your feelings and emotions. In Romans 2:15, Paul teaches that your conscience uses your thoughts to either accuse you or excuse you. Sinful behavior without repentance will naturally cause accusing thoughts, which result in depressed feelings. Godly behavior demonstrated by obedience to God's Word will result in just the opposite feelings. Godliness results in thoughts that excuse you, which make you feel good about your actions. In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul instructs, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Note that Paul believed that if we would follow his example and do what he did, we would experience the peace of God. Similarly, Jesus gave the same exhortation for how to be happy. After teaching the disciples to be servants He said, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13:17). Jesus taught that happiness would naturally result from doing what you know is right. Therefore, you shouldn't wait until you feel like doing what is right. Take the biblical action commanded and your feelings will follow.
B. Next, to control your thoughts and feelings you must make some choices.
1. Choose to examine your behavior and thoughts with the Word of God. Test what you are doing and what you are thinking with what Scripture declares (1 Thess. 5:21). If your thoughts and feelings are contrary to His Word, then you must acknowledge that these thoughts are wrong and reject them. By testing your thoughts and rejecting those that are not of God you are submitting yourself to the Father. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Is. 55:7).
2. Choose to pray and ask God to bring every thought into the captivity of the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) (Phil. 4:6-8). Prayer is your choice. Prayer is the only way to receive the grace you need to help control what is inside you. Christ is able to control your thoughts.
3. Ask God to purify your heart before Him. Why is purifying your heart important? Because out of an evil heart proceeds evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19) (Acts 8:21-23). If your heart is angry, self-righteous, or resentful you will never have the correct thoughts within your mind. If you choose not to think in a godly way neither will you behave in a godly way. It is important to understand that Scripture reveals the heart and the thoughts of man are directly connected. Note how Jesus spoke of this issue: “But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts?” (Luke 5:22). Therefore, if you want victory in your thought life, keep your heart right with God.
4. Choose to think and meditate only on what is good, just, pure, virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8-9). Note: Choosing to control your thoughts will many times cause an extreme struggle within, but you must fight this battle moment by moment choosing to surrender your thoughts by faith to God. In an extreme battle with your thoughts it sometimes is helpful to make a written list of things you want to think about instead of the hurtful or evil things you have been dwelling upon. To help you control your thoughts, take this list with you everywhere you go to enable you to refer to it as often as needed.
When you find your mind drifting back to sinful thoughts, ask God to forgive you, pull out your list and begin meditating on what is good, and God will restore your peace again. You can control your thoughts and feelings if you will take these steps. God promised it, in Philippians 4:9.