Thoughts and Feelings
Every believer’s soul-self is intended to abide in union with Christ; in union with His Spirit that indwells their “spirit of man” (Prov. 20:27). Believers are to be enlightened by and submitted to the leading of “the Spirit of life in Christ” who indwells them. The great blessing for trusting believers is that by their union with Christ they enjoy His life and peace in their soul. “… to be spiritually minded is Life and Peace (for the soul).” (Romans 8:6).
Sadly, this is not the case for most Christians. The three functions of our soul, our psychological self, are mind, emotion, and will. The great problem for most people, including Christians, is dealing with their emotions or feelings. Wrong thinking is what cripples the believer. To be led by what we feel is not the God-ordained order of our being. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the (grown up) sons of God.” (Romans 8:14).
Most people assume that what they feel is the real them, but that’s not true. Who we are is ordained of God’s love, grace and work in our lives. Our feelings are a reaction to a thought; good or bad… and often is not a valid feeling. As we will see, every feeling, when first felt, was attached to a thought.
All truth is already established in our spirit, so our mind is to be ‘set on the Spirit,’ where Christ as the “Spirit of truth” dwells, to lead us. He leads us by His written “word of truth” as the Spirit reveals and confirms it to our soul’s mind. Inwardly perceiving “the word or truth” is not a feeling, it’s a sense that’s ‘deeper than our mind.’
Now, let’s consider our thoughts and feelings as they occur in our daily life. Some wrongly say that feelings and thoughts are entirely distinct mental states. People tend to separate thoughts and feelings into different compartments of mental experience. They say; after all, don’t we think with our heads and feel with our hearts? Isn’t it true that thinking is cool and rational, while emotions are hot and blind to reason?
The Bible tells us our emotions and thinking are more clearly connected than many people recognize.
‘For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” (Proverbs 23:7a)
Feeling your thoughts does not mean that thoughts can be felt in the same way you feel a pin prick or experience a surge of anger or fear. Take a minute to do this thought experiment to see just how closely your thoughts and feelings are related to each other. Here’s a test suggested by a therapist;
In the next 30 to 60 seconds, try to make yourself feel really angry while keeping your mind completely blank. Move away from the paper of screen and just let yourself get angry without thinking any thoughts or picturing any image in your mind. Try it, really. (You could do the same for feelings of anxiousness, fear, sadness, regret, or hate, etc.)
Were you able to do it, could you feel real anger? If you think so, were you able to hold the anger for more than a passing moment? Did you clench your fists the way you might if you were really angry? Or did you try to capture the feeling by furrowing your brow, gritting your teeth, and breathing heavily. You may have been able to recreate some physical attributes of anger. But did you feel genuine anger or did it seem you were just going through the motions of pretending to be angry?
Something was missing from this little anger exercise… what was missing was… the thoughts or cognitions that give substance to the emotion of anger. You would have to be angry about something you thought in order to feel genuine anger. Having something to be angry about means you have accompanying thoughts about someone or something (as the object of your anger) that provoked you or treated you badly. Without these connecting thoughts, your emotions cannot stand on their own.
Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “But I did feel angry when I clenched my fists and tightened my jaw. I wasn’t thinking about anyone in particular to feel angry.” You can try to induce anger by clenching your jaw or feel anxiety by shaking your hands and arms to induce a trembling state, but it’s doubtful, however, that you could hold a feeling of anger for very long… without connecting it to a particular thought or mental image. Without an angering or anxious thought, all you’re left with are the sensations that accompany jaw clenching and hand trembling, not the true emotions. Likewise, you can try to induce positive emotions by forcing a smile, but you and most people around you know that ‘feeling’ seems forced.
Now, let’s try this again, but this time make yourself feel angry by whatever means you like, short of physically harming yourself or others. But this time you may let your mind focus on any thought, mental image, or memory of someone or something that summons feelings of anger. Hold that image in mind and feel the anger for a few seconds. Okay, you may begin. Were you able to do it this time around? While not everyone can vividly recreate an emotion using imagination alone, I suspect most readers will be able to experience some degree of anger by holding an angering thought or mental image in mind. The more vivid the angering thought or image, the stronger the anger is likely to be felt.
What you may discover in this little exercise is that your emotions follow your thoughts and that without thoughts as drivers, your emotions are nothing. Put another way, an emotion needs to be about something. You can’t be angry, fearful, or joyful in a thought vacuum.
To better understand emotions and learn to manage them, we need to identify the thoughts or images that triggered the emotion. We need to identify the angering thoughts that make us angry, and the scary thoughts that make us afraid. Then, we ought to bring that thought to the Lord and His “word of truth” to see if the thoughts are valid or not. Most often these thoughts are not true in the light of His “word.”
One reason people tend to unlink their thoughts and feelings is that they are often more aware of what they are feeling than the thoughts that underlie these feelings. When you ask people who are feeling sad, angry, or joyous to describe the thoughts or images bouncing around in their minds at these particular moments in time… they often draw a blank. This is because thoughts and mental images are ‘fleeting things’ that dwell only in the ever-changing present of our fast-moving minds. Often these flashes of thought spring from a sound, voice, odor, word, situation, or some external stimulus that provokes a memory that brings a feeling that grabs them... but then… all they seem to know is what they feel.
Trying to capture one of these fleeting thoughts is often like catching a moving target that always seems to be one step beyond our reach. Just ask yourself: What were you thinking about a minute ago? You shouldn’t be surprised if you draw a blank since our thoughts fly by so rapidly.
These thought experiments illustrate the principle that… behind every disturbing emotional state… lurks a triggering negative thought. Therapists help people who are struggling with emotional disorders of anxiety, anger, or depression, by helping them identify the particular thought triggers that underlie their emotional responses and then help them change how they think in order to change how they feel.
The Apostle Paul is the believer’s best guide in handling their psychological (soul) life. He wrote.
“For they that are after the flesh (the external) do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit (mind) the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally (flesh) minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)
Since the cross of Christ, the fact is that every believer is liberated from the power of the Devil; The love of God in Christ has made “all things new” for us; our past is over and forgiven. Satan’s only remaining device is “the lie,” which he often shoots into our minds… to separate us from the truth of the security we can enjoy by our union with the Lord. We triumph over the Devils flashing fiery thoughts by abiding in our union with Him.
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in (in union with) Christ, ...” (2 Cor. 2:14a)
Paul then instructs believers as to what we ought not to think about … and what we ought to think about.
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked (one).” (Eph. 6:16) “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:7)
“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 10:5)
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
So, thoughts of thankfulness toward God for his love and grace and the security we have in union with Him fill the vacuum and produce feelings of well-being in our soul’s emotion, while the accusing, condemning fear-provoking thoughts shot into our minds by the Devil prompt feelings of fear, regret, dread, or anxiety.