You’ve got emotions, right?
Or do they, have you? How many times have your feelings led you into trouble or made you feel like you’d been kicked to the curb by life itself? Life isn’t simply a matter of what’s in our minds. There’s a lot of power coming at us from what seems like the unthinking part of ourselves – our emotions. The thing is, emotions hold the power potential for good or ill. We need them! We just don’t need them to rule over us.
How wonderful life is once we’ve learned how to harness the interior energy and ride it like a tamed stallion into our daily life. It’s a journey that I call moving from recovery to mastery. First, we have to learn how to recover from the onset of negative emotions past or present. That’s the beginning stage—the ABCs—of emotional intelligence. Then, with those lessons well in circumstances place, we can begin to live as masters of our interior emotional state, enjoying life as a river of peace no matter what our outward circumstances may be.
It never fails to surprise me that few of us were ever instructed in the ways of the heart when we were growing up. Our emotional state is immensely important, yet consistently underrated. Consider the effect that your emotional state has on the following:
* Your enjoyment of daily life
* Your ability to enjoy the Lord
* Your ability to be guided by God
* Your physical health
* Your relationships with others
* Success in work; fruitfulness in ministry
Now add in the well-proven fact that our emotions have the power to derail our lives and destroy our relationships—if we let them. That’s a ton of good reasons for wanting to learn how to gain mastery over our emotional state.
This isn’t a subject of mere academic interest for me. I lived for years besieged by an emotional life that I didn’t understand and couldn’t manage (that story is told in Rescued from Hell). Oh, I could keep it fairly well contained most of the time, but I was surviving, not thriving. I had a lot to learn, if I was ever going to come out from under mountains of emotional chaos and confusion. The great thing is that emotional intelligence can be learned. What I’ve been learning, anyone can learn.
Covering the Basics in Four Sections
In this article we’re going to look at the chaos agents of the emotional life—negative emotions—and seek to understand them from a thoroughly Christian point of view. Then I’ll go over seven ABCs of emotional intelligence that will help you get a winning, warrior’s perspective on the task set before us. Finally, I’ll close by going over the difference between recovery and mastery.
1) What Is Emotional Intelligence?
2) What Are the Negative Emotions?
3) Seven ABCs of Emotional Intelligence
4) From Recovery to Mastery
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Persons with emotional intelligence, according to psychologists, have the ability to understand their own emotions as well as those of others and can act appropriately using those emotions. Here we’re focusing on the side of understanding our own emotions and becoming adept at dealing with them God’s way. This will inevitably help us better understand the emotions of others. We are not nearly as different as it seems.
Emotions can be conveniently separated into “positive” and “negative” emotions. This is something that we all instinctively do, though we sometimes fail to set the dividing line in the right place. Psychology tends to take the approach that all emotions have a positive value and that we need to learn how to manage them. I’m going to make the Christian case that certain emotions were never meant to be in us in the first place and that what we need to do is not manage them, but eliminate them when they show up.
In Christian terms, therefore, emotional intelligence includes the ability to exercise sovereignty over one’s own emotional state. We do that by carrying every negative emotion that seeks to dominate us captive to Christ. Then, He works with us, helping us be restored to confidence, trust and peace—His emotional life. This may seem like hard work at first, but it is certainly a sign of intelligence to do it. Like all worthwhile pursuits it requires effort and perseverance to gain the ability. The Lord knows this: He told us to keep our hearts with “all diligence.”
What Are the Negative Emotions?
The negative emotions are those that are unhealthy for both our inner life and our physical bodies. (See Spiritual Roots of Disease.) We don’t like them because they don’t feel right, but this isn’t always the best indicator. Some emotions that feel negative are ones that we need: a healthy fear of God, the fear that leaps on us in the immediate presence of danger, the grief that comes when someone we love dies, the guilt that alerts us when we’ve sinned. These are thankfully rare but they aren’t truly “negative” in Christian terms, because they don’t come from our fallen nature.
Many “positive” feelings, however, do come from below: a strong desire for too much to eat or drink, sexual lust in all of its forms, feelings of conceit that flatter our pride. I would go on, but you get the drift—downward and away from the Lord. Jesus, by the way, is our best indicator of where the dividing line is truly set between the positive (godly) emotions and the negative (ungodly) ones. Try imagining Jesus in any particular emotion and you will immediately see either its rightness or its wrongness. This is our unfailing test of what is right for us now that He lives in us. Any emotion that doesn’t fit into Jesus, doesn’t belong in you either, now that He is living in you. These are the truly negative ones He wants to teach us how to expel.
Seven ABCs of Emotional Intelligence
We don’t have to be dominated by the negative emotions. We can learn to exercise true sovereignty over them and live in the Spirit. Study these seven ABCs of emotional intelligence, and then put them to work!
We are sovereigns over our own hearts. This should be pointed out in connection with our “kingly” calling. The Lord has given everyone a realm of authority that has tremendous consequence in their life and the world around them: our hearts. The first step to emotional recovery is realizing the power that we have been given to manage our own hearts.
We can rule over our emotions. For the most part no one can help the emotions that go off inside of them—that’s a reflection of things deeper down. Don’t waste time blaming others or yourself for what you are feeling. Take charge over your feelings and “banish” the ones you don’t want by carrying them as captives to Christ. You have that power.
No one else can control our emotions. What others say or do may cause emotions to come up inside of us, but it always our choice if we are going to let them stay or drag them to the door. Real growth can take place once you grasp this principle that no one (and no circumstance) has power over your emotions, but you. God made it that way.
Don’t force your feelings or ignore them. As rulers of our hearts, we are meant to be servants, not tyrants. We cannot “force” the ones we want to come. Nor is the victory gained by ignoring the emotions our hearts are generating. Our loving God is never ashamed or shocked by any feeling we might hove, so be honest with Him about them.
Don’t believe your feelings. It is important to be aware of what our feelings are reporting to us, but it is even more important never to believe them without an inquest! Feelings are flagrant liars. There is a message worth listening to but it is rarely the one on the surface seeking our immediate attention (see point 6).
Our deepest beliefs control our feelings. Feelings don’t drop in out of the blue. Our present emotional reactions reveal what the fallen side of our heart still believes. That past programming will hold our emotional life captive unless we learn to fight back. By steadily carrying our negative emotions to Christ our heart begins to hold the new beliefs.
Freedom comes through believing truth. This is not a will power contest between you and your feelings. It is a truth encounter in which you choose by an act of your will to agree with God. In the light of Christ, we see the inner lie exposed (as in “You’re right, I don’t need to be afraid, jealous, angry, discouraged, etc., I need to settle down and trust You.”). Then we renounce our agreement with that negative emotion and ask the Lord to break its power over us. In this way we choose to believe what He tells us to believe and do what He shows us to do. Eventually, the thoughts of our heart give way to the new believing and our emotions shift—one episode at a time.
The next time that you notice your emotional state is being robbed of peace, don’t be passive like a department store “dummy.” Exercise your emotional intelligence by carrying every negative emotion (that seeks to dominate you) captive to Christ and be restored to confidence, peace and freedom—His emotional life.
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.- 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
From Recovery to Mastery
When the peace of Christ enters our hearts, it feels so good and liberating that we merrily float above all our old feelings. Eventually, however, we discover that our former host of negative emotions keeps showing up and dragging us down! To stay in Christ’s peace, we have to first learn how to get recovery over past issues that wounded us; then, we can use these same “tools” to gain mastery over our emotions in the present. Where our inner state is concerned, there are two great assignments which are gracious invitations to experience the surpassing vitality of new life in Christ:
- Restoration: Preparing our inward state to hold up under the pressures of daily life requires recovery of the natural grace that got lost along the way. For countless reasons—not least of which is getting free of the pain—we need to recover from any emotional brokenness emanating from our past.
- Mastery: As we learn to manage our emotional life, we not only receive freedom from the past, but we gain the graced ability to reign with wisdom over our own emotions, making it possible to live even the most active or embattled days with deep peace and Spirit-led resourcefulness!
We truly can learn how to be lifted and carried by the river of peace that God is sending our way each day. Being born again ushers us into a new life; the Holy Spirit within us provides the power to live a new life. He is the River of Peace. Are you only experiencing trickles and puddles of that peace? Take courage: It is never too late to learn the way of the heart!
For over a decade Steve Evans and Healing Streams have been helping people recover inner peace and freedom.
Find out how to gain mastery over negative emotions and live with childlike freedom of spirit by taking his completely free “eCourse for Healing” at HealingStreamsUSA.org. Get started now!