By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
“I want a divorce!” I heard myself yell. Those harsh words shocked me – someone who strongly believed that marriage was a lifelong covenant. How had I gotten to that point? In a word: emotions.
It was fear and anger that got me to that time. Despite my protests, my husband had insisted on taking a job that required heavy travel, often leaving me at home alone with our baby. Afraid that I would be overwhelmed by stress and angry that my opinions about this and other topics were ignored in my marriage, I threatened divorce. It was something that went completely against my biblical values. But in that moment, I wasn’t thinking about my values, because my emotions had taken over and opened a door in my mind for evil to walk through.
Satan often attacks Christians through our emotions. We can be thinking with correct beliefs, yet still fall victim to evil through feelings that tempt us to sin: lust, anger, fear, jealousy, discouragement, etc. Sometimes we discount the importance of paying attention to our emotions day by day, thinking that the right convictions should be enough to strengthen us against evil. Yet, when attacks come into our lives, they often enter by way of our emotions.
Thankfully, once I realized what was going on in my emotional life, I worked through the issues with my husband. He did end up taking the job, and it was challenging for me, but God helped us both grow through that time. Looking back, I’m grateful that I didn’t act on my temptation to leave. When I fought back spiritually, I developed a stronger faith that helped me stay faithful to God – and my husband – through even more significant challenges that came later in our marriage.
Here are 5 ways you can win spiritual battles in your emotions:
1. Fill your mind with timeless truth so you can focus on that despite changing emotions. The more biblical truth you have in your mind when Satan attacks through your emotions, the more likely it is that you’ll win the battle. So make a habit of reading the Bible and meditating on the words you read. Every day, ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind. Then God’s truth will come to your mind in any situation where your emotions are shouting at you to make a certain choice. As the Bible’s powerful words come to you during emotional moments, they will remind you of what’s really true so you can make decisions from an accurate perspective.
2. Give yourself a timeout when you notice your emotions spiraling out of control. Stop to reflect and pray during times when you realize that a feeling is overwhelming you. Just like parents give children timeouts to teach them how to recognize and control their emotions, you can take a timeout and check in with your heavenly parent – God – when strong emotions come to your attention. During those breaks, consider what you’re really feeling, and why. For instance, if you feel lust pulling you toward your cell phone and compelling you to look at pornography on it, stop the process by taking a timeout. Try to identify the emotions you’re experiencing at that moment. If you can, figure out why you’re feeling that way (maybe you’ve been dealing with stress that you’re trying to relieve through porn). By forcing yourself to step out of the situation and study it, you can stop unhealthy impulsive behavior and gain a wiser perspective on what’s happening.
3. Deal honestly with the uncomfortable emotions you feel. You may sometimes deny, ignore, or suppress emotions that trouble you. For example, if you’re feeling jealous, you’re probably also feeling embarrassed and ashamed about feeling that way. No one likes to admit jealousy. Yet if you don’t deal with it, envious emotions will distort your perspective on your life. That will leave you vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, because Satan will twist the truth to get your attention; if you’re confused you may believe what he tells you. So whenever you notice you’re feeling an emotion that makes you uncomfortable, acknowledge it, and try to check in with God about it in that moment or soon afterward (through a silent prayer). Keep in mind that it’s normal to experience lots of uncomfortable emotions in this fallen world, and that your emotions themselves aren’t necessarily wrong. What’s sinful is choosing to respond to the emotions you feel in the wrong ways. So if you feel jealous of another person, you can feel that way and still be right with God if you confess how you feel to God and rely on his help to respond faithfully. But if you don’t intentionally deal with how you feel, your jealousy will make you vulnerable to temptations from Satan to say or do something wrong when relating to the person of whom you’re envious.
4. Take care of your physical health, which is connected to your emotional health. If your body isn’t feeling well, your emotions can be difficult to manage. Just think about the last time you snapped at someone in anger while you were tired, or when you worried about something while hungry, but then felt better after eating. Ask God to help you develop healthy physical habits that will nurture your body, mind, and spirit as they work together according to God’s design. Do your best to eat nutritious foods, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep on a regular basis. The more physically stable you are, the more emotionally stable you can be.
5. Learn lessons God wants to teach you through your emotions. God often uses emotions as teaching tools. Emotions are gifts from God, whom the Bible describes as having an emotional essence (“God is love.” – 1 John 4:8). But emotions constantly change as circumstances change, and they may easily misinterpreted when you’re not thinking of them from a Spirit-led perspective. So pray for guidance every day, asking God to help you discern the messages he sends you through your feelings. Think of your emotions as school bells ringing for you to pay attention, and the Holy Spirit as your teacher who communicates with you once you come to class. Rather than just reacting to your emotions (as Satan tempts you to do), respond to them with the purpose of learning and growing closer to God in the process.
As long as you’re living in this fallen world, you’ll have to deal with spiritual attacks that come at you through your emotions. But you can win those battles, every time, by relying on the Holy Spirit.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, produces the About.com angels and miracles site and wrote the young adult novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age.