Revive Our Hearts Radio

Ask Nancy: How to Control Runaway Emotions

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss is sometimes tempted by this thought.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I just can’t get these emotions under control. I just can’t think right. But even that is thinking wrong because the fact is, by God’s grace I can think right.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, July 5, 2015.

Everyone is tempted by rogue emotions from time to time. During a question and answer session with some women, Nancy provided some valuable perspective on bringing emotions under the control of God’s Spirit. We’ll hear some of that helpful perspective today. As the session began, someone asked Nancy about some of the greatest challenges she faces during this season of life.

Nancy: Busyness. But I find almost everybody I meet, almost every woman I know in almost every season of life is busy. Technology was supposed to help us. They said decades ago that by now people would have a three-day work week, and people would have all this leisure time. We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off, panting, can’t catch our breaths, don’t have time for relationships. You drive into your garage at night; you don’t see your neighbors.

I think technology with all its blessings has also created some challenges that if we don’t control it, it controls us. I find that I often am controlled by technology. Not that I’m any great technology person, but our lives are so tethered to it today. How many of us really have Sabbaths from noise, from activity, from the frenetic pace? I try to do computer-free Sundays. I want to be careful as I say that because I don’t always do that. But I really do try to have most, if not all, of Sunday being off of email, off of my laptop, because the rest of the week I’m on it all the time.

For you your Sabbath may be something different. But for me, if I don’t do that, I stay wound up way too tightly. Then pressure comes and you have no margin for handling it. I have found myself there at times just snapping at people and at circumstances.

Joy: I’m so feelings oriented. I’m so emotionally based. I find that my greatest challenge is allowing my walk with the Lord to not be subject to my feelings. It’s a very hard struggle for me because just about everything I do is based on, Do I feel like doing this? It seems sinful to base my life on how I feel, but it’s such a struggle not to, for me in particular.

Any kind of encouragement you've offered along those lines has been helpful just because I find that my priorities are dictated by my feelings. My relationships are dictated by my feelings. Constantly trying to put those down, put them under the Lord and His Word and what He wants me to do is such a challenge especially when we’re surrounded with the culture of "do what you feel like."

Nancy: Joy, you’re probably a few decades younger than I am—two or three—and I think you’re just illustrating that this is a challenge at every season of life. I don’t know that that gets easier except I will say this: The last year and a half my life has been a lot more dictated by my feelings than I would like to admit. So sometimes I feel like I’m a teenager again acting fourteen. The year I was twelve I cried the whole year for no reason at all. And I’ve kind of been that way the last year, to tell you the truth.

But here’s what I do know that I didn’t understand then, and that is the power of the truth. I also understand now better than I did then that feelings are not bad. They’re a gift from the Lord. He made us emotional creatures. Imagine if you could never feel joy or pain or sorrow or ecstasy. That’s a gift to be able to feel those things.

But feelings make a terrible master and invariably make bad choices and end up, if nothing else, on a roller coaster swayed with every circumstance—bad news or good news. In our ministry we get letters that say, “We love your ministry.” If you take those too seriously, if you get too ecstatic over those, then you get really bummed by the ones that come and say, “You make me mad.” We get those, too.

So if you let things outside of you or even inside of you dictate your responses, if you let your feelings dictate your responses, you’re going to at best live an unstable life. I think all of us know what it is at times to be emotionally unstable. I really do believe in the power of the truth to stabilize us and the power of the Word. I don’t mean that in some weird or mystical way or some inaccessible way. The power of the Word to stabilize, to tether our hearts.

I find that the times that my emotions are most out of line and out of control—I call them rogue emotions and rogue thoughts, bucking bronco style—are often times when I really have not been meditating on the Word, bringing every thought in captivity to the obedience of Christ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians (see 10:5). Scripture memory is something that has been hugely helpful to me in tempering those emotions and leveling them, in making them know who’s boss. And it’s not just me; it’s that the Lord is boss. So I’m learning to counsel my heart according to the truth.

Now I will confess that at times even over this last year there have been a lot of changes in my life and in our ministry. At times (I’ve talked with other women who have had similar experiences), I feel like I just can’t get these emotions under control. I just can’t think right. But even that is thinking wrong because the fact is by God’s grace I can think right. Really, what it comes down to is I don’t want to think right, right now. I want to be mad or resentful, or I don’t want to do the work it takes to see my emotions brought under the control of the Spirit.

I know sometimes you’re just tired, and you think this is just hard. But grace—God gives grace when we cry out to Him and we say, “Lord I can’t do this. I don’t even want to read Your Word. I don’t want to memorize Scripture. I don't want to pray.” It’s not like I’m proud to say that, but just be honest with God and say, “I need You. I need You to give me the desire. I need You to give me the power to discipline my flesh, to bring these emotions and thoughts under the control of Your Holy Spirit.”

Also, I think at those times when our emotions are really out of control, we can tend to get isolated. Now maybe some people do it differently. But for me, I tend more to withdraw. In a sense, I have a very public life. When I’m struggling the most, I don’t really want to be exposed, so I tend sometimes to isolate myself and withdraw.

That’s really dangerous. You need to make sure somebody knows where your heart is, and that you have friends that are saying, “How is your heart?” and that you’re being honest with them. Because if they’re good friends, they’ll help you get to the Word. They’ll help you get to the truth. I don’t mean that in any harsh or quick fix way but to say, “I know this is hard.” I find myself being helped in recent months in my own emotional tirades, struggles at times, if I will get out of myself and be ministering into other people’s lives who are having their own struggles, I find that I often counsel myself.

I had an email exchange with one of our staff a few weeks ago, and it’s not somebody that I work closely with, but I just said, “How are you doing?”

She said, “I’m really struggling.” I hadn’t been in her life. I didn’t really know what the issues were.

So I said, “Do you want to talk?”

The next morning she called me up. We were out walking, talking. I don’t know if it was any help to her—we actually spent about four hours together that day—but it was a huge help to me because everything I told her was stuff I needed to hear, and I hope I was able to be an encouragement to her as well. Emotions are wild things

I think the quickness that so many in our culture have to medicate runaway emotions has really been in some cases to our detriment. I’m not making any big statements about medication except to say that if our first recourse is to medicate and in some cases that may be helpful, very needed. But if that’s our default I think it’s very possible that we miss out on some of what God wants us to experience.

If David, who probably today would be by some considered bipolar or manic depressive; if he had had available in his day some of the drugs that we have today, we might never have had the Psalms because so many of them were written out of his desperation and his loneliness, his fear, his anger, his being in distress. But it’s so neat to see how in time he gets to the core truth of God.

I’m not saying that if you have God then you’re always going to feel good because we all know that’s not true. It’s a fallen world. I’m not saying that if there are helps available that can regulate us in some ways that that might not be a useful tool, but it’s just a tool. If the objective is to not ever feel bad, there are ways to make sure you don’t ever feel pain. But they may not be the best way because out of pain can come incredible beauty and grace and strength and healing and hope and means to help other people in pain.

So those emotions, they’re tricky. I don’t have it figured out by any means. But those are some of the ways that I process some of that to get back to truth.

Carrie: Nancy this is just a question for you. In the last few months I’ve had interaction with half a dozen or more women who in the course of conversation will say, “I’m just numb. I don’t feel anything anymore. I don’t feel the highs. I don’t feel the lows. There’s been crisis. There’s been whatever, but I can’t even feel it anymore. I’m just going into tomorrow.”

Nancy: Well let me say, there are desert seasons in our lives. Right after Jesus’ baptism and the high point of Holy Spirit descending like a dove and the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). It was an incredibly wonderful experience. In the very next paragraph the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tested, tempted for forty days without food, without companionship, a desert experience.

We can’t expect to be followers of Christ and not have desert experiences. I think there are some seasons sometimes when there’s been a lot of grief compounded, a lot of issues. Some of you are in seasons of life where there are just a lot of things going on at once, a lot of changes. Sometimes just to protect your own heart, I think we do kick into that numb state, maybe not consciously or intentionally. But kind of an avoidance of pain.

Go back to the things you do know and tether your heart to those, and wait for the Lord. Wait for the Lord. We don’t like to wait. There are seasons in life, and no season is forever. This season may seem really long, but it’s not forever. I think our impatience to be out of this, to fix it, to change it, to solve it, that’s kind of our bent. And sometimes to just rest in the Lord and realize that He is merciful, He knows my frame.

To be honest, to use the means of grace that God has made available to us is so important. If I’m not connecting to the Body of believers, if I’m not maintaining honest, biblical fellowship, if I’m not taking the Lord’s Supper—that’s a means of grace—if I’m not in the Word, if I’m not confessing my sin; these are means of grace God has given us. If I’m not praising, not memorizing Scripture. Just evaluate, are there means of grace that God has made available to me that I’m not taking advantage of.

I don’t mean by that to give you ten more things on your to-do list. But I think God will point out here’s something that at this season would be helpful. But when we say helpful, we need to be careful that we’re not saying that it’s going to make everything better. Because as I said in the recent session on suffering, there are some things you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it. You just have to go through it. God meets with us there.

You know those three Hebrew young men never got any closer to Christ than when they were in that fiery furnace where the fourth one came and met with them. Sometimes the heat, the prison for Paul, the exile for John the apostle, that’s where you get the most incredible visions of the glory of God.

And so let God take you there and realize you won’t be there forever. Now if there’s avoidance of sin or you need to clear your conscience, there are some basic things to check. Like you go and get a complete physical you make sure there are no physiological things that need to be tended to and do that. I’ve done that. When I turned fifty I got everything checked out. But I went through the process of checking those things out, seeing if there were any things that needed to be addressed, nutritional issues. I’ve made some changes there.

But there are also some spiritual things to check out. Maybe we need a complete spiritual to say, “Is there somebody I’m bitter toward? Am I missing out on gratitude?” I wrote a book on that recently and I realized as I was that gratitude is a life preserver. When my emotions are out of control and my heart is failing to be thankful through my tears is a powerful means of grace. So ask, “Are there means of grace that I’m not taking advantage of?”

And then realize if there’s no known factor or issues that is contributing to whatever it is you’re feeling or not feeling, then trust the Lord that He can change that.

__________

My favorite preacher is my friend Charles Spurgeon. And I wonder if he could minister as deeply to me as he does today, 170 or whatever it is years since his life, if he had not had those serious physical ailments and long bouts of depression. Was he not trusting God? Was he not spiritual? I don’t know. But I do know that out of darkness came treasures that are blessing me today.

I just wonder out of my dark periods today are there treasures that God wants to bring that will be a blessing to someone else? So receive it. I think sometimes a lot of the wear and tear on our lives is from fighting the circumstances that God has allowed to come into our lives. I can wear myself out just being frustrated with my circumstances where if I would rest and wait and be still before the Lord, there wouldn’t be half the emotional expenditure that sometimes there is.

Woman: Nancy, I appreciate you saying just how you have the challenge sometimes of feeling dry or distant from the Lord. I was just wondering if you could give us some practical ideas of what you do when you get to that point? How do you combat that? How do you pursue that depth again with the Lord?

Nancy: Part of me says there’s no how-to in life so I don’t want you to think that for me or for you this is like a magic potion. But I will say looking back over years of these seasons of periodic drought spiritually, two things that have done more than maybe anything else to help restore my soul have been Scripture memory and singing to the Lord.

I find that in seasons when I am singing and memorizing and meditating on Scripture that very often those will help the cloud to lift or the dryness to be refreshed. Now not necessarily overnight. If you had a long time of a bad diet and you get to where you’re just generally rundown and unhealthy, you don’t eat three good meals and hope all of a sudden to be back in good health. You didn’t get where you are overnight, and you don’t get back to where you want to be or need to be overnight.

So I think sometimes we want such quick fixes that we are not willing to be in it for the long haul, and that’s in this micro-everything culture. We’re just so oriented that way. But sanctification is a long, slow process. It’s a long, slow, hard process enabled by the grace and the Spirit of God, so it’s not us striving, but it is us striving. It’s God working; it’s also us cooperating with Him.

But practically, two of the things that have helped me the most—memorizing and meditating on Scripture. Psalm 27 has been one I’ve been in a lot over the past several months. At times I just need to face myself with the truth. I can get into that passage or another passage and just have my mind washed with the Word.

And then singing. I haven’t done as much of this in recent times. I’m saying it as I’m reminded of what a blessing it’s been in the past.

But I almost always have a hymnal within arms reach, so to speak. I grew up on a lot of these hymns with great, great lyrics, texts, that are so biblical. There are some modern hymns that are being written that have texts. I find them a little harder to sing, personally, because I had a little more classical music training. So those are not the ones I tend to remember first. It’s the older hymns I learned growing up that often are the ones that come to mind first.

I play the piano. I love to do that. So I’ll go to the piano. Sometimes, I’ll tell you, it’s been through my tears and crying so hard you could hardly hear what I’m singing. But I’ll make myself at times go through all stanzas of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms; How Firm a Foundation. "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing." There is something very powerful in the presence of God.

O for a thousand tongues to sing 
My great redeemer’s praise, 
The glories of my God and King, 
The triumphs of His grace.

(O for a Thousand Tongues, Charles Wesley)

I have some of these written at the back of my Bible.

O for a heart to praise my God, 
A heart from sin set free, 
A heart that’s [trusting in] the blood 
So freely shed for me.

A heart resigned, submissive, meek, 
My dear Redeemer’s throne, 
Where only Christ is heard to speak, 
Where Jesus reigns alone.

A humble, lowly, contrite, heart, 
Believing, true and clean, 
Which neither death nor life can part 
From Christ that dwells within. 

A heart in every thought renewed 
And full of love divine, 
Perfect and right and true and good, 
A copy, Lord, of thine.

Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart; 
Come quickly from above; 
Write Thy new name upon my heart, 
Thy new, best name of love.

(O for a Heart to Praise My God, Charles Wesley)

So sometimes it’s hymns of just praise and adoration. Sometimes it’s hymns of what they call aspiration, which is aspiring after God. "Lord, this is not really where my heart is, but where I want it to be." I will find that often the cloud will lift and the greater freedom will come.

Then sometimes you just wait—forty days for Jesus. A servant is not greater than his master. There are stars you can see in the desert that you can’t see in the city. Sometimes in the desert God will give you glimpses of His hand and His heart that you could not have had anywhere else.

So don’t be too quick to want to get out of it if God’s wanting to keep you in it for a purpose. The Holy Spirit is a great soul doctor. He knows what we need. He knows how to make us desperate for God’s grace, and He knows how to pour out the grace to us. Thank the Lord for that. Amen?

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been offering practical counsel on a variety of topics, including how to deal with runaway emotions.

Look, everybody’s emotions swing. So everybody needs to be reminded of this kind of biblical thinking.

And we need to be helping other women know how to glorify God in these practical areas. Nancy opened up her life to us to teach us today. How would God have you open up your life to share with others?

Revive Our Hearts wants to help you grow in investing in other women. We’re inviting you to the conference, Revive '15: Women Teaching Women. It’s coming to Indianapolis September 25–26.

You’ll hear from pastor Eric Mason about the importance of women teaching women in the local church. Jen Willkin will show you how to conduct in-depth Bible study and really understand God’s Word for your self. Nancy will show you how to pass those truths on to other women effectively. Lauren Chandler will be leading worship.

I hope you’ll get more details at ReviveOurHearts.com.

On Monday, we’ll hear from Lauren Chandler.

Lauren Chandler: I want a pain-free life. I don't want to suffer, and I don't want to see the people I love suffer. But more than I want a pain-free life, more than I don't want suffering, I want Him. He is my only true haven. I pray for you that you would know Him the same—the good, loving God who has stead fast love for His people, who uses all things to work for good for those whom He has called according to His purpose.

Leslie: I hope you invest in others this weekend, then be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.

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