The last two weeks, I spoke about the importance of “Overcoming Negative Thoughts and Emotions.” Today and next week, I want to build on this topic, by sharing principles to “Establish Positive Thoughts and Emotions”.

Did you know that God created us to live from positive thoughts and emotions?

As I’ve shared the last two weeks, negative thinking and emotions rob us of the abundant life Jesus promises. Negative emotions, left unchecked, are detrimental to our well-being and walk of faith. Negative thoughts and emotions affect our health, hinder victorious living, and rob us of our purpose in Christ.

We are a three-part being, comprised of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). Our body and soul form our outer man. Our human spirit is made alive in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The inner man of the spirit only lives in the Presence of God (Eph. 2:6). Life flows from God within, through our spirit, to the soul and beyond.

We are alive to God and all the possibilities of His nature. Paul writes, “So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11 NLT).

Remember, the enemy is defeated and so is the power of sin in our lives. However, he gains power over us when we give it to him through agreement with his lies—which typically come as thoughts and impressions to our minds.

However, the emotions of our soul are subject to negativity (doubt, fear, anxiety, worry, panic, etc.) because our soul and body are linked to an outside world. They have an external viewpoint subject to harassment by the enemy. The writer of Proverbs states,

A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy, and wrath are like rottenness of the bones.” (Prov. 14:30 AMPCE)

The English word rottenness in this verse translates from the Hebrew word rā·qāḇ which means something rotten, an organic object which decays, an infection, or degeneration of a joint or bone that can cause pain or weakness.[1]

Let me re-word Prov. 14:30 according to the definition of rā·qāḇ: “A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy, and anger are infectious causing physical and emotional illness, robbing us of abundant life in Christ.”

The Bible is clear—maintaining a peaceful mind and heart aids your overall health!

Studies show that over 85% of all disease is rooted in our thought life and emotions.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, a researcher in cognitive neuroscience since 1985, in her book Who Switched Off My Brain says that 87% to 95% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life. What we think about affects us physically and emotionally. She goes on to say that fear triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones.

Millions die each year of heart disease and cancer; it’s possible, then, that a high percentage of those diseases were rooted in negative emotions. It’s probable that if someone had taught them to work on their thoughts and emotions (and not just on their bodies), some of them might still be alive today.

When we choose to live from positive thoughts and emotions, we create opportunities to live more fulfilled. We relate to God and others with greater love and joy. God gave us feelings to live from a heart of positive emotions toward Him and others.

Jesus had emotions, we read several accounts in the gospels:

In John 11:35, we read “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible describes Jesus experiencing sorrow over the news of His friend Lazarus’ death.

Jesus also wept over the city of Jerusalem—His compassion for God’s wayward people (Luke 19:41). We read in Luke 10:21 how Jesus had extreme joy when he heard the missions report of the 70 that he sent out to proclaim the gospel with healing and deliverance.

We also read of Jesus being angry with the money changers in the temple because they corrupted the house of prayer and worship into a place of greed (Matt. 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:14-15).

But Jesus didn’t allow His emotions to rule Him. He certainly didn’t allow a moment of righteous anger with the money changers to control His feelings about the people of Israel. Anchored in His identity and God’s love, Jesus allowed the Spirit to rule His thinking, emotions, and actions—He is our example!

God created humanity with emotions. Used properly, Godly emotions lead us into joyful living and compassionate care of others. Feelings draw us closer to God than just our thoughts.

Intimacy flows from the heart, not just the intellect. Positive thoughts and emotions inspire trust, faith, and expectation. Emotions are a gift from God. They are a part of our human design and creation. Emotions help us live from a heart-to-heart connection with God and with others.

Think about this: the Father’s emotions toward me and you are positive: love, compassion, grace, mercy, peace, joy, gentleness, goodness, and faithfulness. Consider what the Lord spoke to the wayward people of Judah, who were led into captivity for 70 years:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11 NKJV)

The Father’s emotions toward us are always positive, always constructive, and always with the intent to build us up and mature us.

The Lord loves everything about you. He created you in His image, and through your new birth in Christ, we are completely accepted in Him. The Lord gave you emotions so you could experience Him, the Kingdom, and life to its fullest.

We have been created new in Christ to walk in the fullness of His positive emotions. We are complete in Him; therefore, we have the capacity by the Holy Spirit to walk in healthy, positive emotions toward God and others.

Our spirit is united with Christ, and we can live a life in the Spirit that is not subject to our soulish or bodily desires that are contrary to God’s nature. Therefore, as I shared last week, we are to bring every thought to the obedience of Christ!

Let’s discuss principles we can use to establish positive thoughts and emotions and to partner with the spiritual reality of our position in Christ.

Principle 1: Resolve Negative Emotions

First, don’t try and escape your negative emotions by ignoring them or pretending they’re not there. God can heal any negative emotions you may be feeling.

Perhaps you are worried about finances, or there is a conflict at work. Perhaps you have a broken heart. Maybe it’s a marriage problem, or you have problems with your kids. Perhaps there is some sickness, pain, or disease.

You may be tempted to escape from your anxiety, stress, anger, fear, and depression. How? Some people become numb and close themselves off from others, the world, even from God and the Church.

Others escape through addictions; these addictions include (but aren’t limited to) things like drugs, alcohol, pornography, illicit sex, video games, TV and movies, food, shopping, relationships, workaholism, and even religious activity.

Addiction is emotional anesthesia, so we won’t feel our emptiness, our fears, our depression, or our anger.

Second, know that unresolved negative emotions can create unforgiveness and bitterness.

The writer of Hebrews states, See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb. 12:15 NIV).

You must remove unforgiveness and offense from your thoughts and emotions; otherwise, they become toxic, affecting you and others.

How do you do this? By bringing your negative thoughts and emotions to God.

Again, the writer of Hebrews invites us to “…come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16 NKJV).

Share your inmost heart. Tell Him what you feel, whether it’s anxiety, stress, fear, anger, sadness… Bring the hurt, the anger, the unforgiveness, and the bitterness to God.

Forgive the offender. Release the issues. Forgiveness is the way out. You have a responsibility to “keep your heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23 NKJV).

Unforgiveness is at the root of most of our negative thoughts and emotions. Someone has wronged us—or we perceive someone has hurt us—and we hold onto the negative emotions associated with the incident instead of releasing and forgiving the offender.

I devote an entire chapter in my book, Fulfill Your Dreams, to the importance of living in forgiveness in order to live a fulfilled life with joyous purpose. Here is a story from that chapter:

Sir, Your Van was Stolen

In the mid-90s, Carolyn and I led a mission trip to Guatemala with a group of youth from our church in Daytona, Florida. We helped build a school, ministered in church services, and served the village children. In many respects, it was a fruitful and fulfilling ministry trip. We arrived home on a Saturday night at midnight, excited to share in our home church the next morning about what God had done on the trip. As we arrived home from the airport and pulled into the driveway with our rental car, I noticed that our family minivan was gone. I asked Carolyn, “Did you let someone from the church borrow our van while we were gone?” She quickly responded, “No, I didn’t.” We sat there confused for a minute, and then an anxious thought flashed through my mind, “Our van has been stolen!”

We quickly unloaded the car and got everything inside. I called the police department only to be placed on hold for what seemed like an eternity. Finally—at about 12:45am—a police representative let me know both the good and bad news. “Mr. Sawvelle, your van was stolen a few days ago. That is the bad news. The good news is that your van was recovered by our department, and it is being held in the Daytona Police impound yard. You can pick up your van on Monday. Oh, and you will need your driver’s license and a money order or cashier’s check for $175 to have the van released. I also need to let you know that the van was severely damaged during the theft.” I was shocked, frustrated, and angry.

I was so angry over what had happened that I could hardly sleep. A few hours later when the alarm went off to get ready for church, I was despondent and full of worry over the van. I lost my joy and peace, and I let the problem become bigger than God. Carolyn tried to help my mood and put everything in perspective, but all I could focus on was the injustice of the situation.

We arrived at the church and the senior pastor joyfully greeted us. He was excited to hear about our mission trip and the stories I would share with the congregation. Instead of joining in his excitement, I began my bitter diatribe about the van. Rather than remaining positive and focusing on the fact that the van was recovered, I was angered and worried about the damage that had been done to it. He quickly discerned that I was in no frame of mind to share with the congregation that morning. I had allowed the situation to rob me of the opportunity to share with our church family about the success of the mission trip. I was miserable during the church service and the rest of that Sunday. I was only thinking about Monday morning and getting the van back.

On Monday morning, I called the police department once more before going to the impound lot. The detective assigned to the case informed me that there was nothing he could do about the impound fee. He then proceeded to tell me that the man who stole the van was in jail, but he would soon be released—even though he had prior offenses—because the van was parked when they found him. Had they caught him driving it, he would have been charged with grand theft auto—a felony—but, because the vehicle was not moving, they could not charge him with a crime.

Frustrated and angry at the injustice, I went to the bank and got a money order for the $175. It was a significant amount of money for us at that time. I paid the fee at the impound lot, signed the paperwork, and proceeded to the back of the lot to pick up the van. As I walked toward the van, my heart sank; the driver’s side window was shattered. As I looked inside, I saw a burned dashboard and a damaged steering column. Garbage and clothes were strewn throughout the van, and it smelled terrible. Upon closer inspection, I realized some of the clothes still had tags on them and I concluded they were stolen goods. Sarcastically, I said to myself, “Just great.”

I started the van and began my trip across town to the Dodge dealer for the repairs. I left the impound lot infuriated and I wanted the man who caused all of this to rot in jail. I wanted justice—I had moved from grace to the law. I pulled up to a stop light, and while waiting for the light to change, I noticed an ashtray filled with ashes on the floor, along with something else: a crack pipe with crack cocaine still in it! I could not believe it. Visions flashed across my mind of the police pulling me over and arresting me in my own vehicle for someone else’s drugs and crimes! My anger went to new heights; I was a volcano ready to erupt.

A few minutes later—while I was still fuming over the situation—something remarkable occurred; God gave me His thoughts for the man and the situation. Honestly—at that moment—I was not praying. I was thinking about how I could get justice. However, God interrupted my thoughts and said to me,

Bob, I care very much for this man who stole your van, just like I care for you and forgive you of your wrongs. He is troubled and confused. Would you forgive him, and would you pray for him to open his heart to me?

My heart instantly changed. I said, “Yes Lord, I forgive him. Forgive me for having unforgiveness toward him and wanting vindication. Please forgive him and surround him with your presence so that he could say yes to you.” When this happened, my emotions immediately went from hateful anger to love and compassion for the man—I saw him in my mind’s eye, miserable and confused in the jail cell. Whether literally or metaphorically, many are imprisoned due to poor choices, and they need God’s grace and our forgiveness to help set them free.

I kept praying for him while I drove to the repair shop, and soon I was back to worshipping and praising God. The tormenting thoughts were gone, and peace began to return. My thoughts were on the Lord, His grace, and His goodness, and no longer on vindication. By the time I arrived at the car dealer, my heart was filled with God’s presence and joy. The attendant checking in my van for the repairs must have thought I was a little strange as I brought in the vehicle with a huge smile on my face! A couple of days later, I picked up our restored van. It looked brand new—what seemed hopeless was now radiant.

I never met the man who stole our van. The detective called me a few weeks later to inform me that he had been released from jail. Over the next few months, whenever he came to mind, I continued to pray for him. Perhaps I will meet him one day on the other side of eternity. God is just, but God is first merciful and compassionate. Mercy triumphs over judgment. We all need God’s grace for, without it, we all deserve an eternal prison.

As I shared last week, you may need others to help you see where you are struggling and help you pray through the issues,

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16 NKJV).

Trespasses—can be sins, but also waywardness and guilt. Again, we often need others to help us identify negative issues affecting us and then receive prayer from them.

Paul told the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2 NKJV).

Burdens from the Greek báros, meaning an onerous concern. Weightiness is associated with this word. Suffering is understood with this word and Paul’s usage.

Paul is alluding to an opportunity for others in the body of Christ to show love to the one who is suffering. Community is also understood here.[2]

Again, be part of a local church community—in accountable small group relationships—and pray for one other when you are struggling.

I’ll pick up on this topic next week, looking at the words we speak, the importance of renewing our minds, and learning to be thankful in order to help establish positive emotions.

Bob Sawvelle Signature


For a deeper look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “Establishing Positive Thoughts and Emotions”:

[1] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[2] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 95–96.

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