Establishing Positive Thoughts and Emotions - Bob Sawvelle

Did you know that God created us with the intent that we would live from positive thoughts and emotions? Negative thinking and emotions rob us from the abundant life Jesus promised. They also hinder our spiritual vitality to run effectively the “race set before us.” (Heb. 12:1)

Being thankful is one of the ways to worship God and walk with him joyously. But giving thanks also helps us to develop positive thoughts and emotions in our lives. Learning to have an “attitude of gratitude” is not just a cliché, but a biblical truth that enables exuberant worship of God and healthy living.

When we choose to live from positive thoughts and emotions, we create opportunities to live more fulfilled and we relate to God and others with greater love and joy. God gave us tangible feelings so that we could live from a heart of positive emotions toward him and others. Endeavor to choose thankfulness over complaining and positivity instead of criticalness. Focus your thoughts and feelings on what is good and wholesome (Phil. 4:8)—you’ll enjoy friends, family, and life more!

Last week, I wrote about the importance of “Overcoming Negative Thoughts and Emotions.” Today, I want to build on this topic, by sharing principles to “Establish Positive Thoughts and Emotions.”

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. Part of our human design and creation. Emotions help us live from a heart to heart connection with God and others.

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

In John 11:35, we read that “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 also 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!

Think about this, the Father’s emotions toward you and me 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, 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 in 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.

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 which 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 like an infection that causes decay of your joints or bones, which can cause pain or weakness.”

The Bible is clear, maintaining a peaceful mind and heart aids to 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, its possible then that a high percentage of those diseases were rooted in neg. emotions. It’s probable that if someone had taught them to work on their thoughts and emotions (not just on their bodies), some of them might still be alive today.

Let’s discuss principles we can use to help establish positive thoughts and emotions which 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 over 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 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 off others, the world, even God and the church.

Others escape through addictions, such as 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 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 for abundant living and joyous purpose.

Principle 2: Chose to Speak and Meditate Upon Words that are Positive

An old saying my grandmother repeated often to us: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” How true!

Proverbs states this timeless truth as well, The tongue of the wise enhances knowledge, but the mouth of a fool gushes with stupidity.” (Prov. 15:2 CEB) Like my grandmother used to say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it!” Choose to speak only life-giving positive words to others.

Proverbs also states, The tongue can bring death or life…” (Prov 18:21 NLT) Words have the power to build us up or tear us down. Whatever words we come into agreement with carry a substance of an assignment that can be fulfilled. Whatever you come into agreement with you empower. Critical and negative words release negative assignments; don’t make it easy for the accuser of the brethren!

Words are so much more powerful than most people realize. They have the power to create and to destroy. God spoke everything into existence; our words have creative power associated with them.

Next, choose to focus on positive thoughts,

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8-9 CEB)

Focus on the truth and purity of God’s word and nature, it will build your thoughts higher, not lower. The nightly news is a poor substitute for the truth of God’s word!

Principle 3: Renew your Mind

Paul encourages believers to participate with God to change one’s thinking—it is not automatic,

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2 NLT)

This process of transformation through the renewing of your mind enables you to have God’s perspective on life and empowers you to become the extraordinary person you were created to be. The English word “transform” in this passage, as well as in 2 Cor. 3:18, comes from the Greek word metamorphoō which primarily means “to change the essen­tial form or nature of something, or to become completely dif­ferent.” [2]

In Christ, we have already become something new, of a different form or nature. Therefore, Paul exhorts the reader to allow the Spirit to change the essential nature of how we think as well; to realize this change, we must cooperate with the process.

Past experiences, circumstances, and present schemes of the enemy will attempt to use negative thoughts and emotions against us, but we have been given a comforter, helper, the Holy Spirit who wants to help us. Therefore, with the Spirit’s help and the truth of God’s Word,

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” (2 Cor. 10:4 NLT)

Ungodly thinking creates mental strongholds; be active to remove them from your thinking! We have a part to play in renewing our mind and living out of positive thoughts and emotions.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, in her book, Switch on Your Brain states, “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts. New thought networks grow. We increase our intelligence and bring healing to our brains, minds, and physical bodies.” [3]

You must consciously direct your thinking away from toxic thoughts and replace them with healthy thoughts. Your emotions and behavior will follow your thought life. Pray, and ask God for right words and thoughts. David said in the Psalms,

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.…” (Psalm 19:14 NKJV)

On your worst day, when negative situations overwhelm you, you can break free by setting your thoughts on the Lord and his truths. You are a partaker of his divine nature in Christ, he wants to help you. Maintain a positive, optimistic, confession of faith!

Did you know that optimists tend to live longer? I ran across a study a few years ago where scientists studied 1,100 patients at the Mayo Clinic and asked them to do a personality survey. These studies classified them according to being optimists and pessimists. Thirty years later, they went back to these patients. Here’s what they found out: Optimists have a 19% higher chance of still being alive than the pessimists. Choose to be optimistic with your thinking and perspective!

Principle 4: Learn to Be Thankful

Sometimes, we have food in front of us, yet we often complain that it isn’t our favorite. No wonder we lack happiness in our lives, and no wonder many are emotionally and physically sick. Develop an attitude of gratitude! The Psalmist declares,

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.”(Psalm 100:4-5 NKJV) 

Learn to be more thankful for life. Live in gratitude. Celebrate God’s goodness, even in the smallest blessings. Soon, happiness and healing will flow into your life.

Principle 5: Choose Trust over Negative Thoughts and Worry

The writer of Proverbs states an important truth,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6 NKJV) 

True trust develops from an intimate pursuit of God. Learning of him, what he promises, and of his very nature—trust develops.

The opposite of trust is worry and fear. Most of our worry and fear is unfounded. Statistics on worry and fear indicate that,

41% of what we worry about never happens
30% are in the past and can’t be helped
12% involves the affairs of others and are none of our business
10% relate to sickness, real or imagined
8% of our worries are likely to happen

According to an old saying, “Fear and worry are interest paid in advance on something you may never own.” And Aristotle explained, “Fear is pain arising from anticipation of evil.” When you acknowledge that the majority of fear is unfounded, you can begin to release yourself from its power. [4]

The best antidote to worry and fear is to throw your care on God and trust him. A mature trust in God helps you release stress and keeps you healthy! Surrender your problems to God.

Follow the Bible when it says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:7 NKJV) Give God all your fears; he does care for you.

Principle 6: Rest in His Peace

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NKJV)

Through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can walk in his peace, even in the midst of trials. We choose to live from his peace, and not from our soul. We are learning to fight from a place of rest and peace. To not be overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, or panic is a part of our heritage as people of Christ. Rest is a weapon.

The enemy can’t penetrate our peace in Christ, but he is destroyed by it when we rest confidently in God.

There will always be tribulation in the world. Peace works on us emotionally to create courage. Peace releases an authority that commands total obedience.

Principle 7: Live in His Joy

Your body was made to operate with the “oil of gladness” flowing through your veins, tissues, and cells. You were made to laugh, to celebrate, to be happy.

Jesus said about joy,

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11 NKJV)

I like the fullness of joy, far better than sorrow that comes from a lack of abiding in Jesus!

I love hearing his voice, and I love the effect it has on me emotionally. It is always positive, and it brings peace and joy to my heart. When our joy is full, we have an authority to lift people in the Spirit. Joy gives us influence that arouses desire in people. Remember, the angels came with glad tidings of great joy.

I love the Holy Spirit; he is cheerful, exuberant and is wild about us. He loves being our comforter and friend, loves to glorify Jesus. He is positive, and he is hard to grieve.

I read a remarkable story years ago about the power of joy and laughter. One day, writer and editor Norman Cousins was diagnosed to have heart disease. In his book, The Anatomy of An Illness, he shares how he got healed: By taking Vitamin C and mega-doses of laughter. Every day, he would watch comedy films and enjoy 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter. And he was healed! Doctors thought he would live a short life. But he lived for 30 more years and died in 1990.

Proverbs states the power of laughter and joy,

A merry heart does good, like medicine …”(Prov. 17:22 NKJV)

Are you a happy person? Do you enjoy life? Are you fulfilled? Are you self-assured? Again, studies show that positive emotions strengthen your immune system.

Principle 8: Diet, Rest and Exercise

Eating right, resting sufficiently, and getting consistent exercise helps us physically and emotionally. Our thoughts and hormones come into balance with a healthy diet, rest and exercise.

Studies indicate that we should have 7-8 hours a night of sleep for optimal rest and health. The AMA recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate cardiovascular exercise to reduce stress, maintain proper weight, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Our diet should be more plant-based with healthy fats and fewer animal fats, low on processed foods, salt and sugar to name a few dietary items.

Your Thoughts Direct Your Destiny

Our thoughts and emotions do affect us, both positively and negatively. God uses our thoughts and emotions to connect us with our destiny.

What do you love? What you love or think about the most is often a guide to the gifting and influence the Lord has given you or is bringing you into. If money wasn’t an issue what would you pursue? When you know that, you know something of who you are and what your calling is in the Kingdom.

Conversely, the Father can call on our negative emotions to help us and determine our future. For example, what we hate is a clue to what God has raised us up to deliver. For example, Moses hated the injustice he saw toward his people, it was a negative emotion that God used to bring him into his purpose as a deliverer. Nehemiah agonized over the state of Jerusalem. Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

Remember, by changing the way we think, we can stay physically and emotionally healthy!

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13 NKJV)


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

[2]Bob Sawvelle, Fulfill Your Dreams (Tucson, AZ: CreateSpace, 2018), 49.

[3]Caroline Leaf, Switch on Your Brain (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 20.

[4]; accessed Nov. 14, 2018.


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Bob Sawvelle

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