Overcoming Negative Thoughts and Emotions - Bob Sawvelle

Worry and anger consumed me, and I couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights after getting the news. What occurred was unjust, and I wanted the wrong to be righted. The anger I was feeling was connected to negative thinking and other harmful emotions. My worry led to fear, which fueled the harmful emotions that were affecting my sleep and my disposition. I had moved from trusting God to worrying about what would happen next.

Have you ever experienced an injustice that opened a door to negative thinking and toxic emotions? Most likely, your answer is yes.

You might be wondering what the incident was that caused my emotions to become toxic. A few years ago, our church contractor called to let me know he was filing bankruptcy and couldn’t complete the construction of our sanctuary building. Our project was only 75% complete, behind schedule, and exceeded the entire project budget. My initial reaction was shock, then anger developed. He didn’t seem to care, after all, “business is business,” right?! I chose to forgive him, although “feelings” of forgiveness would come later. Once I chose to forgive, I was able to overcome my negative thinking and emotions. I moved from the “law” back into “grace,” and God began to work a miracle for our church.

Usually, those who wrong us are either unaware of causing harm or are uncaring about how their behavior has affected us. As Jesus said, it is impossible to live life without suffering offenses. How we handle wrongs and offenses, and our subsequent thinking and emotions will determine our state of being and wellness—whether we abide in God’s peace and joy or are consumed by emotions of worry, fear, anger, unforgiveness, etc.

Our church board hired another contractor and discovered we needed an additional $300,000 to correct some of the construction and complete the project. But, within months we finished the new sanctuary and within a couple of years began to recover from the financial setback the situation had caused us. God worked a miracle for our church and I learned even more about forgiveness and the detrimental effects of negative thinking and emotions. Seriously, I could write a long book on the “ABC’s of Forgiveness!”

Left unresolved, anger and negativity are like taking poison, and they will move you away from the peace and joy that we have, or should have, in Christ.

Today I want to discuss some principles to overcome negative thinking and emotions. Next week I will discuss how we can establish positive thinking and emotions in our lives.

The Effect of Negative Thoughts and Emotions

Let me ask a rhetorical question: do negative emotions affect us? The writer of Proverbs gives us the answer:

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 ofrā·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.

In her book Who Switched Off My Brain?, Dr. Caroline Leaf, a researcher in cognitive neuroscience since 1985, states that 87% of the illnesses plaguing people today are a direct result of their negative thought life.

Her research indicates that “toxic emo­tions can cause migraines, hypertension, strokes, cancer, skin problems, diabetes, infections, and allergies.”¹ She concludes that what we think about tangibly affects us both physically and emotionally.

Her studies indicate that fear triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than thirty different hormones and neurotransmitters.²

Millions die each year of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. It is likely, based on Dr. Leaf’s research, that a high percentage of those affected by disease is due to negative emotions. Perhaps if someone had taught them how to eliminate negative emotions, some of them might be alive today.

I believe it is right to conclude then that some of our diseases are indicators, or messengers, of negative emotions and spiritual root issues that need to be addressed.

However, instead of addressing these spiritual issues, we typically ignore or cover these indicators. We mask the sickness, often through medication, without addressing our soul needs. Consequently, often the sickness reappears—sometimes fatally.

For example, our sickness may be telling us, “You need to forgive and get rid of your anger,” but instead of forgiving, we often just take medication. Or our illness may be telling us, “You need to stop worrying and trust God more,” but instead of trusting, we take antacids or other meds. Or our anxiety maybe telling us, “You need to stop working too hard and relax more with your family,” but instead of enjoying our families and taking time to exercise and relax, we take meds or worse, self-medicate—perhaps by drinking heavily or using other substances.

Hebrew Perspective on Wellness

One of the early leaders of the Church, James, gives both instruction and a glimpse into Hebraic practice for healing in biblical times. He writes:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save (or heal) the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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.” (Jam 5:14-16 NKJV)

Take note, healing of sickness and disease is related to the confession of sin and trespasses; i.e. unforgiveness, envy, jealousy, anger, etc. While not all disease and sickness are related to our sin and faults, there is in some cases a link. I discuss this passage and the Hebraic perspective with healing more in my book, Receive Your Miracle Now: A Case for Healing Today.

In Hebrew culture and in many primitive societies, doctors were also priests. When people became sick, the cure was holistic. Aside from giving them herbs, doctors told them to pray, forgive, and trust God. And then the scientific revolution came, and doctors focused primarily on the body. However, this holistic healing model is returning.

Many doctors today are praying with their patients, encouraging them to have faith, to forgive, and to spend time with their families. You could say that they’ve become doctors and priests again. Why not, every follower of Christ is an ambassador for him—a priest of God!

God Created us with Emotions

Understand that foremost, the Lord loves everything about us. He created us into his image, and through our new birth in Christ, we are completely accepted in him. The Lord gave us emotions so that we could experience him, the kingdom, and life in its fullest.

Jesus had emotions, we see them evident in the gospel accounts. 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.

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 wayward Judah, who was 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)

God’s feelings toward us are powerful and positive—they are transformative—even when we are faithless. His goal is restoration for his people—there is always hope in Christ for you and me!

Keep in mind that Jesus can never be rejected from the Father, and neither can you and I as we live in Christ. Jesus, ascended, glorious, and victorious is at the right hand of the Father. John declares, “as He is, so are we in this world.”(1 John 4:17 NKJV) Jesus is loved and accepted by the Father, and so are we. The Father’s emotions toward us are ALWAYS positive, even in correction!

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.

Identifying the Negative Emotions

Negative emotions, left unchecked, are detrimental to our well being and to our walk of faith, affect our health, and hinder our calling and purpose.

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.

Our soul and body form the outer man, and 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. However, it does not flow back the same way. The soul cannot overwhelm the spirit; it can however, take control of situations if our will permits.

We are alive to God and all of 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) Our inner man, our spirit, uses the attributes of the presence of God to intertwine with our spirit—we are alive with God through Jesus living out of the realm of the Spirit. We must renew our soul to this reality and live from it.

Words Affect our Emotions

Words have the power to break us down or build us up. Whatever words we come into agreement with carry a substance of an assignment that can be fulfilled. If we don’t come into agreement with negative words, their assignment will be void and without any power over us. Whatever you come into agreement with you empower. A pastor friend of mine, Dr. Rodney Hogue states, “You will either be on God’s construction team or the devil’s demolition crew!” 

Words can be used to bring life or harm—to others or ourselves. Words uttered like… “You’re stupid,” “You will never amount to anything,” “You’re just like your father (or mother),” “You’re a failure,” etc. Or “I am a failure” or “I am so stupid” …are some common phrases that become self-fulfilling when there is agreement with them unless broken. All too often the church has accepted the “spin” of hell rather than the words of heaven.

By the way, complaining can release words that empower the enemy. I love what Rodney said about complaining, “Complaining is nothing more than the worship language of Hell.” Words are so much more powerful than most people realize. If you think about it, words have the power to create and to destroy. God spoke everything into existence, and remember in Matt 21:19-20, when Jesus spoke to the fig tree and said, “May you never bear fruit again!” This tree withered and did not bear any more fruit. The power of words can move mountains combined with faith. Prov 18:21, “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” (NLT)

Stress and Sickness

Worry causes stress and fear. Your body can process small amounts of stress; however, excessive stress—whether real or per­ceived—can create emotional, mental, and physical problems. Remember, “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body…” (Prov. 14:30 NLT). Conversely, a heart filled with worry and fear can open the door to health issues.

Prolonged stress can deplete your immune system, leading to sickness and disease. Stress can hinder your ability to emo­tionally process the demands of life, weakening not only your physical body but your cognitive functions as well. Stress can also create unhealthy fear and phobias. Unresolved stress and fear will hinder you from living victoriously.

Who are those most susceptible to heart disease? Those with a Type A Personality: People who are aggressive, easily angered, competitive, controlling, and always rushing. 82% of people who have heart disease have a type A Personality. Why? Stress.

Here’s another statistic: more strokes and heart attacks happen on Monday than any other day of the week.

I read a story years ago about a woman who liked her job but didn’t like the boss she was working for. There was a lot of conflict. Wanting a break from her stress, she took a 15-day vacation. And she enjoyed her two-week vacation. But on the 14thday, when she knew she was going back to her job, she suffered a massive stroke. Today, half of her body is paralyzed. This was a perfect picture of her life—half of her body wanted to go to work, the other half didn’t want to! Our bodies were not made for prolonged stress.

Another Negative Emotion is Anger

Psalm 4:4 says “Be angry, and do not sin.”(NKJV) Paul repeats this in Ephesians, Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.” (Eph 4:26-27 CEB)

Anger left unresolved gives the devil opportunity to afflict you. There is a place for righteous anger, but it is to be tempered in the fruit of the Spirit. Angers purpose is to spur us to action, not to carry unforgiveness and become bitter. Anger, or injustice, invites us to go higher in God.

Once that purpose for anger is fulfilled, you should get rid of anger by forgivenessHere’s the truth: God never designed your body to keep anger for a long time.

In other words, anger has an expiration date. Once past its due, it becomes poison in your body. Are you angry with someone? Surrender your anger to God.

I read of a study that was done many years ago, conducted of 255 doctors of the same age who took a “hostility” test. The study specifically surveyed how they responded to drivers who cut them off on the road, to people who criticize them and to friends who were disloyal to them. Thirty years later, the researchers went back to these same doctors. What did they find out? Some of those doctors who scored high in the test were already dead!  Their death rate was six times higher than those who scored low in the hostility test. Angry people die sooner!

Eliminating Negative Emotions

If we don’t want to live oppressed or get sick, what should we do with stress, anger, sadness, fear, and other negative emotions?

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

Perhaps you have money problems now that are causing you to worry. Or conflicts at work. Or a broken heart. Or you have marriage problems or have been through a divorce. Or perhaps problems with your kids. Or you’re sick right now.

You may be tempted to escape from your anxiety, stress, anger, fear, and depression. How? Some people become numb or isolate themselves from the world around them. Others escape through addictions, such as with drugs, alcohol, pornography, illicit sex, video games, TV and movies, food, shopping, relationships, workaholism, and even religious activity. Addiction is really emotional anesthesia, so we won’t feel our emptiness, our fears, our depression, our anger. We distract ourselves.

But when we don’t resolve our negative emotions, they can manifest in our bodies as respiratory problems, ulcers, headaches, skin allergies, digestive problems, heart disease, and cancers.

Second, Bring Your Negative Emotions to God

Go to God now. And share your inmost heart. Tell Him what you feel, whether it’s anxiety, stress, fear, anger, sadness… the Psalms illustrate this:

Psalm 22:1-2 CEB says, “My God! My God, why have you left me all alone?… My God, I cry out during the day, but you don’t answer…” 

And in Psalm 55:1, 4-5 CEB, “ God, listen to my prayer; don’t avoid my request!… My heart pounds in my chest because death’s terrors have reached me. Fear and trembling have come upon me; I’m shaking all over.

God allowed the negative emotions of others to be penned in scripture, inviting us to go before him in prayer and release these negative emotions. God is telling you to go to him no matter what you’re feeling, he is waiting for you to pour your heart out before him trusting him for a positive outcome. And you’ll notice the healing of your body too. The writer of Hebrews invites us to:

“Let us therefore 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)

Next, Bring Others Before God.

Bring the hurt, the anger, the unforgiveness and bitterness to God. Forgive the offender, release the issues. Forgiveness is the way out.

Unforgiveness is at the root of most of our negative emotions. Someone has wronged us, or we perceive someone has hurt us, and we hold onto the negative emotions associated with the incident.

Lastly, Replace with 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)


I will expound next week on Establishing Positive Emotions, have a great week!

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


For a more in-depth look at overcoming negative thoughts and emotions, watch the Passion Church message, “Overcoming Negative Thoughts and Emotions

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Bob Sawvelle

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