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A Christian Counselor Disagrees About Faith And Feelings

Faith and Feelings

A while back I wrote about how Moses Teaches Joshua About Faith And Feelings.

A Christian Counselor emailed with some disagreements.  So I asked if we could dialogue and post the results here.

He said that would be fine.  So here’s our first exchange — let me know what you think.  Thanks!

His initial email

Dear Steve,

I recently read one of your blogs in which you said God commands feelings – and that “If I am feeling frightened and dismayed, and not strong or courageous — I am not trusting that God is with me.”

As a Christian Counselor, I have a general disagreement with your general premise.

One question is — do we know that God’s words are ones of command rather than exhortation?  After all, God made us in his likeness and he knew that we would be full of all kinds of feelings.  Isn’t it possible that our loving God wants us to look to him to deal with our overwhelming and out-of-control feelings?  Isn’t that one of the ways that God can be our Lord?

When you say “if I am feeling frightened and dismayed, and not strong and courageous, I am not trusting God is with me” are you saying that every time I feel frightened and dismayed I am not trusting God is with me?

Wouldn’t that mean that if I am truly trusting that God is with me – then I would never feel frightened and dismayed?  But wouldn’t that mean we should avoid fear and dismay as sin against God’s commands?

I believe that there can be strong feelings of fear that people decide upon.  Christians also may decide to “hang onto” their fear to attempt to manage it prior to turning to God with it, others may decide to hold onto it throughout.  Can both still have a belief that God is still with them?

As counselors  we are trained that to overcome feelings like anger we need to know what we feel, feel that feeling, and then decide what to do about that feeling.  Your statement appears to undercut such a process even for believers.

Sincerely,

Christian Counselor

My response

Dear Christian Counselor,

Thank you for your email.  I appreciate your willingness to talk about these crucial issues.

It looks like you are raising three questions —

Question #1 — Is Joshua 1:9 a command that we stop feeling fear, or is it an exhortation to look to God to deal with our fear?

My answer — I believe it’s saying both.  There are many Scriptures in which God commands that we stop feeling fear (like Joshua 1:9; Isa 41:10; Mat 10:31; Luke 2:10).

But the point of these commands is not that we deny our feelings, or stuff our feelings, or try to will-power our feelings to change.  The point is that we bring our fears to God and rely on Him to change our hearts as we trust His promises.

Question #2 — If fear means I’m not trusting that God is with me – wouldn’t it mean that every time I fear I’m not trusting God?  That if I’m trusting God then I won’t fear?  And that if I do fear, then I am sinning and disobeying God?

My answer — Joshua 1:9 says – “Do not fear … for the Lord your God is with you.”  So the reason I need not fear is because God is with me.  Which means that if I am trusting that God is with me – then I won’t fear.

For example, let’s say I fear losing my job.  So when it comes to the possibility of losing my job, what does it mean that God is with me?  It means —

  • that He is in sovereign control of my job (Proverbs 21:1; Gen 50:20; Eph 1:11);
  • that He will either keep me in my job, or move me on from my job — whatever will bring me the greatest joy in Him (2Cor 4:16-18; 2Cor 12:9-10);
  • and that He will provide all the finances I need whatever He does (Matt 6:33).

So if I really trust those promises – will I fear losing my job?  No, I won’t.

Which means that if I do fear losing my job, then I’m not trusting all that’s contained in the promise that God is with me.

And if I’m not trusting God then I am sinning and disobeying Him.

There’s many Scriptures which show a cause-effect relationship between fear and lack of faith (Psa 56:3-4; Isa 12:2; Mat 8:26; Mark 5:36).  This supports the idea that fear is caused by lack of faith.

So what does God want me  to do when I am afraid?

  • Turn to Him as I am and pray “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
  • Ask Him to forgive me for my unbelief through Jesus (1John 1:9).
  • Ask Him to increase the work of the Spirit in me to help me see and trust all that He promises to be to me in Christ Jesus (Luke 11:13).
  • Pray over specific promises in God’s Word covering whatever I am fearing until the Holy Spirit strengthens my faith and the fear leaves (Rom 10:17).

When I do this, He will run to me with open arms, bringing His loving forgiveness through Christ.  And, by the work of the Spirit, He will strengthen my weak faith so I fully trust all that He promises.  The result is that I will be freed from fear and filled with peace.

Question #3 — if fear is sin and disobedience, wouldn’t that undercut the crucial steps of knowing what we feel, feeling what we feel, and then deciding what to do about that feeling?

My answer — It would not keep us from any of these – because God is calling us to come to Him as we are, with our unbelief and sin, admitting what we are feeling, and asking Him for help.

Let me know what you think, Christian Counselor.  I value this interaction.

In Christ,

Steve Fuller

What do YOU think?

I’d love to hear — leave a reply below.  Thanks.

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Category: Finding Peace and Joy

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23 Responses

  1. Paul Walton says:

    How about an actual case study, someone like say Simon Peter?
    Fear of circumstances that were deteriorating to the point where he knew his life was in danger caused him to denied Christ. So at that moment was he trusting that God was with him? Paul instructs us; anything that is not of faith is sin. Looking at Peter’s life is good example of how our feelings are a great indicator of our faith. Because later on in Peter’s walk with Christ, he had no fear of what man could do to his flesh. Even to the point in rejoicing in being found worthy to suffer for the gospel.

    Fear is the opposite of faith, it causes us to take our eyes off of Christ, were we begin to lose “hope” (the biblical definition of hope,) and we are no longer trusting in God’s promises, but rather we let our human emotions rule our decisions. When I sense fear (outside of real danger) in some area of my life, it shows me what I am trusting in at that moment, fear is a natural emotion, but not everything at all times that is natural, is good.

    • Paul Walton says:

      Steve,
      Perhaps it is important to define the type of fear we are talking about, it is not primarily in the sense of physical danger, but rather the emotion of being afraid of circumstances we face in everyday living, (losing one’s job, having our needs met, being accepted by our peers, etc.)

      Other words meaning having the same meaning
      Synonyms: foreboding, apprehension, consternation, dismay, dread, terror, fright, panic, trepidation, qualm.

      Other words with the opposite meaning
      Antonyms: courage, security, calm, intrepidity.

      • Steve Fuller says:

        Good stuff, Paul. Thanks again.

        In Mat 10:28 Jesus urges us not to fear those who would kill our bodies — which involves physical danger. So I’m not sure it’s helpful to distinguish fear of physical danger vs. fear of other dangers.

        There is a physical and mental alertness that’s appropriate when we face danger (which can include increased heart-beat, sweaty palms, a rush of adrenaline) — but I do not believe that’s what God is talking about when He urges us not to fear.

        The fear God calls us not to have is an emotional dread that something harmful will happen to us, whether that’s losing our lives, health, jobs, friends.

        The reason we don’t need to fear that is because God has promised that those who trust Jesus will have everything in their lives bring about even greater heart-satisfaction in Him. If I trust Him as my Treasure, and I trust that He will work everything in my life to bring me more of Him, then I can be free from fear.

  2. learning every day says:

    I think you’re both right, you’re just looking at it from different perspectives. Yourself being bible based and the counsellor being probably from his own experiences with clients. Both are valid and good to keep in mind when understanding fear.

    Fear I think is such a great and expansive emotion caused by a lot of different situations that I think its important to deal with it in as many ways as God lets possible. It can have lasting effect on the spirit too. The mind forgets but the spirit doesn’t. If you are attacked or robbed or in a car accident, often a victim will say months later that they are still looking over their shoulder just in case.

    We can go to God with emotional responses to fear, like fear of losing your job, our material and social worries, just as we can physical but i feel physical is harder to deal with because its an instinctive reaction to danger. So when the counsellor said about feeling the fear in order to realise its fear, as a method of overcoming something, i can remember when i got hit by a car as a child. For long time, right into my teens i would not cross the road on my own and can still be really cautious on the smallest of roads. The woman who hit me, lied to my mother that it was her son, he had just gotten his driver’s licence and they were going downhill so couldn’t stop in time when they seen me but i recall that they were going up hill and i seen her get out of the drivers seat when i looked up after the collision.

    Despite not having the time to think about anything other than how much it was going to hurt, God was with me anyway because I got away with two scraped knees but that played in my head. What if someone doesn’t stop again and really injures me this time? They can just lie their way out of it?
    Someone nearly did hit me again at college, they were obviously not paying attention and ran a red light/green walking man, driving inches in front of me. That could have been another accident that I was spared from when I didn’t have a moment to even process what had just happened.
    I can say to God every morning, ‘please look after me today’ and i know he will, he has or I wouldnt be here now lol but fear in that moment is so crippling that it just shuts the whole system down and cant be classified as just not trusting in God but more of a praise to him that you weren’t killed.

    And i’m rambling again but just wanted to give an example of why I can see both as being right.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and your story.

      One crucial question is — what God is referring to when He calls us not to fear, because we trust His promises.

      He can’t mean that our hearts should not pound when a car barely misses us. God has wired us so we become intensely alert when our lives are in danger.

      And if in the past you just missed being killed by a car, and experienced all those physical symptoms, I would not be surprised if those physical symptoms recur when you face something similar.

      But that’s not what God is talking about when He says that we don’t need to fear.

      What God is talking about is that you don’t need to live in ongoing emotional fear that someday a car might kill you. And the reason you don’t need to fear that isn’t because He promises it won’t happen. It’s because He promises that if He lovingly and wisely chooses to have that happen then it would only be because through that He will give you even more closeness with Him — and that He will take care of everything else as well.

      But that’s different from you living in emotional fear that a car might kill you. I hope that helps. And again, thank you for sharing your story.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

    • Cathleen says:

      You really found a way to make this whole prosecs easier.

  3. Ariztophanes says:

    I’d agree. Fear is an emotion God gives us to let us know when we’re far from Him.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for your input, Ariztophanes.

      And given the distinctions I made in the two above comments — I agree.

      When I feel fear it shows that I am not trusting all that God promises to be to me in Christ Jesus.

      And the wonderful news is that what God has promised me in Christ means I never, ever, need to fear.

      What a glorious God!

  4. Ash says:

    “When you say “if I am feeling frightened and dismayed, and not strong and courageous, I am not trusting God is with me” are you saying that every time I feel frightened and dismayed I am not trusting God is with me?

    Wouldn’t that mean that if I am truly trusting that God is with me – then I would never feel frightened and dismayed? But wouldn’t that mean we should avoid fear and dismay as sin against God’s commands?”

    To this I say, yes yes yes yes yes! I love the question that asks, Wouldn’t that mean that if I am truly trusting that God is with me – then I would never feel frightened and dismayed?

    Never feeling frightened or dismayed sounds impossible to attain, but if we have faith in God’s promises (I think especially of Romans 8:28 and Isaiah 41:10), we will overcome fear!

    I think Matthew 8:26 is the clearest text in all of this: Fear is a result of unbelief.

  5. Brian says:

    Further case studies would include Abram’s fear of Pharaoh regarding the beauty of Sarai, Genesis 12; Isaac’s fear of Abimelech, because of Rebekah’s beauty, Genesis 26; Jonah’s anger at God’s forgiving those he hated, Jonah 4; Elijah’s fear, after performing some incredible feats, when he fled from Jezebel and Ahab, 1Kings 19:1-8; Thomas, “Unless I see … I will not believe.”, John 20:24.
    These were all men of faith struggling in moments of doubt.
    While I don’t see fear as the opposite of faith, I clearly see fear as the evidence of doubt.
    While I could listed myself in there a hundred different ways, unlike those above, the proof of my faith as not been seen through to the end.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Great to hear from you, Brian! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I’d like to hear more about why you don’t think fear is the opposite of faith.

      It’s helped me to see that fear is the opposite of faith, because that means whenever I’m afraid, the problem is that there’s some promise I’m not trusting. It also means that whenever I’m not afraid, I can overcome that fear by fighting the fight of faith to trust that promise.

      All of this came from seeing passage after passage which show that fear is caused by lack of faith in God’s promises, that fear is solved by faith in God’s promises, that we don’t need to fear because of all that God promises (Isa 41:10; Mat 8:26; Psa 56:3-4; Isa 12:2; Mark 5:36; etc.).

      Blessings to you and your family, brother!

      Steve

      • Brian says:

        Steve,

        I agree in what you have stated that “fear is caused by lack of faith in God’s promises”. Therefore, I see the root cause or “opposite” of faith as the “lack of faith” or “doubt”. This is also why I conclude that fear is the evidence of doubt.

        We might be getting caught up in semantics or attempting to define scripture by our own logic or understanding because our Lord has declared that “whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23) that is no less true for doubt or fear.

        Brian

  6. Louise Holzhauer says:

    How about another actual case study? Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. While the word “fear” is not actually used there, I do believe that the physical and emotional manifestations all point to extreme stress and anxiety over the trial to come. Here are some thoughts on that passage and the idea of fear in Scripture: http://blog.dearchristiancounselor.com/2012/03/16/fear-not-command-or-comfort/.

    To me, the real question should be: Is fear ALWAYS wrong or is it merely SOMETIMES wrong? I think all our emotions are given to us by God for a good purpose. For example, anger motivates us to change things, like Jesus did in the Temple. Concerning fear, “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3. Emotions are just as fallen as our thoughts and can also be twisted toward sin. There certainly are times when fear is a failure to trust God. But there are also times when it represents His good gift of wisdom. By the way, I am a counselor, too.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Great to hear from you, Louise. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      Some of the above comments have helped me distinguish between the physical / mental / emotional alertness we instinctively experience when facing danger — and the emotional dread we feel at the prospect of future pain or loss.

      When God calls us to not fear, I don’t think He’s talking about our instinctive alertness. I think He’s talking about our emotional dread.

      And it’s helpful that you bring up Jesus at Gethsemane. I can imagine Jesus trusting that God is going to give Him grace to suffer, and that great joy will come to Him through His suffering — but also feeling intense horror at the suffering He will endure (and a sense of fear of God’s judgment, as Ryan helpfully mentions below).

      What I’m seeking to understand is all the passages that show that when I’m afraid I’m not trusting God, and that the way to overcome fear is by trusting God (Psa 56:3-4; Mat 8:25; Mark 5:36; Isa 12:2; and many more).

      I can’t get around the implication from these passages — that emotional fear (not physical, instinctive responses to danger) is caused by not trusting God’s promises — and can be overcome by trusting God’s promises.

      I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It’s good to hear from another Christian counselor!

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  7. Bill Schuler says:

    Great discussion people! A big thank you to Steve, and another huge thank you to the Councelor for not being “afraid” to challenge and welcome a challenging discussion:) And one more thank you for the members of the forum who respectfully share ideas and opinions. What a refreshing contrast from so many other blogs I read!
    As for my two cents…I think your both right! “We need to know what we feel, feel that feeling, and then decide what to do about that feeling.” Which would then be to trust Jesus with the situation by going through the process of having Him change our hearts by His promises and His presence. Things make sooo much more sense in His presence. Peace!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      So good to hear from you, Bill!

      So just to clarify — I totally agree that we need to know what we feel, feel what we feel, and then decide what to do about our feeling.

      I think the point of difference is that the Christian Counselor thinks that if we say that fear is caused by not trusting God’s promises, then that will shame people so much that they deny their feelings, stuff their feelings, ignore their feelings.

      But verse after verse in Scripture shows that fear IS caused by not trusting God’s promises.

      So what we should do is lovingly and graciously teach people this truth. We should urge them not to deny, stuff, or ignore their feelings. We should encourage them to bring their feelings to God, admitting how they are feeling, asking Him to show them what promises they are not trusting, asking Him forgive them through Christ, asking Him to strengthen their faith in those promises.

      And as they do that, and pray over specific promises in God’s Word, they will feel the Holy Spirit strengthening their faith, changing their hearts, making God’s love and beauty and glory real to them in their experience.

      And their fear will be gone.

      Anyway, just wanted to clarify some things.

      You are loved and missed, brother.

  8. Ryan says:

    I think Louise raised a great question in pointing to Jesus’ experience of fear, stress, and anxiety in the garden. In all of the other cases, like Abraham, Peter, David, etc., it’s easy to see fear as a lack of faith, but obviously we would hesitate to say the same about Jesus. So is it the same?

    I think we have to consider what Jesus was afraid of. Emphasis is often placed on the horror of Jesus’ physical sufferings, which I certainly don’t want to minimize, but I don’t think this was the cause of Jesus’ fear. Numerous saints have joyfully entered the colosseum and the fire and embraced persecution and death, empowered by their faith in God’s promises. Hebrews 10:34 says, “You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

    Or consider Stephen before his martyrdom: “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. [56] And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (Acts 7:55-56 ESV).

    Did Jesus lack the courage and confidence that characterized these other saints in their final moments? I don’t think so. I think Jesus was gripped by fear of the wrath of the Father, which He was about to endure. So Jesus’ fear comes not from a lack of faith, but from deep faith. He understood what stood before Him and He had no doubt that the Father would satisfy His justice and hold back none of His wrath against sin. While Jesus never lacked faith in the Father, He knew that the Father intended to condemn Him.

    One of the most incredible things about this is that all who are in Christ through faith will never know this fear! All of God’s wrath has been satisfied and all of His favor has been secured through Jesus, our propitiation. So when my circumstances cause me to feel real fear, I can pray with David, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3 ESV).

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Much food for thought here, Ryan.

      I’ve never thought of it in this way, but I believe you might be right.

      And as you say so powerfully — the fact that Jesus DID fear God’s judgment means those who trust Him DON’T need to fear God’s judgment — which means we DON’T need to fear anything.

      Freedom!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  9. Mary-je says:

    Sometimes I wonder, when Jesus says do not fear, or do not worry–might He be saying it in the same way we do? Not: shame on you, you shouldn’t be worrying, it’s a sin. But as a word of comfort: hey, I know it’s scary, but I’m here. If I am really afraid of something, I need comfort, not criticism for being afraid. This is what a good parent would do for a child. And our Heavenly Father is the God of All Comfort!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Mary-je.

      I agree that when God urges us not to fear He is not shaming or criticizing us.

      He’s lovingly inviting us — to see that all He promises to be to us in Christ Jesus means we need not fear, to see that if we are fearful then we are not trusting His promises, and to trust that as we pray over His promises He will meet us so powerfully that our fear will depart.

      I hope that helps clarify.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  10. micah chuks says:

    AS A minister of the gospel what can he explain to his member who comes with gal. 2 vs 20. This goes to tell us as believers the righteousness of God which is christ,in us comes with the boldness He has during the storm in us. Not only that He has not given us the spirit of fear but of boldness and sound mind. I support you in every aspect- which includes you REPLY.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Micah. And you are right, it is helpful (and encouraging!) to understand that we have the Spirit of Christ Jesus living in us — so we can be free from fear in any situation just like He was in the storm.

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