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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

A Christian Counselor Disagrees About Faith And Feelings (Part Two)

Faith and feelings

A while back I wrote “Moses Teaches Joshua About Faith And Feelings.”

A Christian Counselor wrote an email expressing some disagreement.

I asked if he would be interested in an email exchange on this topic, and he graciously agreed.

So last week I posted his first email, and my response (the comments are also helpful).

And here’s —

His second email

Dear Steve,

Thanks for your response.  It is important to dialogue about these issues so there can be learning, not only of scripture but of a broadening of our understanding of our human (sin) nature and ultimately our need for Jesus.

I understand what you have written and it’s clear that you have overwhelming Biblical support for your answers.  But there are a few areas that could be expanded upon.

One area is the idea that God wants us to have such solid faith that we feel no fear.  I don’t know anyone who has set out on a track to pursue such a faith and has achieved it.  It seems unattainable while we are human beings. Maybe you know of some people that have appeared to achieve this to a high degree and you can comment about how they live.

Can this also apply to all feelings?  If we strive to have such a strong faith will we feel little of our own feelings?   Or, could it be that such a faith is meant to encourage the elimination of “uncomfortable” feelings (such as anger, confusion, sadness) while little leaving only the internal space for the more “comfortable” feelings (peace, joy, contentment)?

Another area is this — if Joshua 1:9 is only an exhortation then wouldn’t it follow that God knows that as “stiff necked” people we will feel fear?  I can see how God wants us to rely upon Him in times of fear to protect and support us and more.  But it is very hard to believe that since God made us in his image, knowing that we would be fearful people, that He would not want us to rely upon any other form of managing that feeling other than by faith in Him.  As counselors we are trained  to help people toward self-mastery.  My Christian take on that is called self control.  How would that enter into the equation here?

Christian Counselor

Here’s my response

Dear Christian Counselor,

Thanks again for pursuing this, and for your gracious response.

First, a clarification.

When the Bible calls us not to fear, it’s not talking about the pounding heart, shaky knees, and rushing adrenaline you feel if a car almost hits you.  Those symptoms are given to us by God for our protection.

What the Bible is talking about is the emotional dread we feel over some possible loss or pain.

So with that in mind — a quick review.

I believe God’s Word says fear is caused by not trusting all that God promises to be to me in Christ Jesus (Isa 12:2; Matt 8:26; Psa 56:3-4; Mark 5:36).

This should not make me deny, stuff, or ignore my feelings.

This should encourage me to come to God as I am, admitting and confessing my fear to Him, and trusting that through Christ I am forgiven, welcomed, and loved.

Then I should find which promises I am not trusting, and pray over them until I feel the Holy Spirit strengthen my faith, free me from fear, and fill me with peace and joy in Christ.

It sounds like you are in general agreement with that – but you have some questions —

Question: If faith in God’s promises means we never need to fear, does that mean it’s possible to actually be free from all fear?

Answer:  I do not think the Bible teaches that in this life anyone achieves a state of perfect freedom from fear.  But I do believe every fear I face in this life can be overcome by trusting God’s promises.

So day by day, when I feel fear arising in my heart, if will I turn to God as I am, confessing what I am feeling, and praying over His promises — unbelief will be broken, faith will be strengthened, and peace and joy in Christ will be restored.

Question: If we strive to have such strong faith, will we feel little of our own feelings – or will we eliminate the uncomfortable feelings and increase the comfortable feelings?

Answer: The more we trust all that God promises to be to us in Christ Jesus, the more we will be free from feelings like fear, jealousy, bitterness – and filled with strong feelings of peace and joy in Christ.

Question:  Does God want us to manage our fear only by faith in Him?  Don’t we want people to grow in self-mastery and self-control?

Answer:  When I am afraid and turn to God’s Word, I hear God say “If you trust all I promise to be to you in Christ Jesus, you will be free from fear” (Isa 26:3-4; Mark 4:40).

So I’m not sure why I’d want to pursue other means.

[Someone helpfully commented that medication can help when fear has chemical or organic causes.  I agree.  What I’m focusing on in this post is emotional causes for fear.]

And I agree that God’s Word calls us to self-control, which in this case would mean responding to fear by turning to Jesus Christ and using prayer and His Word to fight the fight of faith until the Spirit frees me from fear and fills me with peace.

Some final thoughts

I hope this persuades you that fear is caused by not trusting all that God promises to be to us in Christ Jesus, and that fear is overcome by coming to Jesus Christ as we are, confessing our fear, asking for His help, and praying over His promises until we feel the Spirit strengthening our faith so the fear is replaced by peace and joy.

I’m also hoping you can see that, rightly understood, this approach would not cause anyone to deny feelings, stuff feelings, or ignore feelings.

I look forward to further questions or interactions.

Thank you for your time on this, and for your gracious spirit,

Steve Fuller

Comments?  Feedback?

I’d love to hear them.  Leave a reply below — thanks.

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Category: Fearful or Worried?, Strengthening Your Faith

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21 Responses

  1. learning every day says:

    There’s a word missing from this. I’m pretty simple minded and took a few times to understand the conversation but maybe the word ‘surrender’ would be good here.

    Don’t know how that would go down with a non Christian client for the counsellor but as a Christian, this idea of feeling fear over a situation, going to God with this fear and talking to Him about it as human beings do with each other anyway, realising that He knows you better than you do and knows what you really need and having the self control to be patient and wait out what He does with this event is ultimately, an abandoning of your pride and wishes and surrendering to His will for you and whatever that means for your life.

    Sometimes when in a panic, I feel doubt, I always get replies that make me feel like He’s saying, ‘Hello? Creator of the universe? Relax’ lol

    I know its a rehash of what’s going on but just my thoughts.

    Interesting topic.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that surrender is a crucial part of this.

      But many people misunderstand surrender, thinking it means willing myself to not want what I really want.

      But the more biblical way to surrender is to turn from a lesser pleasure (what I fear losing) and trust that whatever God does will bring me the greatest pleasure (more of Him).

      So, rightly understood, I think you are right on the money to bring surrender into the conversation.

      Thanks!

  2. Exploring says:

    I am Christian counselor as well and wonder about a few things. First, Steve, you made this point. “So day by day, as I feel fear arising in my heart, I turn to God as I am, confess what I am feeling, and pray over His promises until my unbelief is broken, my faith is strengthened, and my peace and joy are restored”. What if my peace and joy are not restored? I have had this experience in my own life and have found that I need to go to “other means” (ie. medication) to help me with my fear. Anxiety runs in my family and the medication is a tool that I believe God used to help me immensely.
    Also, I wonder about this statement. “When we perfectly trust all that God promises to be to us in Christ Jesus, we will be free from feelings like fear, jealousy, bitterness – and filled with strong feelings of peace and joy in Christ.” Is it possible for me to perfectly trust in all that God promises? It feels like it might set up a big barrier for many of us who most of the time, do not perfectly trust in all that God promises.
    Just some more food for thought….

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for your input, Exploring.

      Regarding your first point, there surely is a place for medication, because there can be organic and chemical causes for anxiety. In these cases medication can work, and I am glad to hear you have benefited from it. I will take another look at how strongly I stated my point, and maybe see if I can nuance it a bit more.

      And regarding your second point, I think you are right on the money. I’m going to look at that statement and probably revise it, because I don’t think anyone can perfectly trust God in this life. I was trying to emphasize that faith does not squelch feelings. But it sounds like I might have ended up overstating how much faith we can exercise in this life. Thanks for the helpful feedback.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  3. Paul Walton says:

    Feelings are a fairly reliable barometer of where we are spiritually. If we are constantly fearful or angry, it is a testimony to others about the Christ we are trusting in. If we have no more security than the world does, or compassion for others, why would they want to know this Christ we trust in?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Lots of wisdom here, Paul. Thanks!

      • Paul Walton says:

        Steve,
        Either we can hang our lives on God’s word, or not. Either the gospel has the power to help us overcome ALL our fears, and if not, then these words below are empty.
        Myself I choose to believe God’s word, “perfect love casts out ALL fear.”

        There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.- 1 John 4:18

        “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”-1 Thessalonians 1:5

  4. Joe G says:

    I could be wrong, but it seems that the thoughts behind points (or questions) 1 and 2 should not be: “This is how we can be perfect”.

    Rather, when we fear (or more directly, sin)… and it is a question of WHEN, not IF… God’s promises allow for us a graciously loving redemption and reconciliation with Him through faith in Jesus. God’s promises offer us hope when we fall short. So WHEN we are feeling anger, confusion, and sadness, we can have hope through Jesus that we can be delivered, or freed from them.

    I’m a little confused by the Christian Counselor’s 3rd point about self control. Isn’t that one of the Fruits of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23? As Christians, where better to get self control than from the 3rd person of the Trinity the Holy Spirit? It still points back to faith that He will supply me with self control when I ask, doesn’t it?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Great to hear from you, Joe!

      And I agree that it’s not a question of being perfect. It’s just a question of whether every emotional (not chemical, organic, or physical) fear can truly be overcome by faith in God’s promises. God’s Word seems to say Yes.

      And you are so right to point us to God’s mercy in Christ, which means we can turn to Him as we are and receive everything we need — including self-control.

      Onward, brother!

  5. Clay B says:

    Dear Steve,
    Very much enjoy your blog.
    Circumstances will only over whelm us when we take our eyes off the Lord, who is able to do above what we ask and think. I can agree more with your poing on fear and faith.
    We see this is Psalms 56. First in verse three David writes that “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In the next verse he realizes through faith that when his trust is in the Lord he will not fear; “In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.”

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Clay,

      Thank you for your thoughts and your encouragement. I deeply appreciate them.

      I, too, have been deeply impacted by pondering Psalm 56:3-4. It provides a powerful theology of faith and fear.

      May the Father continue to strengthen our faith and so free us from fear.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  6. Natasha Kay says:

    I would like to reply with some of my favorite quotes that have helped me successfully endure (by God’s grace!) very fearful circumstances that have broken many a woman and far too many believers.

    “Rest is not some holy feeling that comes upon us in church. It is a state of calm rising from a heart deeply and firmly established in God.” Henry Drummond

    First off, let me explain why I believe fear and anxiety come straight from the pit of hell:

    “I implore you to not give into despair. It is a dangerous temptation, because our Adversary has refined it to the point that it is quite subtle. Hopelessness constricts and withers the heart, rendering it unable to sense God’s blessings and grace. It also causes you to exaggerate the adversities of life and makes your burdens seem too heavy for you to bear. Yet god’s plans for you, and His ways of bringing about His plans, are infinitely wise.” -Madame Guyon

    Next, is this life about perfection or is it about striving for perfection?

    “When God finally conquers us and changes our unyielding nature, we receive deep insights into the Spirit of Jesus. Then, as never before, we see His extraordinary gentleness of spirit at work in this dark and unheavenly world. Yet the gifts of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal.5:22) do not automatically become evident in our lives. If we are not discerning enough to recognize their availability to us, to desire them, and then to nourish them in our thoughts, they will never become embedded in our nature or behavior. Every further step of spiritual growth in God’s grace must be preceded by acknowledging our lack of a godly attribute and then by exhibiting a prayerful determination to obtain it.” G.D.W.

    And what if it takes a long time to get that peace? What if we try and try and nothing happens?

    “Christ may delay coming to us during our times of distress, but it is simply so our faith may be tested and strengthened. His purpose is also that our prayers will be more powerful, our desire for deliverance will be greater, and when deliverance finally comes we will appreciate it more fully. Gently rebuking His disciples, Christ asked, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (Mark 4:40). In effect, He was saying, ‘Why didn’t you face the storm victoriously and shout to the raging winds and rolling waves, ‘You cannot harm us, for Christ, the mighty Savior, is on board’?’ – Daniel Crawford

    So I ask everyone — do we want to live lives where we self-master our fear? Where we take it upon ourselves to try and “feel our feelings”, all the while allowing Satan to take over even more of our thoughts? Or do we say to those feelings of fear: “Bring it, fear! Bring what you have! Because Christ, the mighty Savior, is on board and you have nothing on me!!”

  7. learning every day says:

    @Natasha Kay

    I like that you brought up the story of Jesus asleep during a storm. Imagining it always makes me laugh.

    But, and maybe it’s just my own current understanding of God combined with my own nature, but I scratched my head a little bit at the shouting at the storm theory.

    I like it, I feel like it’s one of the things that at some point in my faith, I should be able to do but then I wonder if perhaps just ignoring it like Jesus would be better? Focusing on God rather than tempting a tempest? I don’t want to give it anymore of voice than what it’s already stolen from me.

    I just get the image in my mind that it would be like poking a grizzly bear with a big stick and then running to God crying because its now chasing me lol

    Perhaps its just a personality thing? Aggressive or confident are not words I would use to describe myself but I know that at times it is nessecary in order to be strong against something, especially in the working realms of the world. I would like to be and throughout life, I am encouraged to be in order to cope but that’s just not me. That’s not how I’ve been made. I find more strength in silence where I can listen to God or maybe that’s developing faith on my part?

    I don’t know. I am in no way saying that you are wrong or challenging your opinion. I just feel that, for me, in my own introverted nature, when I’m clinging to a sail mass in fear of being tossed over board and drowned, I would like to think I could laugh it off in the knowledge that God is with me and I cannot be harmed but know that I would rather grab a blanket and curl up beside Jesus instead LOL

    Thoughts anyone?

  8. Natasha Kay says:

    @learning every day:

    Great thoughts! You really hit the nail on the head, actually. Because in my opinion, you are totally right — when you shout at the storm (i.e. Satan), you are taunting him. And them fightin’ words. 😉

    For me, this attitude of “bring it, Satan…I’m ready” only came on the heels of intense suffering. I found myself so desperate that I had no choice but to lay down and accept Satan’s plans for my life or seek God and trust Him to pull me through to something better. In that very difficult year, I was blessed to experience God show me that even in the midst of Satan having a full-on hay-day with my life, by seeking His way (and not the world’s way), I was genuinely happy! Joyful, even! People commented about the “glow” I seemed to have — other women who had gone through similar situations stopped and asked me how they could get what I had. Some of those women came to know Jesus as their personal savior because of it! And with every day that passed, I got a little more of the puzzle — seeing how God was using this storm to bless me, bless others, and bring about the purpose he designed for my life.

    So I’ve learned that being able to “shout at the storm” doesn’t happen easily and it’s not something one should do if they are not properly equipped. It’s not for the meek.

    During the most intense part of my battle, I was fasting every day for six months, I was praying and reading my Bible for six hours a day (including in the middle of the night), I mean…it was intense. I don’t often tell people about that but I think it’s critical to this discussion. A soldier doesn’t go to war without being armed and trained to defend themselves….and similarly, a Christian should NEVER go to spiritual battle without spiritually arming and training themselves. And tackling Satan head-on is exactly that — spiritual warfare. Fighting for the lost souls of your friends and family — that’s spiritual warfare. That starts and ends on your knees, in your “prayer closet”. The storms we fight in this faith are won on our knees…on our faces. In humility and a desperate longing for God’s wisdom to become our own wisdom. Because when we have that attitude, Satan can throw his biggest guns at us and we will have the spiritual strength to take the blow, pick ourselves up from the ground, bind the wounds, and then stand tall and say “alright — what’s next?”.

    Satan thought he had me. He thought he had my kids. My husband’s life. Our legacies. But he thought wrong. And when something else tragic happens to me, I pray that I won’t hide from the pain but look forward with great expectation as to how God would turn that on its head, too. God is great like that. When we can stop looking at our awful circumstances with our human eyes and start seeing them with our spiritual eyes, He will blow our minds with all He’s doing behind the scenes. I like to call it “God logic” – it completely contradicts the world’s logic!

    By seeing God come through for me in such a huge way, it brought me to a place where I was able to say — okay…Satan, you can make me sick. Death can take my children. You can paralyze me. Whatever you think will break me, fine. Because God told me He would never give me more than I can bear so if He’s okay with allowing any of those awful situations to happen to me, then He has a reason for it and He designed me specifically for it. And I can see now that whatever God allows in my life is going to be for the best. So bring it, Satan. Throw me what you got! I don’t have to understand it with my human logic — I just trust that God has it all worked out and He’s going to do something awesome with it all.

    Now, if I had never gone through such traumatic things in my personal life, I don’t think I would have found the kind of faith that can truly shout at the storms. Which is more proof that when we see our storms as teachable moments rather than destitution, they can be some of the best things that ever happen to us.

    I think it’s also important to point out that taunting Satan doesn’t give him any more power over our circumstances. It might make him spend a little more time (and some of his limited resources) in attacking us (so yes, you need to be armed and ready to handle that fight; diligently prayer, fasting, reading the Word, etc) but it doesn’t mean we have to be fearful of the response. That said, I also appreciate that I am young and still learning and there are times when I wonder if it’s naive to ever “taunt” Satan. If it’s foolish and God is just sitting there shaking his head and smiling at my naive self! I’m interested in knowing Steve’s thoughts on this! 🙂

  9. learning every day says:

    @ Natasha

    Ah, i see, i understand now. Thank you for responding.

    I wouldn’t call it naive. I think if God was uncomfortable with it, He’d probably have told you to stop already lol
    I can understand your more fighting spirit esp. if it was gained over a difficult time.

    I think in pictures and reading your comment I thought of how diamonds/precious stones are encased in stone, deep underground and how you have to dig to get to them. Like our own spirits are like that. I believe too, that God never lets anything happen to you that you can’t handle so within those barriers, He let’s bad things happen to deliberately wear down this hard outer sphere that we create in the world so that when we finally hit the bottom, we have that choice of staying down or look up and reach out to him for help, making us go to him because we won’t on our own, that’s not our world teaches us.

    And then again, going back to the topic of fear, our journey with God is always different.
    I really like that. Your spiritually journey is just as unique as your physically one.
    My own current way of dealing with it is to feel it and let it be soothed by God and whatever way He thinks is best. Your way is to face it boldly because that’s what you’ve learnt with God. Another picture, the fingers on your hand. Each one is different, all with different purposes but need to work together in order to function.

    Steve often uses the army/solider imagery. I think I’m on the medical team LOL

    • Natasha Kay says:

      Yes, refined by fire is pretty much my life story. 😉 I have adopted the habit of praying “God, please keep me willingly humble!” because I never want God to have to forcefully humble me ever again. Learning lessons the hard way is over-rated. 😉

      • Steve Fuller says:

        Love the back-and-forth here. Thanks to both of your for sharing your thoughts and stories.

        So what about taunting Satan?

        It sounds like you (Natasha) had been fearing what Satan might bring. But then you saw God’s sovereignty, God’s promises, God’s power, and that changed everything.

        Now you knew you had nothing to fear, because God is sovereign over Satan, God is infinitely powerful, and God has promised to use every attack of Satan to bring you great good in God Himself.

        So you no longer feared anything Satan might bring. You were rejoicing in your strength, peace, and hope in Christ. You joined Sarah who smiled at the future without any fear (1Pet 3:5-6).

        I’m not sure I’d call what you were doing “taunting.” It sounds to me like joyful boasting in God.

  10. Mark says:

    Steve,

    What type of counselor are we speaking of here. Are they claiming an integrationist approach or NANC?

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