Written by Paul J. Bucknell on October, 17, 2019
Discern Your Confusing Mind and Feelings: Advice on how to conduct spiritual breakthrough
Many believers face troubled minds. They want to see what God is saying, but their minds have mixed thoughts and feelings hindering them. One day, the Lord (I believe so) popped an image of a weathervane in my mind and connected this subject to that image. The power of the weathervane illustration is seen in its simplicity and how it wonderfully clarifies how to lead a person—perhaps yourself—out of a troubled mindset.
Our Task at Hand
Our foremost challenge when addressing confusing thoughts and feelings is to come up with some method to discern whether one’s thoughts are God-given or merely Satan’s temptation going through our minds. Like a muscle-knot, there is often a block in a person’s mind that keeps them from identifying them and weeding the bad out.
It’s perhaps like looking at a map but not knowing where you are, making a map useless. I can remember searching a map over and over, with my impatient words in my mind shouting, “Show me where I am on the map, and then I can find my way!” (I like GPS for it tells me where I am!) This troubled mind likewise is seeking a way out but can’t figure out where one stands. The weathervane assists us in this process.
People rarely see weathervanes anymore, but they still serve an important service of showing us the direction of the wind. Weathervanes commonly sit on top of barns telling the farmer what to expect from the day’s weather by giving them clues on the wind direction. In today’s world, we typically look at our weather app or watch the weather forecast to understand the direction of the wind. In Boston, a Northeaster means we need to be careful of a storm coming from the northeast. If one hears of a southerly wind, we know the wind is coming from the south, bringing warmer air to those of us located in the north. The weathervane informs us not only the direction it’s going (i.e., where it points) but—and this is the important point, we also know where the wind is coming from (the weathervane’s tail end).
The weathervane serves as an important illustration to help us discern whether our thoughts and feelings are from God or from the evil one. As I said, if the weathervane points northward, we know it is a southerly wind. Likewise, if the ‘spiritual winds’ point us to evil and confusion, then we know this mass of confusion is from the evil one. If the thoughts point to godly thoughts and actions, the source is from God. So let’s remember this illustration as we turn our thoughts to clearly reading our minds and feelings.
Two Questions to Ask
We should ask these two questions to help us discern where our thoughts are coming from and how to deal with them. We first look at where the ‘wind’ (or our thoughts) are directing us.
Together, these questions bring clarity to our tangled feelings and thoughts. So first ask, what is this thought inducing me to think or feel? This question aids us to discover where this thought or feeling is projecting us. We need to notice if our feelings or thoughts foster lies, anger, depression, worry, fear, hate, bitterness, vengeance, or love, kindness, purity, holiness. We are not just acknowledging our thoughts and feelings but observing where they are trying to lead us. This does not mean we are open to these thoughts. We have built-in guards standing against some of those suggestions like suicide, but if we had no guards, where would those thoughts take us? Once we answer this question, then we can go on with the second question.
- What does this thought/feeling want or induce me to do?
- How does this compare to how God wants me to act or think?
The second question has us discern whether this is something God would induce within us. If it is not honoring to God, then we can easily conclude the source of these thoughts and feelings are from the evil one.
Again, what does the thought/feeling make me feel or want? If it is evil, then we know it is not from God. If it issues forth joy, courage, and patience, then we know it is from God. This simple test takes all the guesswork out of our ever so complicated thoughts and feelings!
An Explanation of Using the Weathervane
I venture to say that Christians, when they’re fighting depression, anger, lust, anxiety, or fears have all been confused at this point. As believers, we need to master this discernment process so that we can be set free to know and do God’s will. Some people tend to listen more to their feelings more than others. For them, this discernment is more urgently needed (Heb 5:14).
Our thoughts and feelings direct us in a certain direction that conjures up certain responses. What are those responses of yours? If these responses are not associated with God, then we can unquestionably discard them as sourced from the evil one. I know this sounds easy—it is!
The inner confusion typically has us staring at our feelings so that our minds go around and around, leaving us wallowing about. We don’t know how to escape the dark prison. We have a hard time analyzing the thoughts themselves, but we usually can gauge, upon a little retrospection, what they are trying to produce. Once we ask which way they are pointing or leading, then we can conclude where they are from. So what are your thoughts/feelings trying to project or produce? What are they trying to have you do or say?
When we get to see where they’re leading us, then we can easily conclude their source. There are only two sources: the flesh and the Spirit of God.
“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:16-17).
The works of the flesh are opposed to the works of the Spirit. They are not overlapping but totally contrary to each other. So we need not be confused if there are other sources. Two sources produce opposing directions. Either it will be God-honoring or flesh-prompting.
The evil one works along with our flesh, trying to hook us into its desires. So Satan tempts us to think a certain way and wants us to agree with him so that our flesh takes over his job. Satan can inspire thoughts but can’t make us do something. In the end, our wrongdoings are our responsibility. We don’t have to obey the evil one, but like Eve, we sadly often follow the evil one’s suggestions.
The Spirit of God never induces us to selfishness, anger, hatred, or giving up on ourselves. The Spirit of God will always produce love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, etc. God boldly states those things His Spirit spawns in His people (Gal 5:22-23). Most believers know the fruit of the Spirit but don’t know how to apply it to their confused minds and situations.
So again, the Holy Spirit induces us to do good, but we need to follow or walk in the Spirit with our own will. By responding positively to the Spirit, we will be protected from evil.
A Side Point on Feelings and Thoughts
Before going on, I need to clarify that I’m not suggesting at this point that we try separating our thoughts and feelings. To accomplish our greater purpose of escaping confusion, allow them to remain together. They are sometimes so tightly bound together that it would take much time and training to separate them. In the end, it is important to understand their interplay, but this is not particularly critical during our confusion. Feelings get bound up with confused thoughts and lead us away from the Lord, not towards Him. They lead us to become preoccupied with ourselves and wants—as if God is not present.
But God always wants us to assess our situation with His grace in mind. He is our faithful Father, Shepherd, and Protector! The Spirit would always induce us to think of His care for us no matter what the circumstances. Therefore, we have peace, patience, and joy—even in difficult times.
Be careful, however. There’s a false premise circulating about that tells us to respect what we feel as if our feelings are true. They often are not. Although this perspective is wrong and unbiblical, many believers fall for it. We are not what we feel. We’re not to let our feelings dictate who we are and what we should do or think.
An Example of a Depressed Person
- If every time I experience pain, should I doubt God? Absolutely not!
- If every time I thought lustful thoughts, should I allow those thoughts to summarize my being? Absolutely not!
- If every time I feel depressed, should I believe that my circumstances are dark and impossible? No, not as a believer! God is our light in our darkness.
I want to give you some examples to further clarify how this works. The weathervane is a simple device, and so is this method of discernment—but clear examples never hurt.
A depressed person, for example, feels alone and despairing, controlled, bound up, not knowing a way out. He feels like giving up. What does he do? We start with the first question. The answer is obvious: “These feelings and thoughts are wanting me to give up as if God is not present and can’t help me. They want me to feel alone as if no-one cares for me.”
If these were God-filled feelings, then He would at least assure me that He is with me and has not deserted me. How do we know? The Scriptures clearly announce this love.
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
So we can, without hesitation, discern these depressive thoughts as not being from the Holy Spirit but induced by an evil spirit to think of my life apart from God. The wolf seeks to get the lamb away from the herd and shepherd’s protection, so it can gobble it up. So we reject this falsehood and allow the truth to direct our thoughts.
Fearful feelings induce fearful thoughts. The Lord does not lead us to fear. The Lord instead reminds us that God is not a God of fear but One bringing confidence and strength. “A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you” (Psalm 91:7). God is not going to desert you in your difficult situation—no matter how bad.
This is true with worry, lust, anger, etc. Just because I feel worried, it does not mean that I should worry. Just because I feel lustful, it does not mean I should be lustful. It is not our feelings that guide us into truth but the Holy Scriptures. This is where the Bible helps us understand that the peace of God can rule our hearts. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).
Our feelings do not dictate who we are, nor our true situation. Is it not true that, at times, we wrongly get angry? Is it not true that we worry for nothing? Yes, of course. Satan uses lies to manipulate us, but God only uses the truth. The Scriptures help us to discern between right and wrong. When our thoughts and feelings are not based on truth, reject them as sourced from the evil one. Just dump them. You are more than your feelings. When our thoughts are built according to the truth, we enjoy their accompanying feelings as they help us to rejoice in God’s work in our lives. (Think of a praise time when your joy arises as you sing the worship song.)
A Simple But Powerful Diagnosis
This is not meant to be an extensive treatment of these diabolical attacks but does help us pinpoint and isolate the source of thoughts and feelings in our lives. It helps us to realize that what we feel and think might come from the evil one. Many of us have not connected temptation with our own adopted feelings and thoughts. We know that we need to be careful of temptations but somehow believe that they’re out there and don’t realize how they affect us when we have adopted them.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
So try it. Right now, if you’re confused about your feelings and what God is saying to your life, detect where your feelings or thoughts are leading you. If your thoughts point to worry, fear, depression, loneliness, or pride, then know that the source is the evil one. Remember the weathervane. Once you know the direction, you know the source. Once, your worried spirit drove you to worry more. But now, You realize Satan is stirring up those worrying thoughts which stir up your fleshly anxiety. Now you know those worries are not sourced in God but in the evil one.
The Final Step
Perhaps you’re asking, “What should one do if he/she discovers these thoughts are from the evil one?” Actually, the hardest part is already accomplished—detecting the evil one lurking in the shadows. If you reach this point, then it’s easy as God’s child to move on. I’ll share how here.
So if we can detect the movement toward where something is going, then we also know its source—whether it is from the evil one or from the Lord. When discovering that our thoughts are from the evil one, then we can conclusively resolve in our mind that the thoughts and feelings are wrong and evil.
They might be partially true, but they are filled with lies so to make us not rely on God and His truth. Satan did this with Jesus (Mat 4:1-4). So we are made aware that these thoughts and feelings cause us trouble rather than help us. They lead us away from relying on God’s love and grace. Although our thoughts, mind, and feelings are somehow bound up together, the truth begins to unravel our confusion. Move your thoughts immediately to confession before God.
Once we note the nefarious nature of these feelings, then we can reject them by telling them to God. If we have been engaging in these thoughts, then we need to go through the process of confessing our sins (e.g., worries, doubts, lusts, etc.). Your prayer might be something simple like, “Please forgive me for worrying. I did not trust you.” Be to the point and honest. After this, we come to the last step of adopting the truth. Even if we haven’t worried yet but feel prone to, tell the Lord honestly where these thoughts are driving you.
The last step is to adopt God’s truth. That basically means we ought to bring God into our present thoughts and circumstances. We do this by using appropriate scriptural truths to insert His truth into our thoughts, feelings, and mind. As a result, we insist on thinking of ourselves together with God’s grace and strength.
For example, if I’m worried, I take a verse that tells me to cast all your anxiety on the Lord. I confess my worry by saying, “Lord, I’ve been worrying and haven’t been giving you these situations. Please forgive me.”
Now cast your worries upon the Lord by praying something like, “Lord, no matter what I face, I want to trust you to take these worries of my heart one by one. I don’t know how you will care for them, but I will trust you. (Go on and list them out.” This might sound simplistic, but it works. I’ve written much more extensively why this works and how to proceed in this process in my book Being an Overcomer.
The weathervane is a very simple object highlighting a powerful tool to help you discern and dislodge confusing thoughts within your mind and feelings. Spiritual truths direct you to rely on the Lord to get through your confusing state of mind. As you train yourself, this becomes something that you are quickly able to process and therefore build up your discernment to keep from falling. As a bonus, this process helps one discern that one is not the same as one’s feelings or thoughts. We are released from the spirit of the world which seeks to capture us.
Weathervane Discussion Questions
- How does a weathervane work?
- In what way does the operation of a weathervane help us discern whether some thought or feeling is from God or from the evil one?
- What are the two major steps to detect the source for our thoughts and feelings? Which comes first, and why?
- Use angry feelings as an example and go through the above process.
- After detecting the source is from the evil one, what should one do? Why?
- Why is confession an essential step in dislodging the evil one’s power over us?
- If the thoughts inspire us to do good by God’s help, how can we pray and give praise to God?
- How do the scriptures help us?
- Explain an area or time when you get confused, down, worried, angry, lustful, etc., and find some appropriate verses that you can use. Work through discerning this by using the illustration of the weathervane.
For further study:
Being an Overcomer seminar with teaching videos and reading can be found in the Digital Library 2.