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Perhaps you have heard the story of the man who was hiking alone in the mountains when he slipped and fell off a cliff. The only thing that kept him from plunging to his death down a deep gorge was a tree growing from the side of the cliff. As he fell, the hiker grabbed a limb and hung on for dear life.
Clinging tightly to the tree limb, the man began shouting desperately, hoping that someone might be coming along the trail behind him. "Help! Help! Is there anyone up there?" But no answer came back.
Finally, as he neared exhaustion, and his grip on the tree limb began to weaken, the hiker yelled again in total desperation, "Is there anyone up there?"
This time, a booming voice answered, "Yes, I'm here."
The hiker was elated. "This is great! Who are you?"
"It's the Lord."
"Oh, thank You, Lord!" the hiker gasped. "What do you want me to do?"
"Let go, and I'll catch you."
But the terrified hiker was too afraid to let go of the limb. So he cried out again, "Is there anyone up there?"
The Lord answered again, "I said, let go of the limb, and I'll save you."
But the hiker couldn't bring himself to let go of the only piece of security he thought he had. So after thinking about it for a minute, he shouted, "Is there anyone else up there?"
That fictional hiker is like a lot of real-life Christians who are clinging desperately to all manner of emotional security blankets. These believers often think their twisted-up emotions are their source of security, when in fact, these emotional problems are the very things keeping them from being really free.
What Christians in this situation need to do is what the hiker in our story needed to do: Let go of that which cannot rescue them anyway and trust God to honor His promises.
My goal for this booklet is to help people in bondage to various emotions and anxieties break free through the truth of God's Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. We'll address the anxiety first, and then I want to give you biblical examples and patterns for handling the emotional storms of life that are sure to come your way.
The word I will be using for these traps (into which even Christians can fall) is stronghold. My prayer is that Christians in these predicaments will learn to understand and apply the Bible to their lives in ways that they can let go of any emotional stronghold the Enemy may have built in their lives.
Freedom Is Available
If you or someone you care about is in the grip of an emotional stronghold such as anger, depression, fear, worry-or even some sort of substance abuse-I am here to tell you that there is freedom available in Jesus Christ.
The world's word for things that hold people hostage is addiction. We hear it said that people are addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, or whatever it may be. The problem I have with this word is the implication it often has that we are powerless victims of our circumstances.
In other words, calling something an addiction suggests that we have an excuse for what we're doing, either because we don't have the ability to break it, someone else caused it and thus it isn't our fault, or we have bad genes or a bad environment that set us up for this problem. Some people may even say their addiction has all of these elements.
Now I know that many psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals would argue that the concept of addiction doesn't mean there is no way out. But for our purposes in this booklet, I'm not interested in what the professionals say nearly as much as l am in the popular perception of what it means to have an addiction-for two reasons.
The first reason is that I believe the average person thinks of an addiction as something that is somehow not the victim's responsibility, which often helps the person dodge the real issue. The second reason is that calling something an addiction doesn't address the spiritual dimension of the problem, which is needed to find the answer.
The word stronghold takes us to the real issue because it takes us to our spiritual makeup and to the Word of God. When we get the spiritual part of the equation fixed, the emotional and the physical parts will begin to fall in line.
The Enemy's Strongholds
The New International Version of the Bible says, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). A stronghold is like a fortress the Enemy has built on your turf, which is why the New American Standard Bible translates this word as "fortresses."
Our Enemy, of course, is Satan, who can build strongholds in our minds and hearts if we allow him to gain a foothold in our lives. The Devil is a relentless Enemy who is not content just to conquer territory in your life. He wants to erect strongholds, which he can then use as his base of operations to attack you whenever he feels like it. When you have an enemy who can take refuge in his stronghold and come out from it to attack you at will, you won't get anywhere until you tear down that stronghold and leave the Enemy with no place to hide.
Our emotions are particularly vulnerable to satanic attack because emotions are feelings that have no intellect of their own. An emotion is a deep-down, often immediate and intense, reaction to something that happens to us. That's why we talk about our gut-level feelings, for example, or say of someone who has upset us, "He really burns me up."
People who are in emotional strongholds usually know something is wrong. When they get up they don't say, "Good morning, Lord," but "Good Lord, it's morning!" In severe cases these people may feel as if they are struggling just to survive because they feel hopeless and can't seem to shake the emotional traps they're in.
Emotional strongholds are attitudes that result in actions that hold a person hostage to something contrary to the will of God. God never ordained for His children to go to bed and wake up depressed every day of their lives. All of us have times when we struggle with our emotions because we are imperfect people living in a fallen world. But strongholds are feelings or actions that dominate your life and consume most of your time and effort.
For many Christians, the cause of their emotional trauma is not the emotions themselves. It is because they have not understood their true identity in Christ or learned to live by grace-so they don't know how to respond to the spiritual causes of their attitudinal distresses.
Three Wrong Ways to Deal with Emotional Strongholds
A person who is in emotional distress but doesn't look for the spiritual root of the problem is like someone who turns off the smoke alarm in his house and opens the windows to let the smoke out without ever looking for the fire.
As you know, those are wrong ways to deal with a house fire because all they do is mask the symptoms instead of solving the problem. In the same way, many people use the wrong methods to deal with emotional strongholds because they fail to understand their true nature. I see at least three ways that people try to deal with the pain of an emotional problem without really confronting it.
The first of these is through outright denial, which could be called suppression. This is when a person knows something is wrong but makes a conscious and deliberate effort to run from or bury the problem. People in this situation may constantly insist they are fine and everything is cool when they know that's not true.
A second faulty way to deal with emotional strongholds is through repression, or unconscious denial. This is where the pain may be so intense that the person has pushed it deep down below the level of consciousness. These people may no longer be aware of why they feel the way they feel or do the things they do. Someone's denial may be conscious at first, but if it goes on long enough, the person may actually succeed in pushing the problem out of consciousness.
A third wrong way to deal with such problems is to bury them with busyness, drown them in alcohol, or try to drug them out of existence. Those in this category who don't fall into substance abuse may stay on the go constantly, or always make sure that either the television or some other noise is going at all times-so they don't have to hear the alarm going off in their souls.
Remember when you were a child and you didn't want to hear what your brother or sister was saying? You would put your hands over your ears and shout, "I can't hear you!" or start singing to drown them out. That's fine for kids, but it's a terrible way to live as an adult.
Painful emotions are like the pain signals our bodies send out to alert us that something is wrong. You can ignore or deny pain, but if there is something really wrong it will not just go away. Just as when we are in physical pain and need to go to the doctor to find out why, when we are hurting emotionally we need to find out why.
Please don't misunderstand what I said about the fields of psychology and psychiatry. When practiced correctly-that is, biblically-the mental health disciplines can help people discover and correct what is wrong. But when there is a failure to take the spiritual side of an issue into account, or to see that emotional problems have spiritual roots, then only the symptoms are being addressed.
The Cause of Emotional Strongholds
Emotional strongholds are fortresses the Enemy has built in our minds and hearts. They are built on his lies about who we are and what has happened to us or what we have done. This means that the root cause of these problems has a lot to do with the Enemy's specialty, which is either trying to lead us into sin or ensnaring us in our own sin or someone else's sin until we are completely bound up.
I don't want to deny or dismiss the fact that some emotional problems have physiological ties. There is a strong link between the physical and emotional parts of our makeup, because we are whole beings and are not made up of separate compartments. For example, if you are told you have cancer and you react with fear, that fear has a basis in fact. Feeling fear in the face of cancer is a normal reaction, not a stronghold.
But the kind of bondage the Bible calls a stronghold is rooted either in our own sin, in the sin of someone else, or in the fact that we live in a sin-tainted environment. You may have been abused as a child, and as a result of the abuser's sin against you, you are in emotional bondage as an adult.
Now you may be dealing with this in sinful ways with drugs or alcohol, or by taking out your anger on someone else. But in any case, the root cause of emotional strongholds is sin-which is why any solution that doesn't address the spiritual issue is not really a solution.
The Bible reveals that the entry of negative emotions into the human race was because of sin. God put Adam and Eve in a perfect environment, but as we see in Genesis chapter 3, Satan came onto the scene and enticed first Eve, and then Adam, to rebel against God. The first thing that happened after they ate the forbidden fruit was, "The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings" (3:7).
Before this, Adam and Eve had been naked but without shame (Genesis 2:25). But now they were ashamed of their nakedness and had to cover themselves. The emotion of shame entered into the human race. There was also fear, for in Genesis 3:9-10 we read that Adam and Eve hid when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden. "Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?' He said, 'I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.'"
And it gets worse. The murder of Abel by Cain involved the emotions of jealousy, anger, and hatred on Cain's part because God accepted his brother's offering while rejecting his. It's interesting that Cain was also depressed. When Cain's bloodless sacrifice was rejected, "his countenance fell" (Genesis 4:5). But instead of dealing with his emotions by turning to God in repentance and faith, his anger drove him inwardly into depression and outwardly into murder. Depression is well described as anger turned inward.
There is quite a grocery list of powerful emotions and destructive patterns of behavior that entered the human race through sin. That's why a person who is trying to overcome a stronghold without looking to the spiritual reason for it will never find the source of the fire in his emotional house, so to speak. He will hear the shrill sound of the fire alarm, but his efforts will be geared toward silencing that alarm.
Now lest you doubt the causative connection between sin and emotional strongholds, look at what God said to Cain when He saw that Cain was angry and depressed. "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:6-7).
This was probably the first counseling session in history, and God the Counselor went straight to the heart of the problem! Sin wanted to master Cain by holding him in bondage to his wrong thoughts and the resulting wrong emotions.
Three Categories of Emotional Strongholds
Let me briefly mention three general categories of emotional strongholds, relating to where we are in our lives. The first category is those strongholds that are rooted in the pain of the past. This may be childhood abuse, as previously mentioned, or some other traumatic experience in your past that is impairing your ability to function today.
These experiences are like recordings in the mind that keep rewinding and playing every time something triggers the bad memory. Satan keeps his finger on the play button, and he's an expert at knowing what it takes to start that recording running again. He doesn't stop there either. He'll try to make sure that every time you replay that past trauma, it seems worse than the time before. He'll add to it until it seems as if your whole life is in bondage to the past.
Here's one other trick the Devil likes to play on you when you are being held bondage to the emotions of past traumas. He will bring people into your life who went through what you went through and have not been victorious over it-and soon you'll be caught up in their lack of victory because misery loves company.
A second category of strongholds is made up of problems in the present. What is going on in your life right now may be overwhelming you. If anybody could have been depressed and in bondage to his circumstances, it was the apostle Paul. He wrote about what he had endured for the gospel's sake:
[I have been] beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
Few of us could put together a list of trials that could compare to this. But instead of throwing in the towel or hiding in a corner, Paul moved on because he had learned that his sufferings were the key to God's power within him. As he put it, "When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). We can hold to this truth in our struggles as well.
A third category of strongholds relates to the future. Many people are so afraid of what might happen that they don't want to get out of bed in the morning. As bad as it is to be held in bondage to the past or the present, it may even be crueler to be a prisoner to tomorrow, especially if our fear centers on a bunch of "what-ifs" that haven't even happened. What if I get cancer or have a heart attack? What if one of my children dies?
Jesus told us, "Do not worry about tomorrow" (Matthew 6:34). Fear of tomorrow is another emotional trap the Enemy has laid for us.
Excerpted from LET IT GO! by Tony Evans Copyright © 2005 by Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission.
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1. Breaking Free from Emotional Strongholds / 5
2. Breaking Free from Anxiety Strongholds / 22
3. The Blast of Life's Storms / 37
4. The Blessing in Life's Storms / 49
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