Emotional Filter

Your Emotional Filter – or “How You Fool Yourself”

Your emotional state affects how you remember and understand things.

Your emotions filter information and activate one set of memories or impressions over another.

It is therefore important to understand what is going on and to take charge of your emotions, rather than letting them rule you and fool you.

Three Settings

In simple terms our feelings tend to sit in one of three positions.  Most people are most often emotionally neutral, just getting on with life as it comes along.  On some occasions, though, we can feel very happy and upbeat about life.  These feelings might be prompted by being successful at something, or experiencing some emotionally uplifting experience.

On other occasions, though, we can feel quite down and even depressed.  These feelings might be prompted by an experience of failure or some emotionally challenging experience.

Psychologists use the term Mania for our positive emotional state and Depression for our negative emotional state.  Some people fluctuate between their highs and lows so disruptively they are diagnosed as Manic-Depressive, or Bi-polar as it is commonly labelled today.

In our normal frame of mind, not manic and not depressive, we take things as they come.  We do not have any particular emotional magnet messing with our interpretation of the information coming to us.

If in that state we were to think back on our life we would have access to all kinds of memories, good and bad, happy and sad.

If we are in a manic, upbeat or positive frame of mind our emotional filter tends to focus on and remember times when we felt this way before.  The positive feelings build on the positive feelings and we can have quite a strong sense of wellbeing, security and happiness and even a sense of invincibility, feeling confident that everything is going to go our way.

Conversely, if we are in a depressive frame of mind our emotional filter will tend to focus on and remember times when we felt depressed before.  The downcast feelings build on similar feelings and we can have quite a strong sense of depression, failure and fear of the future and even a feeling of hopelessness, as if whatever we do is going to turn out badly.

Our emotional filter is not actually a bad thing.  It’s just something we need to understand and manage appropriately.  If you are not aware of it you may end up letting it fool you into wrong thinking.

Changing Emotions

Jesus Christ talked about the ability of our emotions to completely change our memories, when he spoke of a woman giving birth.

“A woman has sorrow when giving birth, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she forgets the anguish for joy that a child is born into the world.” John 16:21

During the difficult times of a pregnancy a woman may have an emotional low and swear that she will never put herself through all of this ever again.  But after the baby is born a different set of emotions kick in and she might feel much more positive about having more children.  Her feelings of despair and discomfort are replaced by feelings of joy and delight.

Such a shift in perspective doesn’t mean she is mad, it is typical of how all of us function under the influence of our emotional filter.

Long before Jesus Christ wise King Solomon recorded the instruction of his mother about giving strong drink to those who need to forget their troubles.

“Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to those with heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” Proverbs 31:6,7


We all know that certain foods, drinks and experiences modify our emotional state.  We use these various things to ‘self-medicate’ – to make ourselves feel good.  We can self-medicate with the first cup of coffee in the morning, a home-cooked meal, talking to a friend, listening to our favourite music, indulging in a sweet or retail-therapy. These are all ways we help ourselves feel better if we are not at our best.

I once read that cults had learned to use junk food to modify the moods of their victims.  One group would recruit young people and use them as slave labour doing such things as begging for money in car parks.  Frantic parents would track down their child and get court orders to allow them to meet their child.  Shortly before the meeting the young person would be fed up on junk food which filled their half-starved body with enough sugar and stuff to give them a high.

Under that chemical inducement the young person would feel elated and could only remember all the good things about their time with the so called “friends”.

So, we each have an emotional filter and we are each affected by it in various ways.  We also have the ability to affect it, but it too can dominate the way we think and feel about things.

Crazy Contradictions

The operation of our emotional filter can be seen in those situations where people say completely contradictory things from day or day, or even from moment to moment.

If a person does not have control over their emotions they can display quite alarming swings in their moods, and with the mood swing comes a complete rewriting of their history and perceptions.

When someone feels happy with a loved one, such as spouse, sibling, parent or child, that emotional state triggers memories of all the times they have enjoyed that relationship.  Induced by such memories and feelings they might say something like, “You are wonderful! You make me SO happy!”

However if they then feel offended by that same person their emotions can switch to the opposite setting and suddenly they not only feel negative about that person, but somehow they can now remember many times when they have felt the same negative way.  This time they might say something like, “You have always been SO hurtful! I’ve never really liked you. I wish I never knew you!”

On both occasions the person can speak quite sincerely.  For that moment all the thoughts, memories and feelings they have access to match what they are saying.

Quite often in such an upset the emotions settle down and the person feels apologetic for their excessive outburst.  They may then say something like, “I didn’t really mean what I said when I was attacking you.”

Once again the person is speaking sincerely.  They now review what they said and they don’t have access to all the dominating emotions and memories that fed their negative feelings.  They now have a more reasonable view of things and they try to patch up the relationship.

Clearly it is dangerous to be so out of control emotionally.  Not only will we be pushed like a boat in the wind, but others around us will be hurt and confused by our changeableness.

Rule Your Own Spirit

We each need to have rule over our own spirit, controlling our emotions, managing our emotional filter so it doesn’t fool us and make a mess our perceptions.

Step One – Realise you have an emotional filter that can fool you into believing things that are not true, because they are skewed, either positively or negatively.

Step Two – Recognise your predisposition, toward unrealistic upbeat feelings, or unrealistic negative feelings, or even to switching from one to the other erratically.

Step Three – Ask God to help you get “rule over your own spirit” so you don’t get pushed around by your emotions or the skewed sense of reality from your emotional filter.

Step Four – Get your friends and loved ones to function as a reality filter for you.  Find people who are balanced (not overly optimistic or overly negative or critical) and get them to check your ideas with you.

Step Five – Wise up about life and reality.  A good way to do that is to read the Bible and learn Christ’s principles for living.  They will be an anchor for your life and give you a reference point to test whether you are out of balance or not.

Scorn – Hidden Source of Contention

Over this past year or so several words have taken on new significance in my understanding.  Recently the word “scorn” took my attention and I am surprised how significant this topic may be in daily life.  So let me unpack it a little for you.

The key verse that brought ‘scorn’ into focus for me is Proverbs 22:10…

“Cast out the scorner, and contention will exit; yes, strife and reproach will cease.”

Here I saw a key link between scorn and ‘contention’.

Many homes live under the weight of contention so scorn could prove to be very relevant.

Previously I linked contention with pride, because of Proverbs 13:10…

Only by pride comes contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.”

Scorn is another piece of the contention puzzle.

Contention is linked to scorners and also to pride.  So scorn must be an expression of pride.

Scorn includes contempt, disrespect, disapproval, criticism, dislike, derision, indignation and disdain.

The link to pride probably sits with the scorner feeling a sense of elevation or superiority over the one scorned (that’s pride) so they judge the failings or poor qualities of the one scorned.

So scorn blocks forgiveness, because the scorner is not looking to act humbly or in good faith, but to serve their pride.

The scorner takes a place of pride and superiority over the one who is scorned so they do not adopt a posture of grace and forgiveness.

If there is contention in your home or your relationships you can be sure there is pride and scorn.

Many years ago my marriage was under great strain.  I had offended Susan by my persistence to achieve a goal, without seeming to care for her struggles in the process.  For many months our relationship was strained and I found Susan difficult to relate to.  All that time she struggled with feelings of offence, knowing her attitude was not right but not able to break free from it.

Late one night we were finally able to talk about the tensions and Susan poured out her string of hurts and feelings of offence caused by my actions.

All I could do was admit that I had burt her and ask her forgiveness.  Then the way forward was in her hands, not mine.  I said to her, “You know what you have to do.”  We were well aware of the need to forgive offenders in order to come to freedom ourselves.

Susan said she already knew she had to forgive me.  She was struggling to do so.

When she got to it, Susan’s forgiveness took only a few moments to say but it changed the atmosphere completely and set our relationship free to blossom again.  The impact was profound, even though the forgiveness process was almost momentary.

Think about your situation.

Is there contention, strife or reproach in your relationships?

Does the contention and strife settle down when someone else leaves the room, or when YOU leave the room?  Who is the ‘scorner’ in your situation?

Do you face contention and strife in many of your relationships?

Are you sitting in judgement of others, elevating yourself in pride, thinking you have the right to hold them in contempt, disapproval and indignation?

If you take the place of ‘judge’ over others God will judge you severely and one of the judgments is that God cuts you off from the benefit due to you through those you despise, which could even be your spouse and family.

And consider another verse about ‘scorn’, the very first verse of the Book of Psalms.

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scornful.” Psalm 1:1

The ungodly walk, sinner stand, and scorners sit.  Scorners make themselves comfortable in their place of scorn, pride and judgement of others.  They probably affirm their right to stay in that seat of judgement through all manner of justifications and fault-finding.

If you are a scorner you are probably very inflexible and slow to come around to grace and forgiveness.

If this touches you in some way then please take a lesson from my lovely wife and get out of that seat of scorn into the wonderful freedom that grace and forgiveness pour down upon us.

Getting on with Life

There are many things to distract us in life.  In younger years we feel as if we have unlimited time ahead.  Yet life is short and it slips by quickly.

We are wisest to keep in mind that human life is a temporary stay during which we determine our future destination.  We are created beings answerable to our Creator and will be judged by His high and holy standards, not our own opinions.

Key issues of life, then, include placing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, to release us from our failings and make us God’s adopted children.  Living in the Fear of God is also vital.  We are not our own and this life is not our own.  We live for God.

In my young adult years I was impacted by the verse that says we are created for God’s pleasure (thus not to live just seeking our own).

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for you created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” Revelation 4:11

Let me see if I can spin a summary of life and its relevant values, as I see it now in my seventh decade.

Most of our life will be of little consequence.  Who cares what you had for breakfast a week ago?  King Solomon referred to this ‘everyday’ insignificance as ‘vanity’.  In fact Solomon declared that “everything is vanity and vexation of spirit”.

“I have seen all the works done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 1:14

That doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it?  But I find it rather delightful.  Let me explain.

The only things that will really count in your life are those things that have eternal significance (such as your choice to put your faith in Jesus Christ as your saviour, which makes you an eternal child of God with a future in Heaven) and those things that are part of God’s plan for His Kingdom.

Joshua, Rahab, Samson, Ruth, David, Mary, Paul and a host of other people recorded in the Bible had significant moments in their life when they were part of God’s overall plan.  But those same people spent years of their lives doing things that were completely insignificant.  We don’t care what they had for breakfast, or what their voices sounded like, or whether they ever saw snow, or how fit they were.  They might have had time in their lives when they were very worried about their weight, health, popularity, zits, competitive performance, and so on, but all that comes under the heading of ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’.  Who cares?

In the same way there are things I have to do in my life.  There are things God wants me to do and there are ways I can do things that are not vanity and vexation of spirit, when I am doing what He wants so His Kingdom is blessed.

Then there are all the other things I get to do.  And all those other things are the vanity of my life.  I can get all worked up about them and vex my spirit (get agitated, argue with people, lose sleep, etc), but no matter how anxious I become there is no big deal at all.  I am just wasting my energy and my time.

Many of the characters God used in Bible history, and it is true with multitudes of others as well, just went about their normal daily life of ‘vanity’ until God called them, anointed them, gave them special opportunity or whatever.

Gideon was threshing wheat when God called Him.  Ruth was just caring for her mother-in-law.  Elisha was ploughing a field.  David was minding sheep.  Mary was minding her own business.

For a while those people became the focal point of some plan God was working.

But after God’s plan was fulfilled most of what they did with the rest of their lives was in the category of ‘vanity’.  That doesn’t make what they were doing wrong, but it was no big deal.

Mary lived a long time after giving birth to Jesus.  She had several other children, cooked meals, cared for the family, and all that.  Her key moment in history was over and her life was absorbed in the general day to day of life.

Noah lived a long time after the Flood and in those years he probably did all sorts of things, but the Bible doesn’t have much to say about those many years.  They were mostly filled with ‘vanity’ and probably some ‘vexation of spirit’ as well.

For you that means that you are to get on with life, but don’t get too carried away with it.  Most of what you are doing is probably in the category of vanity anyway.

However, along the way God will give you many opportunities to be used by Him, in moments that are very precious and may bring powerful results for God’s Kingdom.  Be ready to flow with God’s plan as and when it touches your ordinary life.

And the rest of the time, enjoy the life God has given you, because that enjoyment is God’s gift.

“And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 3:13


I enjoyed a lovely encouragement recently from the word ‘vanity’.  It came from the words of the wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon, in his book Ecclesiastes.

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 1:14

Solomon saw that all our best efforts are temporary in their effect.  No matter how delicious your breakfast this morning, you will want another tomorrow.  No matter how much work you get done today there will be more to do tomorrow.  You will die, and so too will your children, and your children’s children.  Your team may win the trophy this year, but there is another whole competition ahead for next year’s trophy.  You lovely garden will not stay that way without continued care.  The grass that was cut today will need to be cut again.

Here is the positive spin on that truth that helped me.  There is no great reward for achieving all those things we stress over trying to achieve, like success, prominence, noteworthy accomplishments, etc.  They are just vanity.  They are no big deal.

What is a BIG DEAL is the will and purpose of God.  In God’s plan there are things we need to do for His Kingdom and doing those things is Really important.  Putting our faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, for example, has eternal impact on us.  Sharing our faith with others has eternal impact on them.  So those things are not ‘vanity’.  But most of what we do on a day to day basis is vanity, and so we can relax about it.

Bible Examples

Let me explain what I mean by referring to some famous people whose lives are recorded in the Bible.  Consider Joseph, son of Jacob.  He was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave into Egypt.  But in God’s great plan Joseph rose to being second in command of the land and was able to save his whole family (the children of Israel) from a devastating famine.

Once Joseph had achieved his purpose of bringing the Israelites to Egypt the rest of his life’s work was ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’.  It doesn’t matter how well he administered Egypt in the next three decades, or what honours were placed on him at his death.  That is all ‘vanity’.

I don’t mean he was wasting his time and should not have done those things, but in the big picture of what God was doing on the earth it did not matter if he invented a sport, taught business administration, sang in a local choir, enjoyed fried fish, drank pineapple juice, kept up with the latest fashions, held dinner parties, had a swimming pool, coached a junior football team, or whatever.

Let’s suggest that he did do a bunch of extra-curricular activities, such as sport, entertaining, performing, art and craft, continuing education, investing, business enterprise, creative writing and so on.  And let’s suggest that he became quite absorbed in some of those things and even lost sleep over different problems they presented from time to time.

All of that time and activity was nothing more than vanity.  And all the angst he felt about them was simply ‘vexation of spirit’.  There is no lasting impact from any of those things.

Yet there is lasting impact from him being where God put him for the task God had for him.  The people of Israel survive today because of Joseph.

And He Begat

In several places in the Bible people get their names listed because they are in the lineage or genealogy of Jesus or Abraham or King David.  They are significant in God’s plan because they were a generational step in an important lineage.  If they had not been born and had not given birth to a son the lineage would have stopped.  Imagine if Jesus had never been born because someone simply didn’t get born or didn’t have a son.

These people are important yet all we know of them is their name.  Consider this example from the Book of Ruth.

“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.” Ruth 4:18-22

In this list of names leading to the birth of King David we know a little about Boaz, Obed and Jesse, but we know nothing more than the name of others on that list.

Speaking of the significance of these men and their whole lives let me put it poetically, “God simply summarises that by saying just ‘And he begat’!”

Surely these men deserve some recognition for their character, enterprise, intelligence, inventiveness, management skills, salesmanship, attention to detail, creativity, talent, good looks, popularity, wealth, political power, social impact, contribution to their local community, etc.  But No, their entire lives, happiness, tragedy, accomplishments and relationships are completely overlooked.  Those things we get so hung up about are, in the big picture, just ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’.

Job Done

Look at it another way.  For Joseph and for these men who gave birth to a son who were significant to God in a key lineage, once they had done the main thing God had for them to do the rest of their life was unimportant to the big picture.  The rest of their life was ‘vanity’.

So, let’s assume you have achieved your core purpose in life.  You have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you share your faith with others, you have fulfilled all those things God has asked you to do and you are ever ready to dive into any new purpose He has for you, then the rest of what you are doing is simply vanity.

It may be vain for you to join a choir, learn Italian cooking, decide to start your own gym, or start coaching a junior sport team, but then everything else you do will be vanity anyway!

If the rest of your life was ‘vanity’, then it may as well be vanity that you enjoy and that blesses others.

If whatever I do today is a waste of time, then I may as well enjoy the day anyway!  If there is nothing I can do that is critically important today (since this is a day of ‘vanity’) then why not make it a day when I encourage someone else, stop to smell the roses, help someone in some small way, sing my favourite songs, or drink my favourite coffee?

The notion that ‘all is vanity’ takes the pressure of ‘I must perform’ off our backs and allows us to enjoy the days of our vanity in as productive and pleasant a way as possible.

On Eternal Duty

While we may think that what we are doing is vanity be aware that God is ordering your steps and you are always on duty, ‘eternal duty’.  At any moment God may require you to do something that has lasting impact, and your key purpose in life may not yet have arrived.

So go through your days enjoyably, diligently, faithfully, contentedly, without stress, but always stay alert to the moment when God wants you to help someone, share your faith, worship Him, obey Him, or otherwise fulfil a divine destiny, even if just for a moment.

God Loves You

I recall the testimony of a young man named Jonathan who took the train into the city one day.  The peak hour train was crowded and he travelled in the mindless way most people do in such situations.  Unexpected he noticed a young lady sitting opposite him and felt a strong impression to tell her God loved her.  He refused to do so, as it is out of character with the way people behave on a peak hour train.  But the impression persisted.

Jonathan told me he did not want to say anything to the lady, but she noticed him looking at her and she scolded him with the words, “What are you looking at?”  That put him on the spot so he told her, “God told me to tell you He loves you.”

At that the young lady began to cry and in the ensuing conversation she confided that she had planned to commit suicide that day, but his intervention saved her life.

That’s a divine moment, breaking into our vanity.  And you are always on duty for such things.

Little Things

But sometimes what God has for us to do is not dramatic, just a simple smile, or word of encouragement.  Many people have felt greatly blessed by a small act of kindness, being noticed, being appreciated, having someone listen to them, getting good advice, or feeling safe and protected.  You can do all manner of little things while enjoying the vanity of your life, and so be a blessing to many.

Once you are free from the performance pressure associated with all those vain things you are doing, you will have more time and more presence of mind to notice others and help them and bless them.

So, may I suggest to you that you realise what a waste of time most of what you do is.  Take stock of that and start to live more meaningfully, and determine to enjoy the life God has given you, even with the useless things you are doing.  Learn to be content, and do be good at what you do, but without getting hung up about it.

And keep your antenna twitching for all the opportunities God will send your way to be a blessing to Him and to people you don’t even know.

Among those chance encounters may be many divine moments where your vain life takes on great effectiveness in the lives of others.

Note that this post reflects my thoughts also shared in Getting On With Life. You might like to read that post too at http://chrisfieldblog.com/2015/10/23/getting-on-with-life.

Gothard Message

I write this just a few weeks after Bill Gothard stood down from leadership of the IBLP ministry which he created and has led for decades. Accusations of impropriety have been levelled against him and will be sorted out in due course.

While many people have placed their sights on the ‘man’ I would like to take a moment to reflect on the Message and Ministry which this man of God brought about.

I first heard of Bill Gothard in the early 1990’s when he and a team of young people first came to Australia to present his world famous Basic Seminar. My oldest son, Stephen, in his late teens, attended and returned home wonderfully impacted and transformed by the message and ministry of the IBLP.

Stephen had new perspective on himself, selfishness, godly living, the powerful relevance of God’s word in his life, life purpose, the importance of lifting his game spiritually and much more.

What impacted Stephen was a combination of the teaching received in the Basic Seminar and the encouragement of several young men, not much older than himself, who had applied the things Mr Gothard taught and had wonderful fruit in their lives as a consequence.

My wife and I were so impressed by the impact of the IBLP message and ministry on our son that we quickly made plans to hear the seminars ourselves and to look into the ATI home schooling program. We were already teaching our children at home and wanted to understand this alternative approach.

To attend the seminars our family (minus my two youngest sons) flew to New Zealand and were blessed by what we learned and saw. The young people and families who sought to apply the Biblical principles taught in the seminars were clearly blessed and enriched by doing so.

My family not only began the ATI home-schooling but my three oldest sons enjoyed time at IBLP Headquarters in Chicago and I headed to the USA to attend a seminar for dads, where I was privileged to make some small input as well. I was also privileged to travel with Bill Gothard between Indianapolis and Chicago. One of my sons later attended the Alert training program and we assisted the ministry to get set up in Melbourne, Australia.

As I reflect on that wonderful and life-changing season in our lives I have to thank God for the message and ministry of Bill Gothard. His desire to seek God and to minister effectively led to the creation of a ministry much bigger than himself. Few Christian leaders have had as much impact internationally as Bill Gothard has enjoyed for decades.

Does that make Mr Gothard infallible? Of course not. He is as human as the rest of us. He, like each of us, also has his own personality, style, gifting and focus.

I don’t hold equally to all things taught by the IBLP. But then I don’t hold equally to all things I hear from the pulpit in my home church, or from popular Christian speakers, or from Focus on the Family, Hillsong, the various prophetic voices or Spurgeon.

Whether Bill Gothard has things to answer or his accusers have wronged him there is no mistaking the call of God on his life and the grace of God at work through him to multitudes. My family is testimony to the impact of the Gothard Message and there are tens of thousands who have much the same fruit.

Sadly that fact may be lost in the rumblings that inevitably occur in situations like this.

I have seen several sad evidences of Christians rejoicing that Mr Gothard has ‘fallen’. I can only assume they do not like the message and ministry and cannot see that when a Christian leader is shamed we all suffer. I wonder if those people would be keen to have their past actions exposed for public scrutiny and ridicule.

A Christian leader commented to me in light of Bill Gothard’s current challenges, “There isn’t a preacher alive today who doesn’t have past actions and choices they wouldn’t want made public.”

We also see the inevitable opinion posturing too. People quickly forget our important principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and readily spout their opinion without having first hand knowledge of any of the facts. Christ warns us about this kind of judging of one another – “judge not that you be not judged”. That’s a road I don’t want to go down.

At the same time we see something fresh in the IBLP world. I once observed to Bill Gothard that he does not have a succession plan in place. He was probably little more than 60 at the time. The following day Bill asked, “What if God doesn’t want a successor in place?”

Corporate programming led me to make and impose assumptions on God’s work without thought for God’s plan and purpose. I had to recognise that the IBLP ministry does not belong to me and I have no right to any opinion about how it should be run. That ministry was brought about by God through Bill Gothard and those around him. Any opinion I held was presumptuous and out of place. I left the matter with God and Bill.

With Bill Gothard stepping down we now see the beginnings of a succession process. Others whom God has prepared are able to step into the current gap and exercise their gifts and calling.

Whatever the end result of all of this, I continue to rejoice in Bill Gothard’s message and ministry and the thousands of young people and families established with godly wisdom and insight that I did not have at that same time in my life.

I praise God for the tens of thousands of godly, talented and wise men and women raised up and still being raised up to impact our world with the gospel and the truth of God’s Word.

I pray that God give grace to Bill Gothard and the IBLP ministry. As is always the case when human life is compared with Christ, “He must increase but we must decrease”. But it is also true that “God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”.

I encourage all those who have also been blessed by Bill Gothard’s message and ministry to hold fast that which is good and continue to live for the one who is eternal and for His eternal purposes on the earth.