Living in a fallen age, in fallen bodies, in which our fallen natures vie with our regenerate natures for control, we unfortunately cannot avoid the plague of bad moods.
We are not, however, victims of these moods, and we certainly must not make others victims of them, either. Instead, we must develop the skilled habit of challenging them, ruling over them (Romans 6:12), and laying them aside so that they don’t weigh us (or others) down in the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1).
You Are Never “Just” in a Bad Mood
When we feel irritable or cynical or discouraged or sad, we sometimes excuse sinful attitudes by saying, “I’m just in a bad mood.” But we are never “just” in a bad mood. Moods never come from nowhere. We may not always be conscious of what’s fueling our mood, but we can be sure something is.
“God means for our emotions to be gauges, and not guides.”
Our moods are at times affected by our body chemistry. A chemical or hormonal imbalance in our bodies can cause irrational emotions. I’ll touch on this more shortly.
But when our bodies are functioning correctly, our moods are fueled by our beliefs. I’m not referring to our creeds or statements of faith, though hopefully these inform and shape our beliefs. I mean our functional beliefs, the truths or lies we believe at any given time.
Emotions Are Gauges, Not Guides
God designed our bodies to work in sync with our spirits — to live by faith. He designed our emotions to be governed by our beliefs. Our beliefs frame our thinking and express themselves through our emotions. We commonly call these emotional manifestations “moods.”
Here are three examples from Scripture that illustrate how this works:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you. (Psalm 42:5–6)
My soul continually remembers [my affliction and my wanderings] and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:20–24)
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)
In each case, someone responded to adverse circumstances with wrong beliefs, resulting in the negative emotional manifestations of turmoil, depression, and anxiety (bad moods). The remedy was remembering, calling to mind, believing the truth of God’s promises. Bad moods revealed wrong beliefs, and right beliefs altered (or were supposed to alter) those bad moods.
This is why we say emotions are gauges, not guides. They are (usually) reliable as gauges, telling us what we believe. But they are unreliable as guides to direct us where to go or what to do.
The Manipulative Power of Moods
But we’re all still guided by our moods too often — by certain emotions we like, and others we don’t like. We forget that these emotions are gauges, so we don’t trace our moods back to their cause. Rather, when we feel emotions we don’t like, we quickly look to anything that might alter them to something more pleasant.
“We are never just in a bad mood. Moods never come from nowhere.”
This makes us vulnerable to all sorts of temptations. Satan can easily manipulate us when we would rather superficially alter our mood than address its underlying beliefs. All we have to do is think about our own besetting sins. They are often habitual sinful reactions to emotions and moods we’re desperately trying to alter or escape.
But we’re not only manipulated by our moods; we also use them to manipulate others. We know that others dislike and resist unpleasant emotions just like we do. So our sinful, selfish natures seek to use this to our advantage. We leverage our bad moods to make others unhappy in order to get them to do what we want or to punish them for hurting us.
Moods become sinful weights for us when they do not help us identify our beliefs and align them with God’s promises. We weaponize our moods when they become a means of Satan either to emotionally manipulate us and to allow us to emotionally manipulate others.
Query Your Mood
The quickest way to lay aside the weight of manipulative moodiness is to wield our mood in the way God designed it: as a gauge of our belief. We must query our mood. What is fueling it?
First, determine whether or not it’s a body chemistry issue. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and post-partum hormonal imbalances are famous mood influencers. So are sickness and disease. Sometimes the first indicator that I’m coming down with the flu or a nasty cold is a vague discouragement or low-grade depression. Prescription medication, disease treatment, caffeine, sugar, “mood enhancing” illicit drugs (obviously) all can alter our body chemistry and affect our moods. So do mental illness, chronic pain, and sleep deprivation.
We must still fight to trust God’s promises even if our bodies aren’t working right. But a chemistry issue typically must be addressed with a chemistry solution, including prayer for God’s healing of the chemistry issue.
A Built-In Alarm for Beliefs
“Moods are gauges God has given us to help us detect the lies we believe.”
But more often than not, for most of us, our bad mood is being fueled by a wrong belief. And the mood, though likely sin-infected, is a mercy. It is God’s designed gauge to alert us that a sinful or defective functional belief is governing us at the moment and must be corrected with God’s truth.
When our souls are “cast down” and “in turmoil” within us, we must ask, “Why?” And then we must preach to our souls to “hope in God,” our salvation and our portion, whose mercies are new every morning (Psalm 42:5–6; Lamentations 3:22–24).