“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
This is the shortest verse in the Bible and yet one of the most poignant. It depicts a Savior full of emotion. And He was.
In fact, the scriptures say that Jesus — as God made man — experienced everything we have or will, yet was without sin. (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:14-16). This means that He felt all the emotions we exhibit: anger, sadness, joy, dread, confusion, loneliness, unfulfilled desires, disappointment, and many more.
There is so much comfort in this. Too often we approach life with the feeling, no one understands, no one really knows how I feel. No one cares. But He does. His understanding has no limit. (Psalm 147:5)
It is because of this that He is able to comfort us. He “gets” what we are going through. His empathy is perfect.
Feelings matter. Our feelings are a part of being created in the image of God. God has feelings, too. Emotions are normal. They are important. They are a core piece of who we are. Emotions bring color to life.
Oswald Chambers describes it like this:
“If human beings were not capable of depression, we would have no capacity for happiness and exaltation.” My Utmost for His Highest, February 17 entry
But don’t make this mistake…
However, we err when we allow our feelings to determine action or define truth.
Too many believers live in a perpetual state of discouragement. One reason is that we let our feelings act as truth.
I don’t feel close to God. I feel separate from Him. He must not care. He hasn’t…
The fact that we don’t feel close to Him does not change the fact that He is very close to us. He sticks closer than a brother. Nothing can separate us from His love and his daily, yes daily, concern for every detail in our life. (Romans 8:38-39, Psalm 139).
Our natural tendency will be to live under the control of our feelings. Instead we must recognize our feelings — articulate them, for they are real — then choose to live moment by moment in the reality of His truth as proclaimed in the scriptures.
Choosing His truth
I might wake up in the morning, discouraged before I even get out of bed. No one understands all that’s on my plate, a friend has hurt me, or I feel condemned. Maybe I feel like a failure as a mom. Or I’m tired of my boring life. Normal feelings.
I have to make a choice. I can walk through my day controlled by these feelings or I can counter them with His truth. You understand O Lord. You are good. You will cause good to come out of this situation. (Romans 8:28). You have a plan for my life. In your presence is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16) I choose to dwell on this today.
Most likely we will have to remind ourselves of His truths many times throughout each day. But remember His truths are not merely mantras. His truth is backed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead. His truths have the power not merely to comfort us but to to change us.
We have to acknowledge that His word is far more powerful than our feeling of the moment.
Hannah Whitall Smith wrote in 1875:
“The chief temptation that meets the soul and assaults at every step of the pathway is feelings. Because we do not feel God has taken us in hand, we cannot believe He has. We put feelings first, faith second and fact last although God’s invariable rule in everything is fact first, faith second and feelings last of all. (from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life)
Cru explains the same principle in this way. Picture an old-timey steam engine train with three cars: an engine, a coal car, and a caboose. The engine represents FACT, the coal car FAITH, the caboose FEELINGS. In order for the train to run you have to take the coal (faith) out of the coal car and put it into the engine (fact).
If you pour coal into the caboose (feelings) the train will stall. Feelings are a by-product. They should not run the train or control our lives.
What Does this Look Like?
Here are a couple of practical examples:
I don’t feel like that girl likes me. She doesn’t speak to me. Just because you feel this doesn’t make it true. She may be in a really hard place in her own life-discouraged, feeling down. You don’t know everything that is going on in someone else’s life. There is always data missing.
I feel so close to this man. I feel he is my soul mate. It’s ok to have sex with hm. God wants me to be happy. He understands. It’s ok. It is not OK. God’s truth says that sexual intimacy is to be reserved for the marriage relationship between one man and one woman for life. He says we are to flee temptation, not “flirt with it.’ (1Cor 6:18).
Here are some ways this impacts how we parent:
Our son is still sitting on the bench instead of racing down the soccer field. He doesn’t get to play much, and the coach doesn’t seem to like him. Storming in after a game he exclaims, “I am going to quit. The coach doesn’t give me a chance. He’s so unfair. He likes the other boys better than me.”
What is your response?
“Son, I am so sorry. I know you feel discouraged. (Show empathy). I feel it too. However, you made a commitment to the team and you cannot quit. I am so proud of you sitting on the bench cheering for your teammates. You are learning endurance, an important character trait.”
Project ahead 20 years. This son could be in a difficult marriage and simply decide that he wants to quit. That seems easiest. But when he was young, he learned endurance on the soccer field so now he does not quit, instead he chooses to get counseling, to do all he can do to make his marriage succeed.
A young child is pitching a fit because she has been told to pick up her toys. “I don’t feel like cleaning up,” she wails. You respond, “I know you don’t feel like it, honey. Some days I don’t feel like cooking your meals or washing your clothes. But I do it anyway. In life we have to choose to do what’s right not necessarily what we feel like.” If you are able, add a bit of humor to this conversation. Parenting requires a lot of humor.
Learning to live by faith and not feelings is a lifetime journey. We won’t get it completely this side of heaven. However, we can make progress as we grapple with these truths and we can grow in living more joyfully in the light of His presence.
A major aid in learning to live in the joy of His presence is praise. Simply praising God for who He is and what He has done has a way of lifting us out of ourselves and back to focusing on Him. Gratitude is a trait we want to cultivate.
So are feelings important? Very much so. But they can’t have the final word. They can’t become our truth.
If you find that you are in a place that, even using these principles, you are still unable to get out of a state of depression, despair, or feeling “stuck” it could be an important time to seek outside help. Often our feelings affect our experience of God’s presence and faithfulness, so having a place that you can explore and process some of these deeper emotions can open one up to being able to both feel God’s presence and tolerate the times that feelings do not align themselves with the truth.
Looking for more? Check out Two Dangerous Phrases: If Only and What If
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