Enslaved by emotions

Dear friends and family, please try not to look at me in feigned shock when I admit this, buuuuuuuut…

I am an emotional person.

I know. Let the “I told you so” eye rolling begin. Bring it on. I deserve it. This is old news to you, I know, while I tend to overlook the most obvious things. It’s part of my charm.

I’m an emotions junkie. I thrive on intensity. If I am not feeling, I think my experiences must somehow not be real or not count. I know, in principle, that emotions aren’t everything and we can’t base truth on how we’re feeling any given moment. But the sad truth is that more often than not, I let my feelings make decisions for me. This usually results in some pretty skewed habits.

For example, when I obey my emotions and not God, I’ll go months without reading my Bible, citing something like, “I’m just not feeling the Spirit today” as my excuse. But as a result, over time, I can almost feel my heart turning harder. It takes less and less to frustrate me. My prayers are mumbled pleas for assistance as I hurry through my day. God seems quiet and so am I. I’m wrapped up in some very earthly needs. I’m irritated when things go awry, like when my remote stops working or I have to take out the trash. Every step feels like a hike and I’m wondering how I got to this place where all I do is exist.

Following my emotions also wrecks havoc on other relationships and activities. When I’m not “in the mood” to be around people, I isolate myself. Or because I don’t feel “burdened” for the inner city, I will ignore the need to participate in the various ministries and outreaches that my church coordinates. I even tend to shrug off missions because I don’t “have a heart” for Africa (or whatever country is in question). As a result, I end up lonely and restless.

Doing whatever I want – or not doing what I don’t want – isn’t freeing; it’s suffocating.

I follow Sojourn Church on Twitter. Do not ask me why I do this. It’s a church in Louisville, KY and I do not live in either Louisville or Kentucky. Twitter does strange things to me. But Sojourn produces a lot of the songs that we sing at my church so there’s that.

A few weeks ago, one of their tweets led me to this article by one of their members, Josh Thomas, about being in a Redemption Group.
I don’t know what a Redemption Group is. But I don’t think you need to know in order to get some of what he’s sharing. Because what he’s really sharing is a story of how we can make an idol out of our emotions.

Josh talks about how he had heard such good things about these Redemption groups from other people and was really jazzed to go through it himself, eager for what he calls that “punch in the gut” from God:

“Truthfully, I was amped up for a punch in the gut, something to rattle me to the core; half expecting, like Paul in Acts 9:18, something like scales to fall from my eyes as I beheld my Redeemer with new sight.”

I, too, expect to constantly be blown away by God. Every time I read Scripture should leave me feeling like I’m on top of the world. Every prayer should result in spontaneous, passionate praise. I know in my head all the wonderful things of the Lord – that I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior. But more often than not, while I find myself learning more about God and who I am, there’s little fanfare to accompany these revelations and I walk away discouraged at my lack of emotional response.

Josh Thomas goes on to relate some of the things he learned about God and about himself after reading through some of Exodus.

“And yet, despite recognizing this idolatry, I never got that punch in the gut. I wondered, Was something wrong with me? Was I not meditating deeply enough on what I’d been hearing? Was I not rightly applying this to my life? Why was I not fraught with tears over my brokenness before a holy God? What was the disconnect between knowing this in my mind and feeling it in my heart?”

Preach it, Josh Thomas.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have answers to these questions. I do know, however, that to seek out an experience of God rather than God Himself – desiring the scales to fall from my eyes more than the desire of Whom I see when they fall – is again idolatry. My wickedness truly knows no bounds.”

Aha, that’s it. I’m waiting for the experience of things – I want God to feel good. I care more about my response to Him than I do about God Himself. Selfish. I am selfish.

The thing is that experiences don’t hold me accountable. They put me on a mountaintop or bring me low, but either way, I’m a victim of circumstance, a slave to moods. God Himself, however, will give me a mirror and I will see some pretty ugly things. And suddenly, I have to own up to my sin and realize what a ridiculous sinner I am and what an amazing Savior Jesus is.

Jesus frees me from the bondage of emotions, which means that I can read His word and pray and love Him – even when my feelings aren’t following suit. Truth is objective and doesn’t change based on what my mood is at any given moment. Being set free from my emotions also liberates me to engage in relationships. Knowing the truth that we are to love one another, make disciples of all the nations, and not give up meeting with one another means that I can freely do those things even when I don’t feel like my heart is in it.

(Yes, it’s tricky to adopt this kind of attitude without it giving way to legalism or moralism (thinking you can obtain your own righteousness by keeping commandments or being good). I know that’s something I need to be on guard against and be watchful for in prayer. And there are truly instances in which the Lord does lay specific things or people or ministries or callings on one’s heart and to disregard that would also be disobedience. I’m just reflecting on the trap that I often fall into, thinking that I have to feel something before I can do it, instead of remembering that God is a God of reason and not just emotions.)

Emotions, like anything else, are wonderful when utilized appropriately. Happy tears at a wedding, laughing with friends, sad tears at a funeral, conviction when you’ve done something wrong. God is both an emotional and reasonable being and as we are created in His image, we are also feelers and thinkers. I’m not proposing a ban on feelings, just wisdom in how to manage them.

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