“So what is your gut reaction? Tell me how you really feel.”
“They are a perfect match—they’re madly in love, and she has nothing but good feelings about him.”
“Let’s go for it! My sense is that we’re doing the right thing.”
These familiar sound bytes indicate that our modern world is deeply sensitive to human emotions. In fact, more often than not, our feelings are our compass, guiding our decision-making process. We call it “following our hearts instead of our heads.”
Of course, we know that emotions are a God-given part of our lives, allowing us to vividly experience the world. But as Christians, we have to ask ourselves if emotional satisfaction should be our primary goal in life.
The answer is clearly no.
The evidence around us suggests that modern emotions are creating subjective standards that aren’t the least bit trustworthy. Broken marriages, abused children, and teenage suicides proclaim out-of-control emotions.
Wants that are falsely identified as needs keep family credit cards maxed out and finances in shambles. And “if it feels good, do it” was a deadly motto for thousands of people now suffering from sexually transmitted diseases.
God’s Word provides an objective set of standards for daily living. Naturally, these standards don’t always “feel good” when we first confront them. For example, when God calls upon us to treat others the way we’d like to be treated ourselves, personal sacrifice is necessary.
When He requires us to obey His commandments, doing so may conflict with our deepest cravings. Most disturbing of all, He firmly challenges us to set all else aside when we submit ourselves to His sovereign will.
Why is dealing with our emotions—facing our feelings—so important?
While positive emotions add luster to life, negative emotions can be very damaging.
If we ignore them, become obsessed with them, or refuse to confront them, they will stunt our spiritual growth. The truth is, we cannot be spiritually mature unless we are emotionally mature.
- 1. God made us with emotions and has given us many instructions about them.
- 2. We have often neglected emotion in Bible study, thinking, discussion, and practice.
- 3. Many of us fall short of pleasing God because we have not properly addressed our emotions. We do not respond fully to God because we are deficient in positive emotions, and we also wreak havoc on ourselves and others because we are unduly influenced by negative emotions.
Nurturing Our Spiritual and Emotional Growth
When God created us in His image, that image included our emotions. God gives us all things to enjoy, and healthy emotions bring color and zest to our lives.
1 Timothy 6:17 (ESV) As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
We’re also told in Scripture to enjoy our work, our mates, our children, our good health, our material blessings, and our God. Without emotions, that would be impossible.
We enjoy God. We enjoy our families and our friends. We enjoy the opportunities God gives us to use our abilities to serve others. Life has purpose and fulfillment. Our spiritual life matures and deepens as we appreciate God’s blessings.
When everything is working out—when we move into a new home, when our children finish college and find a good job, when they marry the right woman or man, when we have a good report from the doctor, when we actually have money left over at the end of the month—these occurrences make us happy. Our emotions respond and react to our physical circumstances.
Our emotions also react to our spiritual circumstances. When a person, overwhelmed with guilt, finds forgiveness by trusting in Jesus Christ, he or she feels cleansed and free.
We often see this happen in women who have carried the guilt and pain of abortion for years; they have found emotional and spiritual healing through Christ’s forgiveness, particularly within the context of a support group for abortion recovery. (news of Emmanuel’s baptism and 10 baptisms in Kigali, Rwanda at Centre Marembo).
After immorality has destroyed their self-worth, women renounce their unhealthy lifestyles and find joy in obedience to the Lord.
But what if our emotions become a runaway train we can’t control? Perhaps you often feel overwhelmed by your emotions and you see yourself in the following descriptions:
- Have you experienced rejection or been treated unfairly, or are you struggling with emotional devastation from the past—were you molested or neglected?
- Are you in a marriage that has soured and you feel hopeless?
- Do others say you seem to “have it all together,” but underneath the surface you are seething with anger and bitterness, unable to forgive things that were done to you?
- Are you overwhelmed with guilt and regret for things you have done and you just can’t forgive yourself?
- It is clear to me that people with self-love issues have a hard time with confidence issues.
When we face uncertain, painful, or tragic circumstances in life, we feel sorrow, confusion, anger, and pain. These emotions are also God-given; our Father uses these feelings to push us closer to Him.
Just as physical pain tells us something is wrong with our bodies, so emotional pain may be God’s way of telling us all is not well with our spiritual relationship with Him.
When emotions become destructive, they can make us miserable, ruin our relationships with others, and stunt our spiritual growth. They build a solid wall between us and God, and between us and other people.
In our misery, we can’t help but feel that God is somehow to blame for the tragic events of our past or the unhappiness of our present, and it’s hard for us to trust a God who allows such tragedy to happen to His children.
So we keep our distance from Him. We do just enough to keep our membership in His “club,” but there’s no sense of connection, no real enjoyment of God’s presence, and not a lot of honest fellowship with other believers.
These untampered, destructive emotions—selfishness, guilt, fear, worry, inability to forgive, anger, envy, rejection, greed, pride, feelings of inferiority, disappointment, discontentment, grief, and loneliness—can hinder our spiritual growth and keep us from having a close, trusting relationship with our Creator.
Maybe you’re thinking no one could ever understand the misery your emotions have led you to feel right now. Maybe you secretly think your situation is past healing. If so, please remember what the prophet Jeremiah prayed as he watched his world crumble before his eyes: “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17 emphasis mine).
God’s clearly stated purpose for all of His children is that we grow into spiritual maturity. He can take us around, over, or through any obstacle that has retarded our spiritual growth.
Nothing from our past or in our present is too hard for Him to handle. God created our emotions, and He is able to stop their destructive effect on our lives. He can make our emotions work for us, giving us peace and joy as we learn to respond to our relationship with our Lord rather than react to our circumstances.
The task may seem great, but with God’s help it’s really not all that hard.
Myth#1: Christian love is not a feeling but a duty and action.
Truth: Christian love is a feeling that leads to right actions.
Our heavy emphasis on the actions of love has demoted love. Do we really believe God loves us dutifully but not from his heart?
Deuteronomy 7:7 (ESV) It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,
Jeremiah 31:3 (ESV) …the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Philippians 1:8 (ESV) For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 2:1-2 (ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Then why would he want us to love that way? Because genuine Christian love will lead to obedience and service.
1 John 3:18 (ESV) Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 5:3 (ESV) For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
2 John 1:6 (ESV) And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
Apparently, some people in their day were not expressing love in actions and so needed to hear that emphasis.
Still, God wants us to have his love in our hearts.
John 5:42 (ESV) But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.
Many Scriptures show that there is a difference between love (the emotion) and the actions it leads to
1 Corinthians 13:3 (ESV) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV) Let all that you do be done in love.
Ephesians 4:2 (ESV) … with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…
1 Thessalonians 2:8 (ESV) So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Hebrews 10:24 (ESV) And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…
1 John 5:2 (ESV) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
This genuine emotion of love will lead us to the right actions
John 14:15 (ESV) 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
The greatest commandment is to love God with everything
Mark 12:28-34 (ESV) 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
We have rightly emphasized soul, mind, and strength, but we must not neglect the heart.
In the Bible, the heart includes our thoughts, desires, will, and emotions. God wants us to feel love for him.
If you have strong feelings of love for someone, you are much more likely to treat them well. Our commitment to them should lead us to do right by them regardless of what we are feeling at the moment, but a healthy emotion of love is a very powerful motivation for treating them right.
So with God. Heartfelt love for God will lead us not only to obey him but also to extol (praise enthusiastically) him, celebrate with all our might before him, kiss his feet and wash them with our tears, and seek him earnestly
Psalm 34:1-3 (ESV) I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
Psalm 63:1 (ESV) O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
How different would your relationship with God be if you had a deep, heartfelt, emotional love for him? What difference would heartfelt, passionate love for God make to our vision of Loving Like Jesus? … to our purpose of being Joined Together in Love?
Myth#2: Follow your heart.
Truth: Our hearts can easily lead us astray Jeremiah 17:9-10 (ESV) The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
If our hearts are pure, they have a valid place in making decisions. Healthy emotion can keep us from making cold, unfeeling, Pharisaical decisions. But the notion of following one’s heart, while paraded as integrity, often means following one’s sinful desires.
If you “have feelings” for someone that you should not be in a love relationship with, do not follow your heart. Instead, put a stop to the thoughts and actions that are generating those feelings.
Will Harley (His Needs/Her Needs) says marital affairs result from creating emotional bonds with someone other than our spouse. Likewise, emotional bonds (love) with money, pleasure, praise, etc. will lead to spiritual affairs against God.
Pathway #1: One pathway to healthier emotions in general and loving God in particular is grasping God’s love more fully. This will help create love in us (1 John 4:19 (ESV) We love because he first loved us…) which will make us healthier emotionally. Having more love will also choke out some of our unhealthy emotions.
Ephesians 3 teaches us that prayer (v. 14), God’s Spirit (v. 16), and other Christians (v. 18) can all help us grasp God’s love more fully. If we can continue to do it mindfully, we should add this to our ongoing prayers
 Erwin Lutzer, Managing Your Emotions (Chappaqua, N.Y.: Christian Herald Books, 1981), 17.