Chances are, at some point of your life your emotions have driven you crazy. Maybe fear and anxiety get the best of you in the worst possible moments, or maybe you are consumed with envy, bitterness or jealousy all the time? Whatever the case, the reality is that our emotions are difficult to understand and manage.
On top of this, when it comes to navigating our difficult emotions, most of the advice christian teachers offer is unhelpful. I’ve heard countless of times from christian teachers that our emotions don’t matter or are secondary, if not dangerous; that we ought to shun or ignore them and focus on what we do and what we think. Such advice might be helpful at times, but as a way to live it is hollow; it does not work.
The Bible and Emotions.
If you pay close attention to what the Bible says about emotions, you will realize that it does not say our emotions are dangerous, secondary or that we ought to ignore them. Indeed, the Bible assumes we are emotional beings and speaks to us as such.
To begin with, one of the Ten Commandments is “do not covet”. Coveting is an emotional experience: desiring what does not belong to us. The Psalms are full of emotional expressions. David wrote about his sorrow and his tears (Psalm 56:8) and he wrote about joy (16:11). In the New testament Paul uses emotional language in his letters regularly: he speaks about God and to the churches he is writing to with incredible affection. What’s more, he commands us to feel (or not) particular emotions. Rejoice in the Lord! (Phil 4:8), Don’t be anxious (Phil 4:6), love each other with genuine affection (Rom 12:10), etc..
The parables of Jesus Christ often involve an emotional element. For example, the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 was moved to mercy, and therefore he acted and the man that found the Kingdom of God hidden in a field, in his joy sold everything he had.
Maybe most importantly, the Bible often calls us to repent from having evil desires. It does not call us to ignore our evil desires because they don’t matter or to pretend we don’t desire evil things, but instead calls us to desire good things.
So, What do we make of this? This is where LeBron comes into the game (pun intended!)
Your emotions are like LeBron James in a basketball game. If you want to win, you better have him on your side. Pretending that he is not there or that he is unimportant is a very bad move. What’s more, LeBron is only dangerous if he’s on the opposite team. If he’s on your team, you’ll do much better.
In the same way, if you want to grow in your sanctification and relate to God and others in healthier ways, you have to pay attention to your emotions. God created you with emotions for a reason. Instead of shunning them, you need to embrace yourself as an emotional being that walks through life in emotional ways.
Here are 3 practical ways in which you can achieve that.
1) Make a google search on emotions and familiarize yourself with all the range of emotions you can experience. Having a vocabulary to name the emotions you experience will help you grow in your emotional awareness.
2) Bring your emotions to God in prayer. The Psalms are an excellent example of what bringing your emotions to God can look like (Ps. 38). Cry to God, be sad with God, rejoice with God. Also, have a close friend or mentor regularly ask you “How are you feeling?” and answer honestly. Praying your emotions and talking about them with others will help you be aware of them and will help you normalize them.
3) Cultivate godly emotions; emotions that are pleasing to God and that will lead you to act in godly, healthy ways (for example, being moved to mercy -Luke 10-). You cultivate godly emotions by immersing yourself in the story of the Gospel and in a community that embodies it.
- Spend time in the Word of God and meditate upon it. Don’t make your devotional only an intellectual affair; let the Word of God affect your emotions and your desires.
- Spend time in a community that has enfleshed the Gospel. Live with them, love them, let them love you.
Remember, God gave you emotions, and they are good and important. Embrace them with wisdom and your life will improve dramatically.
Postscript. What I’m NOT saying.
Following is a list of things I am not saying and I believe some of my readers may be tempted to think I am saying.
- I am not saying God tells us what his will is through your feelings.
- I am not saying you should do whatever you feel like doing.
- I am not saying that what you feel is the measure of truth.