“There is nothing you can feel that you can not take to God.”
Following up on yesterday’s session, “Why Do I Feel How I Feel?“, Alasdair Groves discusses what we do next with those feelings. How do we engage our emotions? How do we respond to all this stuff going on inside of us?
Alasdair explained two unhelpful ways with dealing with our emotions.
The first is believing that feelings are everything. Culture says evil is anything that holds feelings back that impinges on full expression of who you are. Culture says, the most important thing that defines you is your feelings. In a Christian subculture, a variation may go like this: spiritual highs are the norm and valleys are not good. For example, we may be told to “Be sold out for Jesus”… Alasdair explains that “The problem is, we live in a culture that puts feelings on center stage. That is not the place they were meant to occupy.”
The second unhelpful way to deal with emotions is to say that feelings don’t matter. Push emotions away. Modern psychology may encourage therapies like “mindfulness” where you get away from your feelings, step back from them and see them as they happen. Picture a Christian telling another lady in the church who just lost her child that she should be in church to smile, to set a good example.
But contrary to the idea “that we are supposed to be amped or damped” is a call to engage our emotions. We are called to take an honest look at how we are feeling, to try to name what is going on inside as best as we can. We are people that can have have good sorrows or bad joys. The problem is not too much emotions, but the bad loves, the desires and treasures that focus our emotions to their purposes. We are called to name the good and bad in our depression and the good and bad in in our excitement. For example, even in bitterness, there is a healthy understanding of truth that is powerful, a recognition that something wrong has happened. A correct identification of evil in this world.
Engaging means moving further toward the living God. “Engage your emotions by engaging God.” The Psalms are a perfect example of this. Or consider the book of Lamentations, where there is physical suffering, social rupture, hunger, shame, internal strife, and loss of dreams, and the prophet asks God to look upon them and see their dismay. “Cultivate good negative emotions to express the cry of your heart and engage God with.”
“There is nothing you can feel that you can not take to God.” Joy, gratitude, fear, discouragement. Lord this is where I am, see me, take me, comfort me. “When we do anything besides engaging God with our emotions, we are short circuiting the purpose of our emotions.” Emotions are meant to help us engage with and know God.
Alasdair explained three ways to engage our emotions with God.
- We are to take our bodies seriously. We tend to be in a better place to handle the expressions of our heart, when our physical health is cared for. Consider our diet and sleep. Alasdair explained that food is the most over used antidepressant and exercise the lease used anti-anxiety. “Our bodies are not an embarrassment.” Our bodies are God’s way to keep us focused on what is important. “Our bodies are gifts from God.”
- We should turn down the faucet for the bad faucets that feed our heart. Much can be said about this, but four examples include…
- Don’t stew. This is the opposite of engaging our emotions with God. Stewing is engaging emotions by yourself without God out of the picture. This is especially challenging for those who find emotions overwhelming.
- Don’t vent. There is a difference between venting and talking things through with a friend. Venting says a verbal vomit on someone else. A few days later, you’ll have reinforced this instinct to vent even more. This is much different than asking someone to help you understand what you are feeling so that you can engage the Lord.
- Repent. But don’t be too quick to repent superficially for a display of strong emotions. Rather, engage your emotions. Repent of your idols and false worship.
- Think different thoughts. . Scripture reorients us and help us to think differently.
- Turn up good streams. We do this by reading the Bible, serving, going to church, praying, seeking wise counsel. We do this by cultivating good negative emotions like godly sorrow. We ask the Lord to help us to taste and see that he is good. We do this by going to corporate worship and treating worship as an oasis in the desert. We shouldn’t just ask “what did I learn” from the sermon. Rather we should ask, “Was I encouraged or discouraged by the sermon and why?”
Alasdair encouraged us to worship in every emotion. Every emotion is to lead to worship. We worship a lamb who was slain and his scars will be the most beautiful thing for all eternity.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)