Thursday, January 5, 2017

How to Deal with Our Emotions

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Pastor Ben here. For my turn on the pastors' blog, I've asked a guest blogger to share! And she's a good one. My wife, Casey, shares thoughts from her recent message she shared at beREAL, our church's monthly women's meeting. Both men and women will be blessed to read this!
How do we deal with our emotions of happiness, worry, discontentment, pride, compassion, sadness, anger, despair, joy, anxiety, and numerous others? 
Adapted from Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman (all quotes from the book unless otherwise noted), here are some principles we can use to biblically handle our emotions.  

1) How can our emotions sometimes be dangerous? Emotions have been given to us by God. They are a reflection of God himself. As we read our Bible we learn that God reveals his character using different emotions: love, compassion, delight, anger, sadness (Zeph 3, Gen 6, Psalm 95, Psalm 103). In the garden, Adam and Eve had the perfect balance of emotions. However, post fall, emotions have been infected by sin.  Our thoughts, words, deeds are prone to sin and so are our emotions. Often times we find ourselves controlled by our emotions or unable to see truth clearly because our emotions are leading us, not us leading them. We make decisions based on our “feelings” and often times in today’s culture we are told to “follow your heart” or “do what makes you feel good.” These are dangerous words to live by and cause us to base our truth and perception of reality on our experiences and self-preservation.  Have you ever wondered why you or people around you seem to remain stagnant or stuck in their walk with God? Not being able to handle their emotions biblically can often be a reason. Our sinful emotions can affect how we view ourself, God, other people. I’m sure we can all relate to looking for something or someone to make us feel better, whether that’s a relationship, or a new pair of shoes, food, or staying in bed all day neglecting our responsibilities.  

2) What do sanctified emotions look like? Just like any other area of the Christian life, our emotions need to be sanctified as well. The goal being a more balanced emotional life. Think about Jesus, who as a man experiencing our world, had the perfect balance of emotions. He had love, compassion, delight, anger, grief. He was angry and stern but it was always controlled, because it as God’s glory he was defending (John 2).  He had joy but it wasn’t centered on his personal comfort but was instead focused on his obedience to and relationship with his Father.  Sanctified emotions are handled by the truth which is found in the person of God. “The Word through the Spirit helps us not to suppress our emotions but to cultivate and communicate them with spirit-empowered self-discipline. “This means that we don’t deny or pretend we don’t have emotions, it means that we express them and process them through the lens of God’s character and faith in him.
If we look at Psalm 42 and 77 we notice that the authors experience these emotions in particular: depression, fear, anxiety, sadness, suffering. The psalmist often wonders where God is and what is he doing.
  Sometimes the psalmist experienced emotional pain because of their own sin, sometimes it was the result of others’ sin towards them. The psalmists were honest about their distress but it did not result in sin or shaking their fist at God. The psalmists’ emotional pain resulted in praising God for who he is and what he has done.  They rested in the fact that they could depend on God to be faithful. “We are meant to feel the pain of adversity but we must resist allowing that pain to cause us to lapse into sinful thoughts about God” (Trusting God by Jerry Bridges).

3) How do we handle our emotions biblically?  We first have to confess our sinful emotions.  “Authentic repentance is determination to change for Christ’s sake with Christ’s help.” After we recognize and confess our sinful emotions, we have to preach the Gospel to ourselves. “Nothing gives emotional stability, authentic joy, and unshaken satisfaction like resting in the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.” Here are 4 ways the Gospel can help us have emotional stability:

a. Romans 8:31-32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” Because our sin is against an infinitely Holy God we deserve and eternal, infinite punishment.  God’s wrath is what we are saved from. God has already taken care of our biggest problem. He will help us in our emotional instability.  He has given us his Son; the ultimate treasure. 

b. Hebrews 12:3-4. Whatever suffering we face does not compare to the suffering that Jesus endured for us on the cross. This causes us to put our problems in the right perspective, to be thankful instead of having a sense of entitlement. All we have is by God’s grace: a realization of how much I have and how little I deserve. 

c. I Cor. 10:13. Because of the Gospel, we have resurrection power which means we can no longer say “I can’t do this.” You can rule over your emotions. We have every spiritual blessing and all we need for life and godliness.

d. Because of the Gospel, we have future grace.  Grace for each upcoming difficulty, based on God’s past and current faithfulness (Psalm 77), we can depend on his promises and we have the hope of heaven where we will be free of anger, depression, bitterness, anxiety. 

For most of us our emotional struggles are not a result of a major life circumstance but more often they involve dealing with the everyday or every hour highs and lows. A few months ago, my daughter came to me and was overwhelmed by all the things on her to-do-list.  She had reached the tipping point. We all have that tipping point: our to-do-list, a difficult relationship, a constant nagging temptation or sin struggle.  Will we tip over and spill out sinful emotions like anxiety, anger? Or will we plan for war in peace time and search our hearts and recognize what biblical truth we need to cling to at that moment. I am thankful that my daughter desired not to be ruled by her anxiety but instead we looked together at verses such as Matt 6:31-34 and Lam 3:22-24. We don’t always respond rightly at the tipping point but if we are continuing to humble ourselves and seek God’s help, he promises to sanctify us.

Sometimes an unexpected blessing (ex. everything is going my way, life is good) can cause us to be emotionally unstable. Sometimes a change in hormones, a lack of motivation, sleep or energy affect our emotions. We often times find ourselves in an emotional spin cycle that we can’t get out of.  We can fall into the trap of excusing our sin by saying “I just don’t feel like…” fill in the blank: obeying, reading, disciplining, serving. What truth do we need to access at this moment?  Psalm 119:24 says the word is our counselor. Many times in the Psalms we see the phrase “Hope in God” over and over because we need to remember who God is and that we can trust him. This battle must be won in the mind and then must by followed up by action. “Power comes in the doing. Stop the self-pity and do what you are supposed to do.” As we obey in faith we ask God to increase our love, increase our joy, increase our delight, increase our compassion. All around us there can be chaos, conflict, strife but if we can let the truth of God’s word rule our mind then right thinking produces right feelings. “When negative thoughts fill my mind, I know to look to God and his Word for guidance.” 

Thanks for reading!
Casey Davidson

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