Emotions Expose Idols

Emotions Expose Idols

Last week I wrote about how we sometimes avoid emotions because Emotions are Scary. I think there is another reason we often avoid emotions, at least I do.

Emotions often expose the places in our hearts where we are worshipping something other than God. When I look at the things that make me angry, quite often it is not the same things that make God angry. My anger can be a beacon shining light on whatever is really holding my heart. My anger is often a banner declaring no quarter will be given to anything that stands in my way. My anger – and the choices I make in my anger – often reveals where I am willing to sin to get what I want.

Emotions often expose idols.

Emotions often expose idols – like a search light hunting for fugitives. The trouble is, often there is nothing wrong with what I want until it becomes more important than wanting Christ.

Ouch.

The path from a legitimate desire to an idol goes something like this: I want… (an hour to enjoy a book). I demand… (an hour to enjoy a book by expecting my kids to nap/play sweetly/be healthy/be quiet without question). I defend my right for… (an hour to enjoy a book by judging and condemning any child who interrupts my hour of reading). I sacrifice (my relationships with my kids, my obedience to Christ, AND, in an odd twist of events, my enjoyment of the book by huffing, sighing, using a harsh tone of voice, or yelling at my kids) so I can read my book. (Please see Peacemaker’s Ministries “Getting to the Heart of Conflict” for more on the progression of an idol, adapted from work done by David Powlison & Ed Welch at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.)

I could put any number of things in those parentheses throughout my day.

Nothing wrong with wanting to read

There is nothing wrong with wanting an hour to enjoy a book, just like there is nothing wrong with wanting my kids to load in the car quickly when we need to leave, or to do their chores sweetly, or to enjoy each other as they play. There is nothing wrong with wanting green lights all the way to the grocery store, an uninterrupted conversation with my husband, or a load of laundry to come out without shredded tissue all over the clothes. The desire isn’t wrong until it becomes more important than my own obedience.

That is not to say I have to give up enjoying books.

I can discipline (teach, instruct, gently correct) my children to respect my time, which may allow me to read. However, if I find irritation coming to the surface when one of them interrupts me, it may be an indication that the mini-god “give me an hour to enjoy my book” is demanding a sacrifice. In that moment, my emotion has the potential to move me to a heavy sigh {as if to say this precious child is not welcome in my world}. My emotion also has the potential to move me to repentance, to recognize I am placing my “hour to enjoy my book” over my relationship with my child. It is an opportunity to recognize I am not satisfied with what God offers, and to repent of believing his ways are not good enough.

Sometimes I don’t want to understand my emotions because they expose my idols.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Part of experiencing a full range of emotions in a fallen world is learning to recognize how my emotions can move me. A few weeks ago I mentioned the idea of a dogsled and how we want the dogs to drive the sled, but we understand the need to direct the dogs if we want the sled go to to a particular destination. The dogs that pull those sleds have to go through a lot of training before they can be used to drive a dogsled safely. {You can read Emotions are Not the Enemy here.}

Learning to recognize when my emotions are driving me to God vs. toward idolatry is the first step in training my heart to obey. Rapid repentance is the next step. When I skip the step of evaluating my emotions, I miss the opportunity to repent of what they reveal. I moments like these, my emotions often take me to dangerous ground. But in the providence of God, when my sled takes such a tumble, I fall on grace.

So how do you sift through emotions to find idols?

A good first step is to ask, “What am I feeling right now?

Follow that up with, “Why am I feeling this way?” {Pro Tip: Anger is often a secondary emotion, meaning it comes as a result of fear or hurt. If you are feeling angry or irritated or frustrated – all varying degrees of anger – ask yourself, “what am I afraid of losing?” or “what hurt me about what just happened?“}

Then ask yourself, “How does God feel about this?” The truth is we live in a fallen, broken world. Much of what grieves us also grieves our Father. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Wrong breaks His heart, too. It is instructive to think about how the author of life feels about what’s broken. Sometimes we find a companion for our sorrows. Sometimes we realize we are worshiping something besides him – we are the broken part, not the brokenhearted.

And that’s where we see our idolatry and have an opportunity to repent.

Do you want a fast-track to sanctification?

Practice this today. Commit right now to take one opportunity to sift through your emotions today – to see if/where those emotions expose idolatry.

Simultaneously commit to rapid repentance.

Set a reminder on your phone for 2 hours from now to think back on your hours & evaluate one scenario that stimulated emotion with these questions.

Next ask yourself how many times during that two hour time period you were tempted to idolatry. Pray for eyes to see it in the moment, a repentant heart, and a willingness to confess and repent to those you sacrifice on the altar of your idols.

I promise if you begin to search your life and heart with this kind of scrutiny & repentance you will see rapid growth in Christ-likeness.

If you plan to take this practical action, comment below. There’s nothing like making a commitment public to help you honor your commitment. And I’d love to know how it goes. Follow up with comments or email me so I know how to pray for you.

Emotions are Scary

Emotions are Scary

You know, before Adam and Eve sinned, they were naked and unashamed. Once they disobeyed, they hid in the garden because they were naked and afraid (Genesis 3:10).

I don’t think that concept is limited to clothing. Being exposed is scary. So we run and find something to cover our hearts and hide us from each other.

Do you realize Christ came to save us from that covering, too?

When we stand in Christ’s righteousness, God sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Our sinfulness is stripped away and the nakedness and shame of our sinful hearts is covered. But I don’t think we realize his righteousness not only strips us of our sin before God, but also opens the way for baring our hearts in our relationships with others.

We stand in the righteousness of Christ before each other as well. The cross is very leveling in that way.

Yet we often forfeit the benefit of standing in righteousness before one another by hiding our emotions. We often forfeit the benefit of experiencing the full range of emotions we were created to experience without sin by clinging to a lie: emotions are somehow bad and should be hidden, suppressed, avoided {More on that here (We Were Created to Experience Emotions) and here (Forever Starts Now).}

One reason I think we often forfeit this benefit is because we are afraid. Truly, to feel the full weight of sorrow is not easy. To walk with eyes open to the pain clutched in the hearts of those around us is not easy.

Emotions are scary.

I know I clutch and hide pain in my own heart, believing, somehow, that keeping it hidden makes it less real. Pretending it’s not there does stifle the hurt, or fear, or regret, in a way (though not without consequences). And the very idea of taking it out to explore – especially with someone else – is terrifying. It’s also quite scary to dive into someone else’s emotion. Empathy – the ability to feel along with someone else – opens us up to feeling deep fear, anguish, and sorrow along with those we love. That is not easy!

Then there are all the positive emotions. I’m not sure we really know what to do with the full strength of joy, either. There is a fear which often holds us back from diving into pleasure, as if we think it is somehow not meant for us.

And what about hope? Oh! Hope is scary, too. What if we hope in something only to be disappointed?

I remember with our last baby, I was afraid to hope. We had lost two babies before that pregnancy and I didn’t dare hope this baby would survive because I didn’t think I could bear the pain of losing another one. My heart ached with the weight of learning to place my hope in Christ instead of the hope of a successful pregnancy. Hope became a matter of obedience for me, and it was scary.

Hope is a matter of obedience

What about love? Love can be frightening, too. Fear of rejection or being taken advantage of or manipulated… or losing a part of you to a love so deep you sacrifice for it. As much as choosing to love the unlovely is hard, accepting love strikes fear in the hearts of many, too. We tend to underestimate our eligibility to receive love and overestimate the obligation of being loved.

Part of the problem is the unknown.

We cannot really know the fullness of emotion outside of Christ, and having walked so long in the shadows, it is scary to come into the light. It is legitimate to be afraid to feel fully. That doesn’t make it legitimate to avoid it, any more than we should avoid anything else God has given us to enjoy or ignore any other instructions he has given us to obey.

God does give instructions regarding emotions.

Love as I have loved you (John 15:12); be angry and do not sin (Ephesians 4:26); care for orphans and widows (James 1:27); let bitterness, wrath, anger, and malice be put away (Ephesians 4:31); be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving towards one another (Ephesians 4:32). The list could go on and on.

We cannot claim to follow Jesus if we are consumed by fear of the emotions God gave us. Even if they are scary, we cannot be obedient to Christ and avoid emotions. We cannot live in rich relationships and ignore emotions. We must learn to embrace emotions – even the scary ones.

So… who are you hiding from?

Are you hiding from someone? Are you ignoring the unspoken feelings of someone else? Who do you need to approach today to explore the deep waters of your heart with today?

Do you harbor hidden fear or bitterness from your spouse? Do you cringe at the pain you see in the eyes of your children, parents, or friends? Are you ready to own the hidden fears, joys, and sorrows in your heart? OK, maybe we’re never really ready, but are you willing to begin an honest appraisal of what’s in your heart? Are you willing to repent of avoiding the gift of emotions and begin to move toward community or righteousness by honestly dealing with what is hidden beneath the surface of a pleasant countenance?

I’d love to hear about how God is prompting you to move toward righteousness and community by exposing and exploring what you are feeling! Comment below or send me a message so I can pray with and for you!

Forever Starts Now

Forever Starts Now

We all agree that Jesus was sinless, but sometimes we forget he experienced a full range of emotions without sinning.

A brief scan of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life reveal he experienced a lot of emotions.

Love.

Hope.

Affection.

Acceptance.

Wonder.

Contentment.

Joy.

Compassion.

Pity.

Empathy.

Sorrow.

Grief.

Concern.

Hurt.

Betrayal.

Heartbreak.

Exasperation.

Distaste.

Contempt.

Anger.

Fury.

Anguish.

Jesus felt FURY? This makes us a little uncomfortable.

Most people grow increasingly uncomfortable as they read down that list thinking of Christ experiencing these emotions, but there are biblical examples throughout the life of Christ for each and every word I’ve listed there, right down to his (sinless) fury over the money-changers in the temple courts.

Jesus was regularly moved to action by his emotions – whether he was moved by compassion to heal the sick, or moved by grief to weep over the death of his friend Lazarus, or moved by agony to cry out to God as he looked down the path to the cross. He called his friends (the disciples) “dull” in a moment of exasperation. He was heartbroken when God’s chosen people rejected him. He was moved to compassion – begging forgiveness for those who killed him – for those who “knew not” what they did.

Jesus felt emotions, and he felt them deeply. Yet there is not one. single. account. in the entirety of scripture of Jesus stuffing his emotions down to avoid conflict, to keep someone else happy, or to save embarrassment.

Likewise, there is not one. single. account. in the entirety of scripture of Christ being so consumed by anger, fear, passion, or grief such that he said or did something he later regretted.

Jesus experienced every. single. emotion. we were created to experience, without sin, without regret, without shame.

Jesus experienced emotions without sin

Any true believer bases his salvation on the perfect sinlessness of the life of Christ. Indeed, without his perfect, unblemished, sinless sacrifice on our behalf, we have no hope.

We often forfeit the benefits of being united with Christ.

There is an extension of the hope we have in Christ which we often forfeit. You see, Christ’s death and resurrection not only assures us of eternal life, but also secures an abundant life for us starting now and lasting throughout eternity. We often say (with the Westminster Confession) our chief end, main purpose, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What if forever starts now?

We don’t have to wait for heaven to enjoy God and his design forever. Jesus died and rose again for a kingdom that is now. Forever starts now. Abundant life is for now, not later.

His Spirit dwelling in us makes it possible for us to choose righteousness now.

His Spirit living in us gives us the power to pursue being fully human (with all the emotions that entails) now. {You can read more about how we were created for emotions here.}

Christ’s Spirit abiding in us frees us to experience emotions the way Christ experienced emotions, to feel deeply and be moved to righteousness. We can learn to experience a full range of emotions without sinning in them.

Knowing all this isn’t enough. Do something!

So, are you ready to enjoy God and his people now?

What lies have you been believing about emotions? Where can you bring biblical truth to those lies? Where do you need to repent?

I’d love to help you explore this further. As a matter of fact, I have an entire women’s weekend conference on the idea of Forever Starts Now. For more information on hosting this life-and-women’s-ministry-changing conference for the women in your church or community, please click here.

Forever Starts Now

And if you’d like individual help, please contact me. I have limited spots remaining for personal consultation at reasonable rates. Let’s talk!

Meanwhile, I’d love to get this conversation started online – comment below how you’ve seen emotions move you to righteousness or to sin.

Let’s pray for one another as we learn what it looks like to enjoy God and glorify him now.

We Were Created to Experience Emotions

We Were Created to Experience Emotions

In the past couple of years, I have spent a fair amount of time reading books like Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman and Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, along with a lot of medical abstracts, journal articles on the neurology and physiology of emotions, and studies about the chemical changes in the body connected with emotions. I am far from an expert, but I have begun to see a pattern emerging.

Though pretty much every published book or article out there right now has been written from an evolutionary perspective, the scientists and authors have discovered our bodies are wired for emotions. If we look at what they are discovering through their research through a biblical lens – from a creationist perspective – we see that God created us with this intricate system that connects the information take in through our various senses with chemicals (a.k.a. hormones) to our bodies. The physiological reaction to these hormones prepares our bodies to move. {Hence the name: emotion, which comes to us from Latin “to move.”}

At the end of the biblical creation account, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31).

It’s not a far leap in logic to realize if he created man in his own image, if he created man to experience emotions – which we are now discovering through modern technology – and if he saw everything he made and considered it very good, then emotions, as part of his creation and as part of his creation of man in his own image, are very good. Do you get that?

Emotions are very good.

Emotions are very good.

Somehow we’ve lost the idea of emotions being very good, and I think Satan is pretty happy (yes, that’s an emotion, too) about it.

Bottom line? We were created to experience emotions.

When we deny it, we lose.

Every time we take something God made and call it into question we lose.

Adam and Eve lost in the garden when they called into question the covenant God made regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Husbands lose when they call into question the authority God gave them to lead sacrificially, preferring and protecting their wife and children above themselves.

Wives lose when we call into question the order (not value) God gave in setting the husband as the head of the family.

Children lose when we take the honor God made for our parents and give it to ourselves (rebelling against authority) or others (caring for or accepting direction from others at the expense of caring for and honoring our parents).

Families lose when we call into question the emotions we were given to move us to righteousness by abusing one another with uncontrolled emotions, giving unbridled vent to rage, angst, fear, grief, or euphoria, pleasure, and passion.

Households lose when we call into question the emotions we were given to move us to community by forbidding emotions, which leads to an environment of emotional abandonment, withdrawal, shame, cheerlessness, lust, and emptiness.

As individuals we lose a little bit of what it means to be human when we strip the healthy experience of emotions from our lives.

Society loses a great deal of what it means to be a community and government loses a great deal of what it means to protect and defend life, when individuals become less human. Just look at the political sphere to find evidence of this!

The loss of empathy is a nail in the coffin of justice and mercy.

Loss of Empathy Kills Justice & Mercy

We have abandoned the Creator’s design with respect to emotions. As a result, the relationships for which we were created suffer; the worship we were created to give is hollow and empty. Without a healthy emotional life, we are less than what we were created to be – and now we have science to back up that fact.

The solution is not to suppress emotion and withdraw from others. The solution is to accept our emotions and to train them to move us into healthy relationships.

We don’t have to lose. Following God’s design and instruction always sets us up to win.

So where do you need to repent? Do you give free reign to your emotions, allowing unbridled fear, anger, or passion to trample the people around you? Do you suppress emotions through withdrawal, abandonment, and shame based upon how they (or you!) feel?

Take time today to think through one are where you are abusing emotions and stripping the image of God from yourself or others. Pray for wisdom about how to live out the image of God in a way that magnifies God’s glory rather than man’s sin. Then comment below or send me an email so I can pray for you as you grow in Christlikeness. I will pray for every single comment/email I receive.

Emotions are Not the Enemy

Emotions are Not the Enemy

I don’t know about you, but I know I often find myself fighting my emotions. Don’t get me wrong. I do think we need to control ourselves where emotion is concerned, but there is a difference between fighting to control emotion and fighting emotion itself. The first is an attempt to drive emotions on a constructive course. The second is an attempt to deny an essential component of being human – being made in the image of God. Denying emotions usually leads to destructive choices, resulting in damaged health and/or relationships.

Part of the problem is we have bought into a lie: emotions are bad, especially negative emotions (I wrote about that a bit last week). The truth is, emotions are not really the enemy.

Our sin is the enemy, always has been, always will be.

It is the sinful choices we make without evaluating our emotions and reigning them in with truth that are the enemy. Emotions should drive us – we are physiologically wired for emotions. Problems arise when we let our emotions drive our lives without directing them to the course we want to take.

Can you imagine what would happen if you tethered yourself to a dogsled in the wilderness of Alaska, but didn’t train the dogs who would pull it? The results would be disastrous.

People who race in the Iditarod need the dogs to drive the sled, but they don’t let them run wild with the sled careening along behind them. If you want to use a dogsled, you need dogs. You need strong dogs that are capable of withstanding extreme conditions. You need well-trained dogs if you are going to not only survive the arctic environment, but also arrive at the destination you choose. The point is, if you want to race in the Iditarod you want dogs. You want the dogs to be dogs. You just want dogs to be dogs that will stay on the course, follow your lead, and take you where you want to go.

If you want to live life well (and abundantly) you need emotions. You need strong emotions that are capable of withstanding extreme conditions. You need well-trained emotions if you are going to not only survive life in a broken, fallen world, but also arrive in the kind of relationships and circumstances you desire. If you want to win the race set before you (1 Corinthians 9:24, Philippians 3:14; Hebrews 12:1-2), you need emotions to be emotions, driving forces that move you to action. You just need emotions to be emotions which don’t take the sled off course. You need emotions trained to respond to the reins of truth and righteousness. You need emotions which move you where you want to go.

Emotions must be trained

 

Emotions are not the enemy.

Emotions are a great and untapped power capable of driving us toward righteousness and mercy or toward complete destruction of ourselves and others in our path. Our call is not to capture our emotions and stuff them into a dungeon, not is it to unleash them on others. Scripture talks about taking our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), but it does not give a parallel instruction about taking (or making) emotional captives. Emotion is to be trained by truth.

Our calling is to take the raw strength of our emotions and train them to drive us to worship God in everything we do (Colossians 3:17, 23; Ephesians 6:7; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Our calling is to evaluate our emotions through the lens of scripture. Our calling is to encourage a rich emotional life that moves us to righteousness. Think horse whisperer instead of  POW camp commander.