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.