“Emotions can help you, and they can hurt you, but you have no say in the matter until you understand them,” said Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.
Many of us know that our emotions are a force, but we are not sure how to deal with them. Our brains give priority to our feelings. Our sight, sound, smells, taste, and touch flow throw the emotional part of our brains, the amygdala, before it reaching the rational part, the frontal lobe. Emotions are first in line.
Many of us have experienced pain in our lives that is unearthed by a variety of triggers. Emotional or physical abuse or trauma may surface in an instant. Certain circumstances or situations evoke stress. Knowing your triggers and having a close relationship with God through prayer will help you respond rather than react to difficult emotional situations.
Emotions are unavoidable. Emotions are contagious. Like a rock tossed into a lake, our behaviors influence those around us. Our emotions can have a tremendous impact on our family, coworkers, and friends.
1. Be aware of the power of your emotions.
You have experienced overwhelming grief, intense anger, and dark depression. These emotions may hijack your ability to think clearly. However, knowing the potential crippling emotions can bring will help you deal with the impact. A great Bible passage to keep in mind is from the writing of James.
James 1:19-25 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James points out the essential quality of reasoning through the lens of the Scripture instead of reacting with raw emotion.
Proverbs 14:17a A man of quick temper acts foolishly.
Several years ago, I was in a tense meeting around a table. Someone made a comment that hurt my pride immensely. I took the comment to heart. My face turned bright red. I raised my voice and shook my finger at the person who aroused my anger. I looked like a fool. If I had only done as James said and looked into the mirror of Scripture, realizing my shortcomings, I would have avoided that awful scene.
When we allow our emotions to rule, we “deceive ourselves.” We are not living by the Scriptures; we are giving free reign to our base instincts. Believers are to receive God’s Word into the soil of our hearts. God’s Word is the “implanted” Word. God’s Word shows us how to follow Jesus. It produces the fruit of salvation and righteousness. God’s Word shows us reality.
The Bible tells us to be swift to hear and slow to speak. We have two ears and one mouth. We must remind ourselves to listen more than we speak. Our anger does not produce righteousness. Delaying our response and living by reason instead of reaction requires patience. When we learn to live patiently, our lives may be complete.
James 1:3-4 For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
2. Be conscious of your limited supply of emotional energy.
We each have a reservoir of spiritual and emotional energy. This inner reservoir is not limitless or self-replenishing. When the well of emotions is depleted, we will eventually burn out.
Burnout is sometimes experienced like the phenomenon of a sinkhole. George MacDonald wrote about this in his book Ordering Your Private World.
“The residents of a Florida apartment building awoke to a terrifying sight outside their windows. The ground beneath the street in front of their building had collapsed, creating a massive depression that Floridians call a sinkhole. Tumbling into the ever-deepening pit were automobiles, pavement, sidewalks, and lawn furniture. The building itself would obviously be the next to go.”
“Sinkholes occur, scientists say, when underground streams drain away during seasons of drought, causing the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support. Suddenly everything simply caves in, leaving people with a frightening suspicion that nothing—even the earth beneath their feet—is trustworthy.”
“There are many people whose lives are like one of Florida’s sinkholes. It is likely that at one time or another many of us have perceived ourselves to be on the verge of a sinkhole-like cave in. In the feelings of numbing fatigue, a taste of apparent failure, or the bitter experience of disillusionment about goals or purposes, we may have sensed something within us about to give way. We feel we are just a moment from a collapse that will threaten to sweep our entire world into a bottomless pit. Sometimes there seems to be little that can be done to prevent such a collapse. What is wrong?”
“If we think about it for very long, we may discover the existence of an inner space—our private world—about which we were formerly ignorant. I hope it will become apparent that if neglected this private world will not sustain the weight of events and pressures that press upon it.”
Some of us have experienced the draining of our emotional streams and the subsequent collapse. James tied the Word of God to the healthy response to life’s challenges. I believe this is the case, in part, because God’s Words give us the reservoir of strength we need when our emotions are taxed. We look to the Scripture for strength to do the will of God when our emotions are spent.
We have so many competing forces vying for emotional energies. Social media, television, sports, work, and life in general dig deep into our emotions. Many of the things that preoccupy us are like sugar in the diet. We find no nutritional value. Consuming these things causes malnutrition.
In our consuming race for peace and prosperity, we strive to win a race that, from God’s perspective, has no ultimate prize. Satan, the “Deceiver” and “Destroyer” plunders our emotional reservoir by taking our focus off of that which is important. While men and women are overachieving, Satan accomplishes his agenda of destroying the home.
The results of emotional depletion are all around us. People are tired. Everyone wants to escape from reality through scrolling through Facebook, abusing drugs, pornography, retail therapy, and other things that are unhealthy. The average man can’t relax. A device is always playing in the background.
For many, emotional numbness has set in and people don’t care about things that matter. No wonder people wear their emotions on their sleeves! Fear, depression, and anger bubble up to the surface quickly when the well of God’s Word has run dry in the hearts of men and women!
3. Fill up your reservoir with God's supply.
Let God speak to you. James said that the Word of God was able “to save your souls.” The Word of God is the “law of liberty.” God’s Word is freedom; when you obey the Word of God, you are set free. You don’t need to wait for God to speak to you in the middle of the night. You should be open to the Holy Spirit to shed light on the Scripture.
If you desire to fill up your emotional tank, you will need to have a daily intake of God’s Word.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Spend time with God in prayer. Talk to God about what is bothering you. He will bring restoration and healing to you.
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
You will need to be countercultural to find your joy and fulfillment in God’s Word. If you live by this Book, you will live differently than culture. Perhaps there was a time when the horse of Christianity and the horse of American culture could ride together. Now, those two are taking different paths. We are forced to choose. Do we live for God and find peace in Jesus Christ? Or, do we try to make it the best we can living for the world?
When you are letting God fill your spiritual and emotional reservoir, you can survive the emotional ups and downs life brings. Emotions are powerful for good and evil. When we are hurt, angry, irritated, or frustrated, we have to be infused with the Scripture to respond appropriately.
Leslie Vernick says, “Our emotions are meant to inform us, not rule us.”
If our feelings are not supposed to rule over us, what should? God’s perfect Word. We are to be “doers of the Word, not hearers only.” Hearing a good sermon or a Bible study won’t guarantee our growth. Too many Christians take good notes at church but don’t put their notes into practice. Let’s not kid ourselves!
Let’s be real and take a good look into the mirror. The mirror doesn’t lie. The mirror is God’s Word. It will tell us the truth even when our emotions are untrustworthy. A lot of our emotional pressure is the feeling that we have to fake it if we don’t measure up!
Billy Graham told the story of a family from South Carolina, who went to New York City for vacation. They told everyone that they were going to go to Broadway and watch My Fair Lady. However, when they got to the box office, it was sold out.
“They were disappointed and embarrassed to have to go back home and tell their friends they missed the highlight of their trip, so they decided to do the next best thing. They picked up discarded tickets, purchased a program, and bought the [recordings]. In their [hotel], they learned all the songs and [memorized] the program. Back home they sang and whistled the tunes to all of [songs] hoping no one would [find out] they never saw it.”
Don’t fake it! Please don’t come to church with a façade. Be humble enough to find the strength you need. You don’t have to be someone you’re not. Admit you need help to change. If you are spending your emotional energy by putting up a front, you are going to be worse off; you are going to find yourself in the midst of a spiritual sinkhole.
When emotions run deep, be wise. Georgia Shaffer suggested that when we need to make a decision, we should follow the three Hs:
· Listen to your Heart—a heart infused with God’s Word.
· Use your Head.
· But, most importantly, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Georgia Shaffer, Avoiding the 12 Relationship Mistakes Women Make, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2014), 97.
Gordon McDonald, Ordering Your Private World, (Nashville, TN: Oliver-Nelson, 1984).
John Maxwell, Be a People Person, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor Books, 1989), 86.