This is an important chapter for Americans who increasingly are obsessed with emotions. We are spending billions of dollars for pills used to mask, prop up, or fix our emotions and it isn’t working. Emotions are important, but they don’t define who we are; they reveal what we think and believe about God, our circumstances, and ourselves.
There’s a great illustration in this chapter. Imagine you are praying and hoping for a loan to be approved so you can buy a house. You get a call that you’ve been turned down and you are devastated. Later on, you receive a phone call that the first call was a mistake and you’ve been approved. Think about your feelings when you believed something that wasn’t true (you’d been turned down). Think about how your feelings would change when you discovered the truth.
I’ve discovered an important truth. It’s not my circumstances that determine whether I will experience joy in life; it’s my perception of and reaction to my circumstances that will determine whether I will experience joy.
Two important quotes from Neil Anderson:
“Life’s events don’t determine who you are; God determines who you are and your interpretation of life’s events determines how well you will handle the pressures of life.”
“If what you believe does not reflect truth, what you feel will not reflect reality.”
Our great mistake in America is to view emotions as the core of who we are and we try to treat emotions in an isolated manner. Our emotions are like gauges on a dashboard. They help us understand what’s going on under the hood.
So what are the things that bring on negative emotions?
Genesis 4:6–7 (NASB95)
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Cain was already in sin because of his anger and jealousy. What was the affect of his sin? His countenance had fallen. His emotions had dropped and it was written all over his face.
David experienced the same effects of sin.
Psalm 32:3–4 (NASB95)
3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
If you are in sin, or you are unwilling to acknowledge past sin, it is going to have a serious effect on your emotions AND your physical health.
I love the way the NLT (New Living Translation) shows the joy of forgiveness
Psalm 32:1–2 (NLT)
1 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
Allowing our circumstances to overwhelm our perspective:
Take a moment right now and read Lamentations 3:1-20. In fact, I encourage you to read it a couple of times to let the emotions sink in deeply. Jeremiah is focused on some devastating circumstances. He is overwhelmed by his grief and he feels like he has become the object of the Lord’s anger. He is sad, angry, and in despair. It seems as if he is about to give up on God because he feels like God has given up on him. (Or worse, God has actively attacked him)
Now read Lamentations 3:21-27. Nothing has changed in Jeremiah’s circumstances, but his focus has changed to what he knows about God! Despair changes to hope, bitterness and complaining change to thanksgiving. Jeremiah’s whole countenance has changed because his focus has shifted from circumstances to faith!
Allow anger to take root in our lives:
Ephesians 4:26–27 (ESV)
26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
When you do not deal with anger in a godly manner, you give Satan a foothold (the word, opportunity literally means foothold) in your life to bring his will to pass. Unresolved anger leads to bitterness and when bitterness takes root in your life, you become a source of defilement to those around you (Hebrews 12:15)
So emotions are important for what they reveal about us. It’s important to acknowledge your emotions (suppression or denial is not the answer), but it’s also important to not allow your emotions to wound other people (Be angry and yet do not sin).
James 1:19–20 (NASB95)
19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
There is genuine health in honestly acknowledging your emotions (even the bad ones) to God as Jeremiah did in Lamentations 3:1-20, but it is important to get back to the point of speaking from your faith as he did in 3:21-26. There’s not much healing if we just dump on God.
A couple of final notes on emotions: I have battled depression all my life and I’ve discovered much in my journey. The first discovery came out of a book called Spiritual Depression by D. Martin Lloyd Jones. This book helped me understand that, to a certain degree, depression is a normal result (for some) of fighting intense spiritual battles. In a way, it gave me permission to be depressed which was important because prior to that, I would heap guilt on myself for being depressed. (I thought I must be sinful). Second, I learned that depression is a signal I need to rest. It helped me realize I had been pushing too hard. Third, I learned that depression comes when I believe the lies of the evil one and stop resting in the love of God. Ephesians 3:14-21 was an important prayer for me to pray for others and myself. Finally, I learned that after resting, I needed to get back into the battle regardless of how I felt. Sitting around and focusing on how miserable I was never really helped. Do I still get depressed? Yes, but I don’t fall into the dark depths and I’m able to let myself live through it. You can’t get rid of depression by focusing on your depression. What God said to Cain is true for me: If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?