Summary: If our feelings are often misleading because they spring from thoughts that are not grounded in God-reality, then how do we know which feelings are legitimate and which ones are not, and what do we do with this?
Getting Feelings In Line
Wildwind Community Church
August 30, 2008
We talked last week about the role our thoughts play in determining how we feel. The relationship between thoughts and feelings is undeniable and we cannot pay enough attention to it. We’ll be talking more about it this year. But tonight I want to respond to an email I received recently about the sermon from last week. Someone wrote to me and said, “I listened carefully to what you said, and I agree that our thoughts influence our feelings. I agree that if we’re feeling something terrible, we need to change the way we think. But here’s my problem. I’ve been through a lot these last few years. I’ve lost people I love. I’ve had health problems and problems in my family. I don’t complain about my illness, but sometimes I get a little down about it. Sometimes I miss the loved ones I have lost. What do I do with these feelings? How do I get my feelings in line?
That’s such a good question that I just responded briefly to the email and then asked that person to wait until tonight’s sermon to hear the rest of my thoughts. It’s worth thinking and reflecting on. Here we are, acknowledging the connectedness of our thoughts and our feelings. Here we are, realizing that if we’re depressed we need to change the way we think. If we’re angry we need to change the way we think. If we’re lustful we need to change the way we think. So what do we do with feelings of loss? Feelings of grief? Feelings of discouragement? Feelings of loneliness? These are very real things, after all. Can we just think our way out of them? Is that what I was advocating in last week’s message?
Last week we focused mainly on thinking. I stated that we live from our feelings and define ourselves accordingly, and we are meant to – the problem is that our feelings are mucked up and misguided because oftentimes our feelings come from thoughts that are not focused on God-realities. Our thoughts are not accurate, therefore our feelings are not accurate. But this doesn’t always happen. Even when we are thinking rightly, immersed in God-reality, we will encounter strong feelings. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus – he grieved in the face of death. He sweated blood in Gethsemane as he stood in the shadow of the cross. He mourned for Jerusalem and its hard-heartedness and stated his desire to gather the city up into his arms and just cradle her. He expressed anger at the money-changers in the temple, frustration with his clueless disciples, and disappointment with the Pharisees. The book of Isaiah refers to Jesus as a “man of sorrows,” and “familiar with suffering.” We don’t ever see Jesus make any attempts to pray away his emotions. Surely there’s room for healthy emotion in the life of a Christ-follower.
It has been the error of some Christian denominations to oversimplify the head/heart connection. Some would say that we can, and actually should, think ourselves out of grief, or sorrow, or frustration. Some would say that fear is always a sign of a lack of faith. Some would say that these are all carnal, fleshly, worldly things, and that a strong Christian should live in constant victory over these things. But this is not the way the church has understood feelings throughout history.
A long time ago Pastor/Apostle Paul addressed kind of the same question Pastor Dave was asked this week. What do I do with this grief I am feeling? How do I handle these feelings I am having about the losses I have suffered? Here’s what he said. Now in the remaining moments of this message I will be focusing a lot on grief, but what I am saying applies to many different kinds of emotions we might have.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NLT)
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.
17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.