Feelings: Foes or Friends?
- Monday, March 16, 2009
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Matthew Elliott's new book, Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart, (Tyndale House, 2009).
The myth that emotions are unreliable and even dangerous has led far too many Christians to suppress or ignore their feelings. But a life stripped of emotions leads only to a deadened faith that’s little more than fulfilling duties.
God created feelings to work together with thoughts and help lead you to the truth. Feelings are gifts meant to help drive you to become your best.
Here’s how you can start listening to your heart as well as your head:
Recognize the value of your emotions. God intends that you feel passion for Him that motivates you to live a faithful life. Your faith isn’t meant to be reduced to just a list of moral dos and don’ts. Instead of living by duty and burning out, you should be living by love and growing stronger in your faith. God Himself is an emotional being, and He calls you to connect with Him emotionally as well as in other ways. Your emotions are valuable tools to help you see the truth in life. The Bible is full of stories of people whose feelings – of love, hope, joy, jealousy, anger, grief, and more – helped them grow spiritually. The health of your spiritual life can actually be measured by how you feel. Do you feel deeply about what matters most to God and about the circumstances you encounter? Or are you numb to life? God created your emotions to be powerful forces you can use to help change the world for the better.
Pay attention to your emotions. Don’t ignore or suppress your feelings. Give yourself permission to really feel your emotions. Practice identifying exactly what you’re feeling, and why, in various relationships and situations. Ask God to help you recognize what’s going on in your heart, and to give you the courage to pay attention to your feelings.
Use your thoughts and feelings together. Your feelings were never meant to be separated from your thoughts; the two have been designed to work together to help you discover truth. Even though some people in the culture and the church may say that feelings aren’t reliable indicators of truth, emotions are far from trivial or useless when making decisions. Emotional understanding often leads to the clearest thinking. Don’t make decisions on the basis of your feelings alone, since that would be unreliable. But if you use your feelings and thoughts together, you can best understand what God is calling to you to do in various situations. When your thoughts and feelings are working together, they can give you a much more accurate snapshot of truth than is possible just from rational thinking alone.
Pursue a new heart. It’s not enough to simply pursue a deeper knowledge of God. God wants you to ask Him to transform your heart. Rather than just seeking to learn more about God, seek to connect with God in love. Love – not just a deep knowledge of humanity’s sin and need – what was motivated Jesus to die on the cross to save the world. Love is the force God intends to motivate you to relate to Him and others faithfully. Ask God to give you a heart that’s constantly growing more loving.
Express your emotions. Don’t hesitate to release your emotions – both good and bad. You need to deal honestly with every emotion you experience. Ask God to show you how you may have been hiding your true feelings from yourself and other people. Remember that God already knows exactly how you feel at any given time, and He loves you no matter what. Talk with God often about your emotions, and ask Him to help you express them in honest and healthy ways to the people in your life.
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