I grew up in a church that emphasized emotional expression in worship. If I didn’t have an ecstatic, exciting experience in a service, I felt like I had disappointed God. I now go to a church that emphasizes Bible teaching but does not encourage any emotional expression of my faith. How should my faith and my emotions affect my Christian walk?
What a great question! I really struggled with that issue growing up in a mainline denomination. I heard a lot of “fire and brimstone” preaching, but I wasn’t sure how to respond. Was I just supposed to pray to receive Christ (which I did)? Was I supposed to be reserved in worship services and just stick to singing hymnal lyrics to express my faith? The only emotion I felt was terror when my Mom caught me talking during the sermon!
When I went to college, I learned a simple, valuable explanation about how my faith and my emotion were to interact. I read a little tract by Campus Crusade with a train on the cover. The train engine depicted “Fact.” Fact was the engine that pulled the train. The second car was “Faith.” Faith was the response to the truth of God’s Word, the “facts.” The caboose was “Feelings.” Feelings were an important part of the train, but they were not to supersede God’s truth or our trust in Him.
I am a left-brained person. God used my organized, rational mind to study theology. I gave my life to Jesus as a seven-year-old boy. He called me to preach the same week. I always had a strong faith. But feelings? I never knew what to do with them.
I’m thankful that over the years, God has given me some clear insights into the interaction between faith, fact, and feelings.
God is an emotional God.
If I am made in His image, I must be emotional as well.
Here are just a few examples of how God the Father expressed emotion:
God was saddened when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. “Where are you?” He asked, disappointed” (Genesis 3:8-9).
In Genesis 6:5-6, the Bible said God was grieved that He made man:
“God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.” (MSG)
In Exodus 34:14, God said, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (NIV).
One of the most powerful expressions of emotion in Scripture is John 3:16-17:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
Jesus took on human form, and He expressed deep emotions in His time on earth.
Because Christ was human, we should not be afraid to feel as He did.
He grieved over Jerusalem and the Jews’ rejection of God’s prophets.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 NIV)
Jesus was furious with the Pharisees.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV)
He was enraged at the moneychangers in the Temple.
“Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, ‘Zeal for your house consumes me.’” (John 2:15 MSG)
Jesus was proud of the faith of the centurion.
“Jesus stood there amazed! Turning to the crowd he said, “I haven’t seen faith like this in all the land of Israel!” Matthew 8:10 LB
He was disappointed with the rich young ruler walked away.
“Jesus sadly said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22 NIV)
Christ was despondent when the 5,000 left His side and only the 12 disciples remained.
“But some of you don’t believe me” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who didn’t believe and knew the one who would betray him). And he remarked, “That is what I meant when I said that no one can come to me unless the Father attracts him to me.”
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus sadly turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you going too?”
Simon Peter replied, “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. (John 6:64-68 NIV)
Christ was indignant with the arrogance of Herod.
“Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, for he had heard a lot about him and had been hoping to see him perform a miracle. He asked Jesus question after question, but there was no reply.” (Luke 23:8 NIV)
God’s Son had compassion for the woman caught in the act of adultery.
Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, sir,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NIV)
He was overcome with sorrow as He prayed in the Garden.
Then Jesus brought them to a garden grove, Gethsemane, and told them to sit down and wait while he went on ahead to pray. He took Peter with him and Zebedee’s two sons James and John, and began to be filled with anguish and despair. Then he told them, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death . . . stay here . . . stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:36-46 LB)
Jesus lovingly forgave the penitent thief on the cross.
Then the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom. And Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in Paradise. This is a solemn promise.” (Luke 22:42-43 LB)
Consider these three important truths to understand about the role of emotions in your life:
1. Emotions are good when they reflect the character of Christ.
2. Emotions are bad when they are dominated by the flesh.
3. Emotions can be twisted by Satan and his lies.
What are some emotions that do not belong in our lives?
Note that all of these emotions begin with SELF. Fear, anxiety, depression, bitterness cannot dominate your emotions when you set self aside and become surrendered to Christ.
Self-satisfaction leads to legalism.
Self-centeredness leads to an over-focus on self above others.
Self-pity can lead to depression.
Self-promotion can become devastating pride.
Self-gratification equals selfishness.
The good emotions God created us to experience and share.
I used to repress my feelings. I thought that truly spiritual people were above emotions. I can assure you that feelings that are submerged will come out in anger and thinly disguised contempt.
Instead, replace your negative emotions with positive feelings based on FACT (God’s Word) and FAITH.
The Beatitudes exemplify Christ’s character and feelings:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” (Matthew 5:3-7 MSG)
Finally, consider how Paul learned to be joyful even in the Philippian jail. He declared,
“I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation, whether it be a full stomach or hunger, plenty or want; for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)
So, my little train example is both true and profound. Fact, then faith, then feelings. If you know the Word of God, you can believe what God says and feel what He feels.
I hope this will bless you today! Enjoy Him!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Capuski
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.