Have you ever been pressured to feel a certain way? Maybe it was during worship at a church. The music was loud; people all around you had their hands high in the air. The worship leader seemed about to cry. But for some reason, you weren’t in the mood. Or maybe it was an emotionally-charged speaker. He based his entire stance on emotion, trying to make you feel like giving money to this or standing up for that. It left a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe it was while talking to a friend. She’s been having the most amazing times with the Lord, and you’re happy for her. . . but honestly, you’ve felt pretty ‘meh’ lately. Does that mean something bad about your spiritual ‘level’?
I’ve experienced all these things, to a T. Emotion is often misused or misinterpreted, especially in Christian life. It’s awkward and frustrating. So let’s talk about it.
God created emotion
First, emotion is a powerful element of life created by God. When God formed humanity, every element he included was purposeful: the design of our bodies, the way we laugh, the pathways of nerves and placement of muscles, how we relate to others, and yes, the ability to feel. Everything was intended to bring him glory. It's also amazing to me how the human face shows emotion so intricately. (Just look at the pictures I've included in this post!)
Further, God created us in his image. God himself shows a wide range of emotions in the Bible: from anger to rejoicing, from grieving to compassion, from hatred to love. When he sent Jesus to earth as a perfect embodiment of himself, he too showed intense emotion.
The problem is that we aren’t living in God’s original, sinless world. . . and we’ve proven ourselves skilled at taking a good thing like emotion and twisting it. Feelings can now be used to create confusion, shame, and impulse.
Distortions of emotion
Sadly, worship music can easily misuse emotion. Because the environment and mood of worship is so compelling, it can leave critical thinking in a vulnerable state. Next time you’re singing or listening to a worship song, ask yourself: are these words accurately portraying truth? Can the message of this song be backed up by specific Bible verses? Usually, the answer will be yes. But if there is unclear ground, we run the risk of viewing God as something he is not.
Another danger is depending on emotion as your faith’s foundation. Do you feel bad if you don’t shed a tear during worship? Do you feel ashamed if your devo time wasn’t the most exciting part of your day? You gotta remember that feelings change all the time. They will cause you to fall if you rely on them. We are saved by what Jesus has done for us. Period. That is the foundation that will not waver.
Our first allegiance: truth
Our first allegiance must be to Biblical truth. From there, emotion finds its rightful place: glorifying God and deepening our affections for him.
God tells us in Deuteronomy to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” He doesn’t want robot followers. He wants fully engaged, heart-and-soul-and-strength worshippers. It is a good, good thing to reflect on what Jesus has done for us: to feel the reality of anguish we were in without him, and the incredible joy we have because of him.
Another verse that speaks to this is John 4:23: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” This is a picture of head-plus-heart worship: of both focusing your mind on truth, and letting God’s Spirit move your spirit within you.
If you’re ever unsure of your focus, ask yourself this: “Is this emotion in reaction to truth, or am I producing it artificially without engaging my mind?”
Emotion as a gauge
Because of its impulsive nature, emotion can also be used as an honest gauge of what we value. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus felt things deeply. Every bit as real and varying as the emotions we experience, Jesus showcased it all without any sinful distortion. This is a great opportunity to compare ourselves with him. Do our emotions match up with Jesus’ in similar situations? When are we most joyful, most annoyed, most passionate? This can show a reflection of Christ, or reveal parts of our hearts that need to be changed. (Click HERE for a full post on the topic.)
Emotion is a powerful and God-ordained part of life. Though it can have devastating effects when misused or misinterpreted, it brings glory to God and beauty to life when kept consistent with truth.
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!