Like it or not God has made us to be emotional beings. He wants us to have emotions – His emotions. He wants us to weep over the lost, be moved with compassion for the oppressed, be outraged by injustice, provoked by idolatry and angry at the hard of heart. He wants us to love the sheep in our charge, be caught up in the agony of intercession and have hearts full of hope.
People and their emotions are like bells. Some people are like alarm bells going off anxiously and loudly. Some are chipped and cracked and when they “ring” the sound seems painful or like the bells on old-fashioned trams noisy, clanging, rattling. Yet others are like shop bells being rung by everyone that enters their life. Some are like a carillon, gentle, and beautiful and silvery; finally there are those that are deep and resonant and summon the countryside to worship. The aim of Biblical EQ is to produce people who ring true and ring deeply with the emotions of God. People whose very emotional presence is a declaration of the Kingdom of God. To do this we must get a handle on our emotions, we must be able to name them and we must start to choose which emotions we will express and which emotions we should deny.
Identifying Our Emotions
Many people cannot clearly identify their emotions. They simply use general words and phrases such as “good”, “bad”, “up” and “OK”, instead of more specific and useful words like “disconsolate”, “elated” and “perplexed”. For others feelings are just a confused blur. Yet others are so hurt that pain overwhelms all other finer feelings and for those people the emotional choice is constant pain or oblivion. Many chose oblivion via drugs, alcohol, or promiscuity and increasingly they escape into the total oblivion of death through suicide. Such people need help. They need to untangle their emotions and work through to peace. So being able to “feel their feelings” and being able to identify and name their emotions is a crucial first step.
The Importance Of Accuracy
Another reason why good emotional identification is important is that mistaken emotional identification can lead to spiritual disaster. For example take the common confusion between love and lust. A young person who confuses these two can end up in a disastrous relationship. Love and lust are opposites as looking at 1 Corinthians 13 soon reveals: “Love is patient (but lust is impatient), love is kind (but lust is cruel), love does not envy (but lust envies much), love does not parade itself (but lust is an exhibitionist)… and so on. If we think we are feeling one thing but are in fact feeling its opposite all sorts of havoc can be unleashed. Regret and repentance can seem similar. However regretting being found out is far different from repenting from sin. Unless we can correctly identify emotions in ourselves and others we can make serious mistakes in judgment.
Studying Our Emotions For information about emotions and the fine differences between them the Psalms, classic poetry, novels and good literature are excellent sources. The portrayal of emotions by great authors helps us to get in touch with our feelings and to discriminate between them. Of course writing our own poetry, keeping a diary, painting, joining a drama group or attending a 12 step group or workshop can also be ways to get in touch with buried feelings and gradually sort out the emotional knots within. As we do so it is initially important to simply accept the emotions that surface rather than leaping to spiritual judgments before the process is complete. Making spiritual judgments about the emotions we experience is often counter-productive and causes us to express some emotions and repress others to conform to a spiritual standard or model that we have been taught in church.
The Blessed Believer: The ideal Christian is a person of great faith who prays fervently and receives great blessing from God and lives in abundance and happiness free from anxiety and turmoil. Salvation is easily and joyously and often instantly received. Abraham, Isaac, David and Solomon are seen as models Can easily focus on material blessings as a sign of God’s approval. Expresses: Praise, gratitude, thankfulness, joy and contentment. “Rejoice in the Lord always”. Salvation is from misery to happiness. Happiness is a sign that Jesus is in your heart. Represses: Sorrow, depression, grief, anxiety, genuine doubt, feelings of weakness and inadequacy, disappointment , any sense that life has treated them in an unfair manner. Negative emotions are construed as indicating a “lack of victory”. Model fails when life appears to be far less than blessed such as when life appears to be unjust or unfair or when pain is overwhelming or during grief and sorrow. Job is the classical example of a blessed believer being challenged by life.
The Penitent Pilgrim: The pilgrim is escaping judgment and heading away from the World which is doomed. The Christian life involves separation from sin and worldliness and the serious pursuit of salvation which only relatively few attain and which is a perilous journey. Pilgrim’s Progress. Lot escaping Sodom. James Expresses: Sorrow for sin, seriousness, self-examination, correction of faults, penitence, intense prayer, travail, joy over forgiveness, righteous anger, woe, and pessimism over the world. Represses: Frivolity, laughter, flippancy, playfulness, sensuality, attraction to worldly things, sexuality, pride over achievement, romance. Positive emotions are treated with suspicion. Weak Area: Can become legalistic and joyless. Fails to give proper place to the goodness of Creation and creates rebellion in people brought up in this system who learn life is not as grim as portrayed.
The Independent Achiever: Emphasizes being in ministry and achieving things for God. A Christian is measured by the size of his or her ministry and how they achieved it alone as their personal vision. Strategic thinking, business skills and personal success are highly prized. Models include Nehemiah and the apostle Paul. Expresses: Faith, hope, vision, optimism, joy, and the emotions of the will and the mind. Represses: Tend not to be artistic and may lack compassion at times. They avoid necessary introspection and reflection. Doubt and fear are repressed rather than faced. Weakness: Can lead to burn-out. Works for some people but can destroy others. Their spouses often suffer.
The Child Of Nature
The Child of Nature is still living in the Garden of Eden and feels free to express all kinds of emotion. Spontaneity, freedom, expressiveness, artistic skill and creativity are high on the agenda. Expressed: Nearly all emotions are freely expressed. Creativity, joy, freedom. The inner child is given freedom to play. Represses: Discernment, wisdom, truth and responsibility. Can be undisciplined and immature emotionally. Weakness: Can become overly sensual and fall into moral disorder. There is a tendency to anarchy and irresponsibility. Lacks power and authority.
The Sacrificial Servant:. Its what you give up for God that counts. The Christian “has no rights and is there to “spend themselves for God” and “burn out for Jesus”. Spiritual indicators include remoteness of where one serves and the poverty of conditions. David Brainerd is a model example. Expresses: Enthusiasm and passion for God and devotion to the cause. Represses: Most emotions are repressed or sublimated including most natural affections. Weakness: At times is the stuff of cults. Tends to love God alone and sacrifices self, family and neighbour to the cause. Sacrifices can backfire later on and be like “dynamite on the altar”.
The Serene Saint: Like Yoda in Star Wars these are the unruffled and wise contemplatives full of peace and deep emotions. Their goal is tranquility of soul and union with God and self-mastery. Expresses: Tranquility and peace, gentle emotions, prayerful devotion, saintly emotions, mercy. Represses: Anger and most intense emotions including sexuality are repressed. Weaknesses: Can be weak at critical moments and fail to tackle issues of justice and practical issues of life. Can become very selfish and inward.
The Radical Revolutionary: Enjoys turning over the tables in the Temple. Seeking after justice they identify with the Old Testament prophets. The ideal Christian is a counter-culture revolutionary who brings transformation to society. Expresses: Righteous anger, passion for justice, indignation , wrath. Vision, hope and even optimism may also be present. Represses: Tend to be overly serious and lose natural playfulness and joy. Gentleness and meekness may also be lacking. Weakness: In some contexts this is very much needed in others it is totally inappropriate. Not a whole of life perspective for most people.
The Energetic Evangelist: The ideal Christian sees many people saved. They are master communicators who are always witnessing. They have strong personalities are enthusiastic and clear sighted. Expresses: Black and white emotions. Enthusiasm, passion for the lost, joy, exuberance. Represses: Reflective quiet emotions are often seen as impractical. Weakness: Lacks any understanding of ambiguities and complexity, a very confined and narrow model that only works for people with one spiritual gift.
The Aggressive Apologist defends the faith from error at every turn and exposes heresy, cults, witchcraft and deception as well as contending with other belief systems. The ideal Christian is knowledgeable , theologically correct, logical and able to debate others so that they convert to Christianity or correct their ways. Expresses: Reason, logic, righteous indignation, anger, forcefulness, suspicion, Represses: Playfulness, gentleness, creativity, sympathy, mercy, Weakness: Tends to distrust emotional expression and be overly logical and dry. Can make a person very rigid in their later years.
The Ecstatic Enthusiast: Led by the Spirit they are “on the move for God” and express strong enthusiasm for spiritual things. Spiritual ecstasy is a sign of God’s presence. Expresses: Trance states, ecstasy, passion, enthusiasm, joy, exuberance, praise, thanksgiving. Represses: Critical faculties, analysis, contemplation, thinking, reflection and negative emotions such as pain, grief and disappointment. Weaknesses: Tends to spiritual burn out and can be very unstable and insufficiently critical. Tends to fall for fads and is too simplistic for many of life’s deeper practical issues.
The Reasonable Man
The Reasonable Man: Wisdom and Reason are the voices of the Spirit who leads Christians into a balanced and moderate life that reflects proper priorities and which is well adjusted to the social context the believer lives in. Extremes are interpreted as a sign of a dysfunctional personality. Expresses: Reason, analysis, ethical reflection, conventions and social mores, well-tempered emotions, kindness, gentleness, reasonableness. “Moderation in all things” Represses: Strong emotion of all kinds is disapproved of as well as any major breach of social standards. Weakness: Tends to worldliness and spiritual skepticism.
The Perfect Man
The Perfect Man: Like Confucius’ concept the perfect man is without inappropriate emotion or any visible faults. Emotion is carefully guarded and kept under control. The perfect man is upright, ethical, has perfect manners and social perception, and is extremely humble and meek. Expresses: Proper behavior, loyalty, humility, meekness, convention, submission, restraint, ethics, duty. “Being without fault in one’s conduct in life”. Represses: Anger, pain, intimacy, vulnerability, affection. Weakness: Because how others perceive the Christian is of ultimate importance it can produce harshness and hypocrisy. Can be cold and distant.
Good Samaritans The Good Samaritan Love of neighbor expressed as social action and deeds of mercy mark the true Christian. Kindness, gentleness, mercy and helpfulness are the premier virtues. Expresses: Mercy, gentleness, kindness, hospitality, inclusion, practical deeds of love and compassion. Represses: Exclusion, rejection, unkindness of any sort, tries to develop a very inclusive and non-theological faith. Weakness: Has much merit but can become just social work without a true saving gospel being proclaimed.
The Principled Idealist is characterized by seeking the high and noble life lived by principles and virtue and self-renunciation for the Ideal Good. People are valued by their principles, intentions and ideals without reference to actions. Expresses: High ideals and aspirations, concepts, ideas, justice, philosophies, ambition, personal striving for high goals, vision. Represses: The mundane, earthy, concrete details of daily life, attention to detail, diligence. Earthiness and pragmatism are perceived to be un-spiritual. Weakness: Frequently disorganized. Often so focused on the external goals that they lose personal insight and can become dishonest and treacherous.
The Perceptive Pragmatist is able to sum up life quickly and fix problems on the spot. A Christian is measured by their skills in analysis and implementation. Expresses: Analysis, evaluation, enthusiasm, practical knowledge, authority, wisdom, toughness, shrewdness, energy. Represses: Empathy, kindness, compassion, mercy. Most emotions are not felt deeply and they tend to be deemed as irrelevant. Weakness: Tend to come unstuck in mid-life and feel a deep sense of meaninglessness. May neglect relationships. May see virtue as impractical.
Intelligent Instructor The Intelligent Instructor is a learned Christian who teaches well and can exegete the difficult verses of Scripture. The goal is knowledge of God and wisdom and knowledge are equated with progress in the Christian life. Academic prowess is prized and church is often made into a classroom. Ezra is a model. Expresses: Moderate emotions suitable for the classroom - Balance, evaluation, discipline, kindness, gentleness, logic, intelligence, knowledge, reasoning, humor. Represses: Strong passions are suspect. Practicality may be lacking. Distrusts the subjective and non-cognitive areas of the Christian life. Often lacks celebration and praise. Weakness: Can become dry, dull and overly rational. Praise and worship tend to be seen as only teaching tools.
All These Models Are Incomplete!
None of the above emotional models can work for all believers. There is no “right model” in that list. They are all incorrect at some point or other. Being in a group that only honors one of these models can be difficult and confining. Jesus as our model transcends all these “boxes” that we try to put people into.
God Will Challenge Your Model
God will not be satisfied with you being less than Christ-like. He will work on the difference between the model of faith you have adopted and Christ as revealed in and by the Scriptures. Your mental model of the ideal Christian undoubtedly has many Scriptures that support it – but here and there it can be improved and in fact needs to be improved if you are to be fully like Jesus. In my Christian life I have had to do a major revision of my faith about every seven years or so. I move from a certain model to a more Christ-like one then that in turn is challenged and revised and so the process goes on.
Changing Our Mental Model
How then do we correct our mental model of the Christian faith – particularly one we are quite committed to? Read one of the gospels and note the difference between how you act and react - and how Jesus acts and reacts. Would you be happy being a friend of publicans and sinners? Would you let a prostitute touch your feet? Would you say “You cannot serve God and Mammon” with conviction? At those points where your model and the gospel model disagree you must decide to change and become like Jesus. Other clues are inner discontent with where you are at (maybe its your model of Christianity that’s wrong), or a desire for something more. Go with your questions seeking their answers in the Scripture and “brick by brick” you will build up a more mature idea of what it means to be a Christ-like person.
Culture & Upbringing
You may need to make a calculated decision to move beyond your culture and upbringing, accepting that which is good and rejecting that which is evil and moving to maturity in Christ. The Jewish Christians in the book of Acts had a most difficult time doing this because they were so sure of then superiority of Jewish culture and practices and of the need to be circumcised. Their model of Jesus was that He was “a good Jewish boy who kept the Law” – and He did! However He also accepted Gentiles! Chapters ten to fifteen of the book of Acts detail with the terrible tension Peter and the Jewish Christians faced when the Gentiles accepted the gospel. A church-wide conference had to be called to resolve the issue. Changing models of faith was not easy then and its not easy now.
So far we have seen that…
We need to be able to identify individual emotions. When we become aware of emotions we tend to quickly judge them as good or bad. We tend to use an “emotional model” to do this – which we get from our family, our culture or our church. This model tells us which emotions to express and which emotions to repress. We need to change that model to a more Christ-like model of emotional expression. This may involve difficult cultural and personal changes.
Reacting To Strong Emotions
The next section will deal with how we react to, evaluate, and manage strong emotions, including strong religious emotions. There are two main spiritual errors when it comes to the expression of strong emotions in the Christian life. The first is giving expression to carnal emotions such as wrath, bitterness and clamour. This is called “grieving the Spirit” and is mentioned in Ephesians 4:30,31. The second error is the repressing of holy emotions that arise within us because of the work of the Spirit. This is called “quenching” the Spirit and is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
Jesus And Strong Emotions
From incidents such as His cleansing of the temple, His cursing of the fig-tree, His groans at Lazarus’ tomb, His rebukes of His disciples, His blazing anger at the hard hearts of the Pharisees and His rejoicing at the return of the disciples from their ministry trip; we can say Jesus had many strong emotions. Jesus was a fully emotional Jewish man filled with the Holy Spirit and sent on a holy mission for the glory of God. The strength of Jesus’ emotions flowed from the power of His perceptions and the strength of His beliefs. If you are filled with the Spirit, and see Heaven opened, and know the truth, and believe the Scriptures, and are truly on a mission from the Lord then your emotions will be strong and clear and grow in strength and grandeur. The reverse is not true, strong emotions do not mean you are spiritual. People can be gripped by all sorts of strong and yet fleshly emotions. Strong emotions can be both godly and fleshly. Jesus was powerfully emotional but was without sin. How did He do it? He exercised self-control.
Jesus openly expressed holy and righteous feelings. Jesus completely controlled all tempting, fleshly and wrong emotions. Jesus calmly accepted as part of life human emotions such as tiredness and being troubled in spirit. Jesus was fully aware of his emotions and made choices about how to handle them. He did not express every emotion, nor did He repress all emotion, rather He lived in a Spirit-filled balance.
Recovering Repressed Emotions
A few people are told from a young age to keep emotions, particularly negative emotions, completely under wraps. Such people may have to give themselves “permission to feel” those emotions that they have denied themselves over the years. Such emotions may include sensual emotions, pleasure, anger, disappointment and grief. Gradually coming to feel long lost emotions can take some time. There is frequently a deep fear that control will be lost. It needs to be remembered by such people that they have successfully controlled that emotion for perhaps thirty or more years. They know how to put the lid on the box when they have to. It is most unlikely they will truly lose control but the experience will feel new and a bit scary at first. Eventually the recovered emotions will lead to the deeper resonances of life and a fuller and more meaningful existence.
The Holy Spirit And Self-Control
Christians need to move from repression and denial of emotion to proper self-control of emotion. Thus the Holy Spirit will not quenched by being good emotions being stifled; or grieved by inappropriate emotions such as wrath or bitterness being expressed. This makes the person of the Holy Spirit absolutely central to the Christian’s true experience of emotion. It is as He is released in His fullness that we move into the emotional life of our Savior. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and operates under the leading of the Holy Spirit so that we enter into holy emotions and forsake fleshly passions and ungodly wrath and dissension. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit and His infilling we become a joyous, loving, holy and zealous people filled with holy emotions and the fruits of the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18-21, Colossians 3:16-17, Galatians 5:16-23)
Alive In The Spirit
True Holy Spirit led self-control is neither apathetic nor stoical on one hand or irresponsible and indulgent on the other. The Holy Spirit leads us to express emotion wisely and truthfully but also joyously and with depth and intensity. Shallow sentimentality is not found in the Scriptures. People of faith are deep, resonant and have a grounded-ness about them. The people of the Living God are most fully alive. That is what makes Christianity attractive. Many people say of the time they first met Christians “they had something about them, a joy that I really wanted.” The Holy Spirit filled believer is emotionally alive and emotionally substantial.
Emotions Do Not Define
The Truth While the Holy Spirit produces joy and peace, the presence of joy and peace does not necessarily indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit. People can feel at peace after a bottle or two of wine! People experience joy and peace when they convert to Buddhism, a New Age group or even to Islam. People join cults because they feel better there than at church. Cults can feel warm, loving, tranquil and enlightened. Cults often meet the emotional needs that were not met in the local church and someone has said “Cults are the unpaid bills of the Church.” Thus good feelings are no guide to good theology. The opposite may also be true, bad feelings are no guide to bad theology. The prophets – who spoke the truth – found many people reacting negatively to them. Negative emotions are no indication of error and positive emotions are no indication of truth. Thus good emotions are not a guide to good theology neither are difficult emotions an indication of wrong theology.
The Truth Emotions are a valid response to truth but not a valid guide to truth. Jesus reacted emotionally as He perceived the truth but Jesus did not arrive at the truth via His emotions. He arrived at the truth via Scripture. Jesus wept when He saw His friends grieving as Lazarus’s grave. He was moved by compassion when He saw people sick, harassed and lost. His emotions were a response to His perceptions in a framework filled with God’s truth. However Jesus never said “I feel X therefore I will believe Y”. His emotions moved Him to act however His actions were based on truth revealed from the Father. His emotions did not show Him what was true or false – they just moved Him to act on what He already knew (from Scripture) was true or false. We do not follow our emotions, rather we need to follow the truth – and express emotion as we do so.
Powerful Good Feelings Can Lead Us Astray
Good feelings can be intense, global and very convincing. There is such a thing as very strong temptation. There are “wonderful” emotions that can lead us into adultery, drugs and alcohol addiction, gambling, and acts of self-destruction. These emotions feel true, authentic and valid at the time. They may even feel “cosmic” and like a form of self-awareness, self-discovery or enlightenment. Affairs can seem totally “right” in their initial phase, the first drink for an alcoholic “feels terrific”, the guru makes people feel “at one with the Universe”. Unless there is a solid examination of the truth and awareness of the consequences these powerful emotions can lead people to shipwreck their lives.
Resisting Emotional Entanglement
Rather than repressing our emotions and unmet needs we need to be aware of our heart and discipline it according to the truth. During a mid-life crisis the best advice is “acknowledge your feelings but follow the truth.” It is perfectly Ok to acknowledge to yourself that, “I am strongly tempted to have an affair” as long as you stare that fact in the face and decide to refuse the temptation because you love God. It can also help to look at the consequences and say, “I will not do so because that is wrong and destructive and would make shipwreck of my life.” By acknowledging the temptation and refusing it you can grow in emotional and spiritual maturity. Acknowledge how you are feeling – then make a godly decision.
There is a place for hunches, gut feelings, emotional signals and awareness of emotional atmosphere. Emotions are able to reduce a very complex situation down to a certain feeling or impulse and they do this very quickly and efficiently. A young man sees a lady and feels “Wow, she is the one.” this judgment may be made in a second or two. That judgment however will need a lot of further examination before it can validly lead to marriage.
Emotions And Our Thinking
Emotions can act as swift initial assessments of complex situations – but only as initial assessments. This is useful in that our emotions select the situations that our reason will go to work on and analyze. A young man cannot analyze the suitability of every young lady he meets – that would be impractical. Rather he thinks about those he is attracted to. Thus his emotions select first and his thorough evaluation follows later. Emotions can make us attracted, suspicious, repelled, guarded, curious or astonished at a given situation. Sometimes this initial impression is validated by further thought at other times it is proved totally wrong.
Emotional Damage And Mistakes
When emotions are damaged the ability to form accurate impressions of situations also suffers. Emotionally damaged people tend to be prone to mistakes in judgment. They rush into love, they hold back from friendship, they gamble on foolish ventures, and they run from shadows. People who have been emotionally damaged should not enter into a significant relationship or project until they have healed to the point where they have functional and accurate discernment. They should look at their decision-making and be careful – seeking the advice of friends and family and striving to be as objective as possible. Even if their ability to assess situations was good before it will not be as good now. This loss of judgment can be alarming but it is temporary and will pass in time as emotional healing takes place.
Emotions & Spirituality
The spiritual life and the emotional life are thus very closely connected and our meaningful spiritual experiences are nearly always highly charged with emotion. Truth, for the believer is real and living and meaningful and the discovery of truth – those great “Aha!” moments are frequently deeply emotional. When Ezra read the Law the Jews wept (Nehemiah 8:1-9). Truth and emotion went hand in hand. The scientific age with its view of truth as clinical and unemotional is rooted in Greek Platonism not in biblical (and especially Hebrew) reality. In the West it has led to false dichotomy between theology and emotionality that is even reflected at the level of denominational differences. Part of the appeal of the New Age is having teaching that is expected to be emotionally and existentially meaningful.
God is not concerned with the volume of our emotions as He is with the channel we are listening to: The Spirit or The Flesh. Some people are highly emotional, others are quiet. That is fine. What is important is that we do not quench godly movements of the Spirit or give way to fleshly outbursts. We need to be discerning of our spiritual experiences. Powerful dreams, visions and experiences can be the Holy Spirit. They can also be from deceiving spirits. We need to check them against Scripture. Demonic counterfeits tend to be either: inflating, accusing, terrifying or seductive. Godly dreams and visions tend to be Scriptural, clear, specific, wise, insightful and holy.
Emotions Are Not The Boss
Your emotions are not in charge. Your mind is the decision-maker. It is never compulsory to follow an emotion - even a very powerful emotion. You do not have to rush after every emotional impulse thinking it is a leading of the Holy Spirit. All such impulses must first be weighed up by the Spirit-filled, Scripture-soaked mind. You acknowledge the emotion. You then make a decision about it using your mind – whether to express it, or whether to rein it in. Day by day you will become a stronger person not tossed here and there by every strong emotion that comes your way. You will hop off the roller-coaster of your own emotions and start to take charge of yourself and your destiny. Best of all you will learn to be a Spirit-filled Christian and be able to consistently demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit