I remember jobs I’ve had that were not very enjoyable. Do you? For me, the workday at a job like that seemed eternal. Time after time I felt like I’d been there for 4 or 5 hours, only to look at the clock and discover that I’d only been at work for 2. Can you relate?
What a disappointment! And what a powerful lesson for life…
Those instances serve me as an example of how what we “feel” is often not aligned with what is reality.
For example: When I “felt” like I’d been working a long time, I checked in with “reality” by looking at the clock. It left no room for questions, no matter if I checked the batteries, shook the clock, asked if someone had been messing with it, etc.
Reality was reality… just like truth is truth.
Why feelings are so powerful and why they can’t be trusted automatically
I’ll be the last to claim that I understand everything about how God has designed us, as human beings. There’s a mysterious mixture of body, soul, spirit, mind, will, emotion, etc, etc,that has confused me my whole life.
But over the years, I believe the LORD has given me a bit of insight as I’ve struggled with my own unique combination of those things. He’s also turned on a few lights as I have been honored to come alongside others in counseling. Here’s what I believe at present…
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the Apostle Paul, almost in passing, mentions that he desires our whole body, soul, and spirit to be kept blameless for the day of Christ Jesus (when He returns). The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw us as composed of three main parts:
- Body – It’s pretty clear what this is… arms, hands, legs, brain, kidneys, heart, endocrine system, etc.
- Soul – I believe this refers to our capacities of mind, will, and emotion.
- Spirit – I believe this refers to the part of us that communes with and relates to God. Regarding the spirit, notice that Paul elsewhere says that before coming to faith in Christ, we are “dead” in our sin, which I believe is referring to our “spirit” being dead (Ephesians 2:1-5, Colossians 2:13).
Of these three, I believe that as believers in Jesus Christ, our spirit and our soul are redeemed. They are the part of us that are the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I don’t include the body because it is clearly yet to be redeemed.
- We still age.
- Our bodies still get sick.
- Our life here on earth will one day end because our body will give out or be irreparably damaged.
- On top of all that, the Apostle Paul makes the case that the power of “sin” is attached distinctly to our bodies (Romans 7).
The consequences of sin still impact our mortal bodies, there’s no doubt.
Having laid out those three main aspects of who we are like I have, I’ve also come to learn that I have to be careful that I don’t draw the division between them very firmly. We are too complex for that. These three areas are intertwined, mixed together in a way that defies clear boundaries. But… for the sake of conversation and understanding, the distinctions can serve us, if we let them.
Reality VS Feelings in Christian growth
There have been many times in my life, and I still notice them cropping up, when I find myself doubting my own spiritual growth. Because I’m stuck inside my own head, I’m often unable to see with clear vision, what is truly taking place in my life.
For some unknown reason I may “feel” like I’m a slacker, not good enough, not pleasing the LORD, etc. As a result, I’ll walk around in a depressed sort of funk until I “feel” better about my relationship with the LORD, for some equally-ambiguous reason.
But is it good, or even right to focus on feelings that much?
Our culture tells us it is. We’re told that if you don’t live according to how you “feel,” you’re a hypocrite. Statements like this prove that to be true…
- “Follow your heart.”
- “Go with your passions.” (This one’s HUGE in the business world or entrepreneurs nowadays).
- “How do you feel about it?”
- And Mazda’s old mantra, “It just feels right.”
I’ve even noticed that this skewed emphasis on how I feel has impacted the type of things I ask my kids. I’ll ask them, “How to you feel about your relationship with the LORD?” instead of “How are things between you and God?” Why am I pointing them to how they feel? Feelings are unreliable at best, especially if we are making them the sole barometer of how our relationship with God is going.
The reality may be according to what we feel. But it’s probably not.
So many things can impact how we feel – how we slept, what we ate, circumstances, conversations, body language of another person – I want to suggest that we are fools if we allow our feelings to have that much sway over our interpretation of reality.
What’s the alternative?
Truth. God’s truth.
The LORD has been gracious to give us an entire book, filled with His perception of reality… and because He’s God, His perception is what matters. We’d do well to fill our minds with the concrete realities of what He has to say, rather than our vague and fleeting impressions, based on what we “feel.”
Some practical examples:
- Rather than taking someone’s facial expression as direct “evidence” that they are upset with us, why don’t we do what the LORD commands in Matthew 18, and go to them? We might find out they were fighting off a migraine or had just received word that a relative is dying. We might discover an opportunity to serve, rather than an opportunity to be wrongly offended.
- Rather than listening to the condemning voices in our heads that tell us we’re no good, why don’t we look to the scriptures and find out what God says about us? Romans 8:1 could set us free, if we’d soak in it long enough to let it impact the way we think about ourselves.
- Rather than leaving our kids’ spiritual future solely up to their “free choice,” why don’t we take God’s instruction in Psalm 78:2-8 to heart and become a means by which they can come to have true faith in the true God? I’m not saying you should “bully” them into anything (that doesn’t work, anyway). I’m saying you lovingly, passionately, diligently lead them there.
I could go on all day. But I think you get the point.
Christian growth and obedience come, mainly, through listening to and applying the truth of God. That often has nothing to do with what we feel at the moment. In fact, it will often go contrary to what we feel.
But thank God, when we walk in obedience rather than what we “feel,” we’ll be walking in victory. THAT, is a reality I can live with.