We feel, therefore we are.
That seems, more and more, to be the cultural mantra we are all living under whether we recognize it or not. We use that gauge to determine increasingly every decision we make, from the restaurant we want to eat at for lunch to the person we choose or do not choose to remain married to right down to the fitting room we choose to use in a clothing store. We feel, therefore we are, and therefore we act.
But as Christians, we not only believe there are moral imperatives driven by God’s created order in many of these issues; we also believe that our feelings, among other things, are liars. That’s why there is a war inside of us at any given moment – it’s because our flesh battles with the Spirit as the Spirit of God takes further and further ground in us to conform us to the image of Christ.
So as Christians, we recognize that we cannot trust our feelings, but there is still the temptation for us to take the stance of victim when it comes to the way we feel. We feel happy or sad or faithful or unfaithful in a given moment, and we many times just go with it, or many other times falsely believe that we feel the way we feel, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But what if there was a way that we could take a stand against our feelings? What if there were tools we could employ to not be victimized by our feelings, but to actually come alongside the work of the Holy Spirit so that we not only act in the holy and godly way but by God’s grace begin to feel it, too?
Here are three such ways that we can take an active role in what we feel:
1. Anticipate the right things.
While you might not be able to directly control what you feel, you can control what you choose to anticipate. And all of us are anticipating something. It might be as simple as an evening at home or a planned vacation, but all of us have some fixed point in the future we are looking forward to. When we look forward to something, we begin to desire to see that thing take place.
We can, then, choose not to desire the things of God, but to anticipate the things of God. We can make the choice to put our focus on the coming of Jesus’ kingdom, the righting of all wrongs in that kingdom, or even something as simple as meeting weekly with the people of God. When we make the choice to anticipate the right things over and over again, we will begin to see ourselves actually develop a deep level of affection for that which we are anticipating.
2. Practice the discipline of gratitude.
Gratitude is more than a feeling; it’s a discipline. That’s why we are not told in Scripture to feel thankful, but instead commanded to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for us in Chris (1 Thess. 5:18). Even when we don’t feel thankful, and even when we feel like we have to search for something to be thankful for, we can still engage in this discipline.
For me personally, I have at different seasons implemented this discipline through a daily journal entry in which I record at least three things I’m thankful for. More than once, I have fallen back on something like, “I’m thankful that the Lord has not left me today,” or “I’m thankful that the gospel is still true today.” But these are not just easy answers; they instead are actual spiritual realities I can choose to thank the Lord for even if I don’t feel it. In my own experience, by practicing this discipline, my feelings have eventually followed, and not only am a practicing gratitude, but actually feeling thankful.
3. Don’t just say the truth, sing the truth.
It’s very encouraging to me to see that I’m not the only one who feels double-minded when it comes to their feelings; that others, like me, have a certain way they want to feel, and yet do not. More encouraging still is that the psalmist struggled with the same thing. Psalm 42 and 43 especially record such feelings for us, but they also record a song writer not content to simply feel what he feels, but rather to take an active role in it. In these passages, then, you find the psalmist not just talking to his own soul, but actually singing to it:
“Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).
There is something that connects our hearts with our heads through music. We may know what we ought to feel in our minds, know the truth of God’s character and His Word, and yet not feel it deeply, but music is a tool to help it. Music can lift the heart and connect the head. So one simple way, then, we can take an active role in what we feel is to sing the truth. Over and over again.
Friends, none of us feels exactly what we ought to feel. All of us have hearts that lie to us and lead us astray. But we can assume a posture of engagement with our feelings rather than default to a posture of victimization.