It’s Not How You Feel, It’s Where You Go

11 Oct

File:Sadness.jpg I believe what separates the person of true faith from the person of unbelief is not how they feel, but where they go. The person of faith acknowledges how they feel (this is one reason why there are psalms of lament in the Bible) but in the end they go to God with their struggles and entrust themselves to Him and believe in His promises. The person living in unbelief has all the same feelings, but they either try to pretend they aren’t there or they medicate them with life’s pleasures. Sometimes both denial and escape into pleasure are present in a person’s heart.

It is important that we don’t try to cover over our emotional life or pretend all is well when it is not. The temptation for Christians is to think that walking in victory means we never hurt, we are never sad, and we are never discouraged. Jesus’ own experience in this life puts the lie to that notion. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, the One who never sinned, said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” So it is a mistake to label all discouragement or sadness at unbelief. Just as being physically struck causes pain, so being emotionally wounded causes hurt as well.

There are three important factors to remember about the way Jesus dealt with this discouragement. First, Jesus knew the cross was coming all along yet we don’t see Him living with a perpetual dread of its coming. Jesus’ life before Gethsemane was filled with activity and relationships and fellowship with God. It is not a sin of unbelief to feel sad or discouraged but we are living in unbelief if our lives are perpetually marked by sadness and never by love for God or hope in Him. Second, Jesus shared His emotional challenges with His closest friends. Jesus spoke His emotional words to His inner circle disciples; Peter, James and John. He was not hiding who He really was or denying the reality of what He was about to face. He didn’t go to Calvary wearing a “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” t-shirt. This is where I think the word of faith movement and its secular cousin, positive thinking, fall so short. These ways of thinking make too little of our trials and too much of our own ability or resources. At the same time, we must say that the broader evangelical church is also often guilty of papering over the struggles of others. We don’t want to acknowledge emotional struggle because that’s a downer and we think that if our services are not always upbeat that people won’t show up on Sunday morning.

Finally, we see that in His trials Jesus turned to God. He expressed both honesty toward God and submission to the Father’s will. What a great combination. A perfect expression of the life of faith.

I want to be a person who does not deny the reality of my emotional life. I want to hold it fully, in joy and pain. I don’t want to pretend I’m living some kind of higher life or life of victory when I’m not. I also don’t want to medicate my emotional life with food or tv or the internet or sports or relationships. I don’t want to run to things for escape. I want to be like Jesus. I want to acknowledge what I am feeling and turn to God. I have to say a hypocrite is writing this post, because I am often guilty of denial or escape rather than turning to God. I also have to say as a pastor that of all the people in the world who may have the most difficulty living this way, pastors may be near the top of the list. The reason is that our lives are arranged in ways that naturally lead to denial and/or escapism. Pastors are bearing not only their own hurts but also the hurts of many others, so they are more challenged emotionally than most. Pastors also are often isolated by their position from others and forming good and deep friendships with others can be a challenge. Finally, there is an expectation that a pastor’s emotional life will always be in check and that any real struggles are a sign of unbelief and weakness. The pastor, then, is especially tempted to put on  a happy face for a variety of reasons.

One of the resources I have found most helpful in addressing the nuts and bolts of turning to God in discouragement is John Piper’s excellent teaching series called “Battling Unbelief.” I recommend it strongly (even if you don’t agree with Piper on everything theologically) and have furnished a link at the close of this post.

I hope my emotional life will be marked more and more in the days ahead not by denial and escapism but by running to God in my trials.

For Piper’s messages go to www.desiringgod.org. Click on the “sermons” tab, choose the year “1988” and scroll down to September. The messages begin in September and run through the end of the year.

 

 

One Response to “It’s Not How You Feel, It’s Where You Go”

  1. Lynn D October 11, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Scott, we pray for you and your family daily. Being under the leadership of a pastor who actively strives to learn and model his life after our Savior is such a blessing to Mike and I. Thank you for your honesty and transparency in your walk with God.

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