Overcoming Negative Emotion
Many Christians wake up to their day facing significant trials and overwhelming responsibilities. In all honesty, there are moments when they do not feel like handling these challenges. The difference between spiritual excellence and mediocrity is what they do with these very real and natural emotions.
Years ago I read a story in the book The Disciplined Life by Richard Shelly Taylor. It told the account of a student who came to class without completing the assignment for the day. When asked why he did not finish his work, the student replied, “I just didn’t feel like it.” In response, the teacher stood up behind his desk, pointed his finger at the student and angrily scolded him, “Did it occur to you, young man, that the world is run by people who ‘don’t feel like it’?”
I’ve heard it said that we should “act our way into feeling rather than feel our way into acting.” That’s good wisdom. Yet, many believers falter under the press of negative and difficult feelings. This reality robs them of resolve and stymies their personal productivity.
Of course, emotions are part of God’s design for us. After His image, the triune God made us to be both rational and emotional. Our all-wise God also exhibits the emotions of joy, sorrow, grief, anger, and compassion, just to name a few. Emotions can enhance our relationships, our enjoyment of special events, and our savoring of the daily journey. They can also have the opposite effect. In fact, emotions make a better servant than master. They are designed to decorate our lives with color and celebration, but not to drive us into complacency and consternation.
The Spirit and Emotions
Given the emotional battles we all face from time to time, we need a fresh surrender to the consistency and ascendancy of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit’s regulation and rule, any believer can potentially be overcome by negative and counterproductive feelings.
Spiritual Discipline to Steer Our Emotional Compulsions
Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. When young Timothy’s fears were hindering his spiritual fruitfulness, his seasoned spiritual father, Paul, challenged him with these words: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). This “sound mind” is also translated to mean “self-discipline.” Discipline results in regulating one’s conduct by principle rather than impulse, emotion, or convenience. When emotion yells that we “don’t feel like it,” the Spirit can intervene with a fresh dedication to the principles of maturity, responsibility, servanthood, and supernatural power.
Spiritual Desire to Spark Our Emotional Choices
It is not uncommon to feel stuck in the emotional mud of apathy or despondency. It is in those moments that we need the supernatural desire and energy available to us by the Holy Spirit. Philippians 2:13 tells us, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Rather than pleasing ourselves in compliance to convenient feelings, we can surrender to the good and Christ-honoring power of the indwelling motivation and power readily available through the Spirit.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Paul prayed, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” The faithful presence of God in us, by the Holy Spirit, moves us beyond self-absorbed feelings to produce comprehensive consecration that makes us more like Jesus. The Savior who battled with deep emotion in the Garden of Gethsemane as He faced the brutality of the cross works in us to produce sacrificial and sanctifying choices that serve others and advance His purposes.
Spiritual Determination to Sustain Our Emotional Commitment
Still, the road is long, the days difficult, and the choices continual in our journey of discipleship. Our need for the Spirit’s help in our emotional self-management is constant – from salvation until the day we step into eternity. That’s why the truth of Hebrews 12:2 is needed for every decision, day, and decade of life. The Scriptures say that emotional perseverance is found in “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” When we “don’t feel like it” we have the assurance that “The Finisher” lives in us to empower us with an unleashing of divine joy that can counteract our lethargy.
Faith That Strengthens Feelings
The issue is not whether or not the Holy Spirit can give us emotional discipline, desire, and determination. Rather, it is a question of whether we will have the faith in the Spirit’s sufficiency in order to surrender and trust His empowerment. The hymn writer reminds us, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus – but to trust and obey.” This commitment is vital, especially when we “don’t feel like it.”
Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.