March 22, 2016

What to do with emotions

Two of Jesus’ disciples walked a lonely road after the crucifixion. Then another traveler joined them, One mysterious, One who understood their sorrow and explained why these things needed to happen.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:30–32)

Chambers takes a large leap from the interpretation of this passage to its application. He focuses on the emotion of the burning heart and says Christians need to learn the secret of such an experience. For him, the burning heart happens in the presence of Jesus and when He is with us and we are with Him, nothing can touch our lives. Our spiritual strength will remain strong because we are abiding in Jesus, an abiding that can be felt as an emotion – a burning heart.

But that sense of abiding can be ruined. Sin will do it, but so can “the dull, bald, dreary, commonplace day, with commonplace duties and people.” Chambers challenges me to consider how this “burning heart” is ruined and how it can be retained so that I know “the secret of abiding in Jesus.”

I know the distress of sin, yet Chambers says more often that sense of the fire going out is related to ignorance of how my own nature works, and what is going on in my emotional life. My ears perk up because men usually do not talk or write about emotions. Women seem more in touch with what our emotions are doing to us, but I could be wrong. Reading of a male perspective on this is not only interesting, but gives a logical and clear perspective of what to do with the ups and downs related to ordinary emotional cycles.

Some women are affected more than others, but we do have a cycle of energy and fatigue, wanting to move furniture and not wanting to do anything, joy and unexplained sorrow, even depression. Some days I crave salt, the next chocolate. Some days I want to clear clutter, others I want to sort and make sense of it, or I don’t even notice it. All these have emotions attached. My emotions are often related also to attitudes toward people. The cycles include “leave me alone” and “please call” along with lack of interest or deep affection – for the same person! Women understand these things, but maybe not what we ought to do with them.

Chambers offers this: The only test as to whether we ought to allow an emotion to have its way is to see what the outcome of the emotion would be if we did. That is, push it to its logical conclusion, and if the outcome is something God would condemn, allow it no more. I get that. Annoyance is an example. Let it continue to build and the next thing I know, it has become outright wrath. Another example is a mild physical attraction. Let that build and I would be in deep trouble.

Chambers also says, “But if it is an emotion kindled by the Spirit of God and you do not let that emotion have its right issue in your life, it will react on a lower level.”

I’m not sure exactly what he was thinking about, but it seems he is saying that all emotions have a place in the plan of God, but unless examined, that place is hard to find. He also says that the more extreme the emotion is, the deeper the degradation will be if it is not worked out on its proper level.

He explains. If God’s Spirit stirs and emotion in me, I need to let the consequences be what they will. The Lord may not allow me to stay on that emotional mountain top, but when God gives light, instruction, or some vision when I am in that highly emotional place, I must follow through on it – even when the emotion fades and no longer drives me.

What kinds of emotions does the Spirit of God stir in my heart? Concern for others who are in difficulty . . . then do what I can and pray for them without ceasing until the prayer is answered or the burden is lifted. The list of emotional appeals is long: anger at the lawlessness and cruelty in some part of the world; joy and delight in the spiritual growth of another Christian; sadness when someone is at a loss; the tugging image of a starving child and an appeal to do something about it; a senior in a wheelchair . . . .

Those appeals usually drive me to prayer, mainly because the need is seldom related to my ability to do something, fix something, or help in some way. Yet when emotion is present, I’m learning to seek the face of Jesus and ask if this is from Him. Do I feel this way because He feels this way? Is He using my emotions as a call to action?

If so, then I need to focus there, not letting the emotion take me into action He is not asking me to take, OR into a flesh-filled attitude that leads me down a garden path into a dark place of sin and selfishness.

This is where I appreciate the logic that is often male rather than female; take that “logical conclusion” test and make sure I know where the path is going and if it is okay to be on it, but also if and when I need to stop – so that emotion will not take me where Jesus does not want me to go.

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