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Welcome back to our Grow Your Worship Series.
Since this podcast was created by Truth.Love.Parent. I know there are a lot of TLP listeners who subscribe to this show, and our faithful TLP audience members are pros when it comes to understanding the biblical nature of emotions.
Of course, there’s still a lot more to learn on the subject, but I’m excited that we’re going to start this conversation here today because the concepts of emotion and worship are not only sorely misunderstood, they’re also abused.
But before we get too far into today’s content, if you would love for me to visit your church or organization to discuss the biblical nature and application of emotions in worship and life, I’d love to do a workshop or conference for you.
Check out AMBrewster.com to learn more.
And while you’re there, you can easily navigate to the Celebration of God blog to access today’s free episode notes, transcripts, and other worship resources.
But now we need to review what we learned last time in order remember where we are in our study.
On our last episode we talked about why we do what we do and say what we say. We learned that everything we do and say grows out of our desires — just like fruit grows off a branch.
That means, if we want to change our behavior and conversation — if we want to submit them more and more to God in our daily service of sacrificial worship — we’re going to have to change our desires. So we finished the show asking, “Why do we want what we want?” We won’t be able to change what we want if we don’t even know why we want the things we want.
But before we can talk about the root of our desire, we need to talk about the third kind of fruit that grows from our desires.
Last time we looked at the tree metaphor and saw that the Bible often describes our actions and words as being the fruit of our lives. But if you look closely at the tree of your life, you’ll find that there’s a third fruit growing on it.
Maybe — for some of you — it’s the predominate fruit on your tree, and perhaps — for others — this fruit is hidden under layers of leaves.
Regardless of whether you wear your emotions on your sleeve or keep them locked up, our feelings are a fruit of our lives just like our actions and words are.
Of course, hearing me say that may surprise many of you. You’ve been taught that emotions aren’t an effect, they’re a cause. They’re not the consequence; they’re the motivation.
Maybe you’re thinking about the Pixar movie, “Inside Out.” In that movie our emotions are shown to be at the helm of everything in our lives — what we say, what we do, what we think, and so on.
But is that true? What does the Bible teach us about emotions, and what does true science teach us about emotions?
First, let me start by telling you about this amazing workshop I once attended at an ACBC conference.
To be honest, I was hesitant to attend this particular class because of the title. It was called “Emotions and Counseling.” I’ve researched and studied this topic in great detail over the years, but — to be fair — I’ve encountered very little biblically-sound information on the topic. And most of what I had heard and read wasn’t very good.
But knowing that it was the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and deeply desiring to have my own conceptions biblically challenged, I entered the class with an open mind. And, let me tell you, it was fantastic. The speaker was Rebekah Hannah — she’s on the counseling staff at First Baptist of Jacksonville where Dr. Heath Lambert is pastor.
Truly, the content was so good that I really want to have Rebekah as a special guest on the show. Her workshop presented the most biblical, theologically accurate doctrine of emotion that I had ever heard from anyone — pastors and professors included.
Now, most of what I’m going to share with you today comes from my own study. But I’m happy to say that my conclusions were very much mirrored in Mrs. Hannah’s lecture, and — in addition — my notes have been wonderfully expanded by her presentation.
It’s soooooo nice when another child of God who is well-educated, proficient, and diligent comes to the same conclusions you have as you both study God’s Word. I suppose it’s nice just to know you’re not crazy . . . or at least that you’re not alone in your insanity.
Seriously, though, let’s continue our study today with the question, “Why do you feel what you feel?”
Well, as my buddy Voltaire once said, “If you want to converse with me, first define your terms.”
So, let’s start with . . .
1. The Dictionary Definition
Dictionary.com defines emotions as “An affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness.”
Basically, they’re saying that emotions are not the result of a mental decision. Instead, they’re a conscious state where things like joy, sorrow, and the like are experienced.
I don’t know about you, but I find that definition lacking on so many levels, but it’s not a medical textbook, so I guess I can’t complain.
However, the Medical Dictionary for Health Professions and Nursing is only slightly more helpful when they say, emotion is “a strong feeling, aroused mental state, or intense state of drive or unrest directed toward a definite object and evidenced in both behavior and in psychologic changes, with accompanying autonomic nervous system manifestations.”
I find that last part to be enlightening for our study. Emotion is accompanied by an autonomic nervous system manifestation. This is key, because — unlike certain functions of the spirit — emotions are decidedly biological in nature, though not in interpretation. We’ll talk a little more about that later.
But for now, let’s move past the dictionary definitions and see what pop-culture says about emotions.
In today’s episode notes you’ll notice that this point is called The Disney Definition. We will talk about Disney, but here I’m using it as a catch-all for the modern cultural understanding of emotions.
2. The Disney Definition
Steve Jobs once said “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other peoples thinking. Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
A song by the most-loved and hated band of all time, Nickleback, tells us, “This time I wonder what it feels like to find the one in this life – the one we all dream of – but dreams just aren’t enough. So I’ll be waiting for the real thing. I’ll know it by the feeling. The moment when we’re meeting will play out like a scene straight off the silver screen.”
You won’t be surprised to hear that Disney wrote a son for Cinderella 2 called “Follow Your Heart.”
In this song written for a children’s movie we hear “Who’s to say the rules must stay the same forevermore. Whoever made them had to change the rules that came before. So make your own way; show the beauty within when you follow your heart there’s no heart you can't win. So reach for the sky. It’s not as high as it seems. Just follow your heart go as far as your dreams. Dare if you want to, don't fear the fall, take a chance, it's better than to never chance at all. There's a world full of changing and you've just begun; don't let them tell you it's simply not done. When you follow your heart you'll shine bright as the sun.”
Now, before we move on, I just have to editorialize. If it’s true that we should follow our hearts regardless of “the rules,” then people who derive joy from lying, cheating, stealing, speeding, driving drunk, taking drugs, fornicating, committing violence, and murdering are perfectly fine because they are simply “following their hearts.” This is a perfect example of a Failure Philosophy that is destroying lives all over the world at this very moment.
This nebulous idea of following one’s heart is intrinsically tied to an older philosophy that said, “If it feels good, do it.”
They’re not using the term “heart” in the way the Bible does. We’ll see this more later, but it’s important to realize that we have entire generations of people who’ve grown up being told that their emotions should be the guide for their entire existence.
So now we need to consider . . .
3. The Divine Definition
Now, please understand that — in the Scriptures — emotions and the mind are occasionally combined in one idea. And — to be perfectly honest — God knows exactly what He’s saying.
So, though emotions may be defined primarily as physical reactions to an external or internal stimulus, the interpretation of those feelings occurs in our minds. So, yes, some of the verses we’ll look at today talk about the mind because — as we’ll see — emotions are intrinsically tied to our minds.
Let’s look at some verses:
Jeremiah 17:9 famously proclaims that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
It’s very important that we recognize that the ancient Hebrew and Greek understanding of “the heart” is different from our modern thoughts.
The heart was used to describe the core of the person. It could even be said that the heart was the person — as detached from the body.
Biblically speaking, the ideas of the heart, the mind, and the spirit are all synonymous. It’s the center of our being, the seat of our worldview, the determiner of our words, actions, thoughts, feelings, and the like.
So, when Proverbs 28:26 tells us that “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,” the word translated “mind” is the exact same word translated “heart” in Jeremiah.
And I absolutely love Ecclesiastes 11:9. Solomon says, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”
Okay, so it’s pretty easy to see that the heart — regardless of how you define it — is definitely not something we should be following. It deceives us. It’s desperately wicked. And we’ll be judged for the times we walked in the way of our hearts.
But before we continue, I want to point out God’s response to the whole “follow your heart” foolishness. In Proverbs 3:21-24 He says, “My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
Instead of following our hearts, we need to follow wisdom and discretion. Only then we will truly be successful. We’ll have life, adornments, we’ll be secure, and we’ll sleep sweetly with no need to fear. We see here that wisdom and discernment actually overcome the emotion of fear.
Now, before we continue, I want to refocus the discussion. This series is about how to mature in our worship of God.
We’ve learned that worship is everything we do, and we’ve learned that we’re either going to worship God in True Worship, or we’re going to worship self in False Worship. Those are our only two choices.
And we’ve learned that absolutely everything we do, say, feel, own, consume, think, desire — absolutely everything — will either be offered as a sacrifice to God or to ourselves.
Now, if this information is new to you, I would highly suggest you listen to our “What is Worship? Series.” I’ll link it for you in the description.
The point is, as we seek to offer less and less on our altar to self, and — instead — offer more and more on the altar to God, we’re going to need to figure out how to do that.
And we’re learning that in order to remove my entertainment from the altar to self and give it to God, I need to want to do that. If I don’t want to, I won’t do it . . . ever.
And the same is true with our emotions. If I discover that my emotions aren’t being used to glorify God, then I’m going to have to accept the painful reality that I need to change the way I’m feeling.
Now, that may sound impossible to you. You may have grown up your entire life being told that you have no control over your emotions, but the Lord disagrees with that counsel.
So, that’s why we’re talking about this.
There are emotional responses that please the Lord and emotional responses that don’t. And just like God gives us everything we need to change our words and actions that don’t please Him, He also gives us everything we need to change the emotions that don’t please Him.
But — before we can do that — we need to continue understanding what emotions are and why God gave them to us in the first place.
It’s easy to understand our actions and words. They’re viewed simply as tools to accomplish what we want. But emotions look less and less like something that we use to do a job and more and more like something over which we have no control.
So, what are they?
Well, emotions have three God-ordained purposes in our lives:
1. Emotions are a gift.
A. Emotions are a gift to the individual.
They were created to give humans a dynamic, passionate experience in this life and the life to come.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there is a time to laugh and a time to weep. Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Both what me might call “positive” and “negative” emotions were created by God for a purpose. He wants us to worship Him with them — just like we are to worship Him with everything else — but Christ-honoring emotions are also to be enjoyed, and though we can revel in emotions like happiness, we can also appreciate God-pleasing grief.
And . . .
B. Emotions are also a gift to the body of Christ.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens. Romans 12:15 commands that we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We see Jesus doing this exact thing with Mary and Martha.
And . . .
C. Emotions are also a gift to spouses/parents/pastors/counselors and other spiritual authorities.
In the same way our children’s emotional responses can help us determine the best way to parent them, a spouse’s emotional response can help the other spouse know how best to minister to them. The same is true for pastors, counselors, teachers, friends, and any other disciplers.
And we’ll look at an example of this shortly.
So, the first reason we have emotions is that they’re a gift to us, the body of Christ, and our spiritual authorities.
2. Our emotions are a tool.
Just like everything else in our lives (including our words and actions), God wants us to glorify Him with our emotions.
I Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatsoever you do [we could say “or feel”], do all to the glory of God.”
Do your feelings cause other people to think more highly about your God? Well, they should. In fact, they absolutely must.
I was standing in line with my wife at the DMV today. The line was long enough that it went outside, and there — in the parking lot — was a man so incensed at his wife that he was screaming obscenities and melting down so extraordinarily that I felt compelled to walk over there to make sure he didn’t harm his wife and child.
His emotions absolutely did not cause me to think more accurate thoughts about God.
P.S. He drove away and the mother and child walked off refusing any assistance.
But our emotional responses must — like everything else in life — help people to better understand and think correctly about God.
And . . .
3. Emotions are our Feelings Alarm.
Rebekah Hannah says that emotions are a “gauge, not a guide.”
In the same way that a smoke detector in your house is there to warn you of a problem, your emotions can help you see when there’s a spiritual problem in your life.
If you are experiencing strong emotions in line with God’s will . . . all is well. Do you enjoy what God says is good? Are you angry about sin? Are you jealous for God’s glory? Then God is pleased.
But if you’re experiencing strong emotion out of sync with God’s will . . . there is a problem. Do you enjoy your sin? Are you angry about what God has brought into your life? Are you jealous for your own way? If so, your emotions are being used to worship yourself and need to change.
Now, I’m hoping that all the observations we’ve made can help us see that emotions are — in fact — the third fruit on our trees.
In much the same way that we do what we do and say what we say because we want what we want, we also feel what we feel because we want what we want.
Let’s illustrate this.
I recently took my family to Six Flags, so this illustration is fresh on my mind. Two people get on a roller coaster. The first person doesn’t want to be there, the second does. Both of them have adrenaline coursing through their bodies during the whole ride. The first person is going to act and speak and feel like they’re scared. The second person is going to act and speak and feel like they’re exhilarated.
By the way, I praise the Lord that my whole family feels exhilarated after exiting a roller coaster.
But think about that for a minute. They both had the same experience, they both experienced the same physiological effect, and yet the outcome was very different. Why is that?
Well, unlike our actions and words that are simply motivated by our desires, our emotions are motivated in part by our desires. However, they’re also affected by our interpretation of the physiological changes in our bodies.
I remember well helping both of my kids move through the same maturation process that I had to move through as a child. When they were little, they often approached roller coasters in utter terror. But just two years later they both absolutely love them.
Part of that process involved me teaching them that the tingly feelings and butterflies they’re feeling are not fear, dread, or anxiety. They’re not actually scared. They’re simply feeling a release of adrenaline into their system.
Adrenaline is simply a chemical tool God’s given us that helps us work through high pressure situations.
By the way, as I approached the man who was in a tirade at the DMV, God graciously gave me a shot or two of adrenaline. So when the man turned his aggression toward me, I was equipped to respond well with the extra helping of clarity, speed, and strength necessary.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to use the adrenaline in that confrontation, but it was there.
But pease understand — I was not afraid of the man or the situation. I was simply experiencing an adrenaline rush that God gave me to glorify Him in the situation.
So, how we interpret the chemical responses in our bodies is a massive factor in how we will continue feeling.
If — as I approached the man — I got a surge of adrenaline and immediately interpreted it as fear, I probably would have backed away. Even if I held on to myself, when he started approaching me and the adrenaline jumped up again, I might have run or stood frozen in my spot incapable of moving.
But I didn’t do any of that because I realized that how I was feeling was a subjective feeling. I could just as easily recognize the adrenaline for what it was as I could interpret it as fear.
That means that emotions are a cyclical fruit. Here’s what I mean. If you had an apple tree, and you never picked the apples, and no animals ever ate them, the leaves and the fruit would fall to the ground each year. After falling to the ground they’d spend the entire autumn, winter, and spring being transformed into fertilizer for the tree. Therefore, much of the nutrients the tree will use next summer will come from its own fruit.
In the same way, though our fruit is not the same as our roots, repeatedly growing the same fruit every year makes it easier to grow more of the same fruit in the future.
Always interpreting adrenaline as fear makes it easier to interpret it as fear the next time. And the more afraid of fear I am, the easier it will be to experience even more adrenaline than I normally would because now I’m feeling even more afraid.
Also, if the fruit I grow is diseased, and that disease is passed back into the tree’s root system, then there’s no hope for my tree to be healthy next year.
So, yes, our repeated actions and words make it easier to continue making the same choices in the future. We’re habituating ourselves. But, in the same way, our sinful emotions can feed our negative deeds and speech and even perpetuate more negative emotions in the future.
And as we continue our study, I believe you’ll come to see that it’s not true that our emotions cause us to do what we do. They may have a loose influence on each other, but — in the end — we do what we do and say what we say and feel what we feel because we want what we want.
So, let’s finish off our time together looking back at Proverbs 3:21-24. “My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
According to this verse, how can we avoid fear? How do we change from feeling fear to feeling peace? Well, first, we need wisdom and discretion. Basically — we could put it this way — we need to think right.
What’s really interesting is the relationship between what we think and what we want. In the same way Eve allowed her thoughts to imagine how wonderful the forbidden fruit would be, the more we think about something, the more we want it.
Depending on whether or not you’ve just eaten, if I started talking about the glories of my favorite pizza, I bet I could have you seriously desiring a slice. It’s just like me at the ACBC conference. The more I dwelt on the magnificence of God, the more I wanted to live for Him.
So, here’s the question of the hour. If in order to worship God better, we need to submit our emotional responses to Him, how are we to change how we feel? How can we make our emotions more pleasing to God?
The answer? We need to activate our minds. We need to think right, and that will guide our desires and — thereby — produce actions, words, and feelings that will be in line with our desires.
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” The Hebrew word translated “delight” has the idea of being soft. Other places in the Scriptures translate the same word as “delicateness,” “dainty,” and even “jest.”
The idea was that delicacies are often light and delicate and enjoyable. So, this is a command to respond to God the same way we would respond to our favorite sweet. He needs to delight us like our favorite pastime. He needs to thrill our hearts like a genuinely enjoyable joke.
That, my friends, is not a just a feeling. It’s a choice. That’s why it’s being commanded. We need to think of God as someone Who is wholly delightful. Then and only then will He give us the desires of our hearts.
But, what will those desires be? If I view God as being the most delightful person in the universe — nothing can be better than knowing Him and living for Him — what kinds of things will I desire? Am I going to desire my own way? Am I going to desire my own self-worship? Of course not!
I’m going to desire that which pleases the Lord, and He will gladly give those things to me. He will help me offer my actions and words and emotions on His altar. He’ll give me everything I need for life and godliness. Regardless of the temptations I’ll face, He’ll faithfully give me a way to escape them.
I simply need to choose to delight in God the same way I delight in a spoonful of Sourwood honey.
Of course, I could give plenty more examples, but I’d like you to give this some more thought.
Your are an emotional being. You have various chemicals and hormones floating through your body causing to you experience various sensations. You’re also interpreting those sensations in habituated ways. And there’s a reason you’re an emotional being.
You need to understand why you feel what you feel. And of course, you need to understand that you’re not a slave to your emotions. Your feelings are a gauge of your spiritual state, they’re not a guide.
Give some careful thought to this over the next week.
Lift a magnifying glass to your emotions over the next seven days. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Experiment trying to change how you feel.
What you’ll find is that the surest way to change how you feel is the change what you’re thinking.
I’ll illustrate this more in future episodes.
For now, we can agree that emotions are a wonderful gift given to us to enjoy, to glorify God, and to warn us when we’re walking in darkness?
We can also agree that God wants us to do what we do and say what we say based off of wisdom and discernment; not our feelings.
So, because we want to obey Him, we need to act and talk and feel in ways that glorify Him.
Again, please enjoy our episode notes which I’ve linked in the description and check out the “What is Worship? Series.”
Also, join us next time as we attempt to learn how to change our desires by asking the question, “Why do we want what we want?”
Listen, I know that many of the things we’ve been mining from Scriptures lately may be uncomfortable for you. I know the world wants us to think that we’re victims that are controlled by forces over which we have no control.
But the reality is that we bear bad fruit because we’re bad trees. However, remember Matthew 12:33. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” By God’s grace you can make your fruit good by the power of the Holy Spirit. And by the time we’re done with this study, you’ll be equipped to bear Christ-honoring fruit and help your fellow disciples do the same.
Because all disciples of God should daily strive to grow in their worship of Him.
Have a great week!
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.