A common conversation in my pastoral work goes something like this; “Pastor, how can be closer to the Lord? I want to feel His Presence, to know Him.” Is it possible to feel affectionate towards the God of the Universe? Is it right to desire an experience of Him that touches our emotions? Short answer – Yes!
Let me remind you, up front, that our walk with God is grounded by faith, that we choose to trust His promises, that we learn, know, and do His Word and will, not because we feel like it, but because He calls us to obedience. But, we are not wrong to desire to experience His Presence. The scripture is full of passages that speak of the “joy of the Lord,” about “loving God, heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The language of faith is packed with emotional vocabulary.
Are you afraid of your emotions, especially the ones we think of as ‘negative,’ like grief or anger? Are you reluctant to experience or express your emotions because you think they will control you, or because you fear being ‘unstable,’ or because they’re just too painful? I was once that way too. I was convinced that emotions were embarrassing, dangerous, and to be tightly controlled.
What a barren way to live – unwilling to feel, only half-human, and certainly robbing myself of a rich part of what God has given me. Yes, I hear the objections of some who point to those who are a train wreck in life, who let their emotions rule; passionate about this today, that tomorrow, professing their love now, and a week later hating the same person.
Yet, I insist that there is a healthy way to be human, to know the full range of emotions that God gives to us that enrich our relationships with Him and one another. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, writes, “Anger, fear, disappointment, loneliness, frustration, depression, and sorrow don’t seem to fit the image of successful Christian living. However, both negative and positive emotions were designed by God to serve a positive purpose. It’s how we respond to our emotions that lead to good or bad. Negative emotions call for positive action. Positive emotions call for celebration. We should listen to our emotions because they can direct and motivate us to process significant events in life.”
Remember the story of David’s joy when he brought the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of God’s Presence) to Jerusalem? The king danced in front of the procession, joyfully tossing aside his royal robes. His wife, the daughter of Saul, watched and despised his emotional worship! She mocked him for being undignified. David’s reply – “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22) We, too, are called to celebrate in the Presence of God.
Remember the story of Jesus’ going to the grave of His friend, Lazarus? He openly wept. John also tells us that He felt deep anger as He stood before that tomb, confronted with death, the result of sin. He then raised the dead man to life! And, we cannot forget the well-known account of His angry challenge to those who had made “my Father’s house a den of thieves. This is to be a house of prayer!” He did not whisper a challenge, nor did He register a complaint with the High Priest. He gave vent to holy fury in the Temple courts.
Yes, Christian, God gave you those emotions. Use them. Govern them, don’t put them in charge. But, don’t ignore them or turn them off. Learn to feel, to empathize, to experience awe and wonder, to know that our God can be loved, celebrated, that He enters into our suffering, that our tears are a language He understands. Worship will be richer, relationships deeper, life whole as He intends.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side! I praise God for what he has promised;
Yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:8-11, NLT)