Should you trust your emotions? Not really, says Pastor Brian Borgman, who explains how sin has tainted our emotions and can often mislead us into wrong behavior toward our spouse and others.
Should you trust your emotions? Not really, says Pastor Brian Borgman, who explains how sin has tainted our emotions and can often mislead us into wrong behavior toward our spouse and others.
Bob: Your emotions—how you feel about things—are not insignificant; but your emotions can lead you in the wrong direction. Here’s Brian Borgman.
Brian: One thing, for sure, is that we cannot determine the will of God by how we feel about something. We cannot determine what’s true by how we feel about something. It’s actually very dangerous to rely on your feelings and then turn around and translate that into, “This is what God wants me to do. This is what God wants me to believe, and this is how God wants me to obey.”
We know the will of God through the Word of God. It’s the Word of God that’s infallible, not our feelings.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about our feelings—about when we should pay attention to them and what kind of attention we ought to pay to them. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Okay, this is a little off the track—
Dennis: That’s never happened before! (Laughter)
Bob: —with what we’re talking about.
Dennis: Usually our broadcast goes off-track! (Laughter) You’re just starting it out that way.
Bob: We’re talking this week about emotions, and about feelings, and about what we should do with those, and how we should understand them. I know we’ve been talking about it mostly in the context of our relationships—our marriage relationship, our family relationships, our relationships with others—and how emotions can be destructive or damaging in that context; but I’ve been to some churches where, during the Sunday morning worship service, it got very expressive. You know what I’m saying?
Dennis: I do.
Bob: I mean, the whole body was involved in the expression.
Dennis: And how did you feel about that, Bob?
Bob: It was not the norm for me. It was very different than what I was used to. So the question is, “Is this a cultural preference?” I want to toss that one to our pastor and see what happens at his church.
Dennis: Well, Brian Borgman joins us on FamilyLife Today. Brian—Grace Community Church in Menden, Nevada—which side of the aisle are you on?
Brian: Which side of the aisle am I on? (Laughter) Well, it’s a great question. I would say that there are going to be emotional expressions that are more culturally acceptable in certain circumstances; but when we read our Bibles carefully, we find that the predominant emotion to be expressed in worship is joy. So, if we’re not engaging the head and the heart, then we’re not honoring God as we should.
Bob: What the heart may look like externally may be different in different places. The guy who is still and stoic may be just as filled with joy as the guy who’s dancing; right?
Brian: Yes, I’m sure that’s true; but we have to be careful that we don’t just kind of pigeon hole these into cultural categories. We need to make sure that we are being moved by truth. Jonathan Edwards said in Religious Affections that he sought to move the affections—raise the affections—of his hearers as high as he possibly could with only truth.
Dennis: I want to take this in a little bit of a different direction. We’ve been talking about emotions this week and about your book, Feelings and Faith. I just want to ask you a real blunt question, “Should we trust our emotions?”
Brian: “Should we trust our emotions?” I would say the answer to that is, “No.” There is a very important principle that we’ve touched on and that is that sin has affected our emotions. Just because we can’t trust our emotions, just because we’re not to be led by our emotions, doesn’t mean that we don’t see the value of them and try to cultivate them.
Dennis: So, in making a major decision in my life, or for that matter, a not-so-major decision, what do we do with our emotions because, I think, we have a generation of young people today who want to live by feelings and not by faith.
Brian: Well, one thing for sure is we cannot determine the will of God by how we feel about something. We cannot determine what’s true by how we feel about something. We know the will of God through the Word of God. It’s actually very dangerous to rely on your feelings and then turn around and translate that into, “This is what God wants me to do. This is what God wants me to believe; this is how God wants me to obey,” because our feelings can be misled.
We need to make sure that we are in alignment with the Word of God. It’s the Word of God that’s infallible, not our feelings.
Dennis: What about the passage where Paul writes and he says, “For it is He Who is at work within you both to will (that’s to create the desire) and to work His own good pleasure”? It does seem that God does create desires in our hearts to want to accomplish something or invest our lives somewhere—something we’re passionate about—and then He provides the opportunity to work out that passion. Can’t that be a confirmation of what God wants you to do?
Brian: Well, I think that it could; but it has to be tested by Scripture. In other words, what I want to make sure that we don’t convey to people is, “I feel strongly about this or that,” “I feel strongly that I should date this person,” “I feel strongly that I should marry this person,” “I feel that I should do this or that,” and then just live your life based on those emotions. God most certainly does work in us both to will and to do His good pleasure.
Bob: And He does give us desires in our hearts; but what I hear you saying is that those desires in our heart can’t be determinative. We can’t look at that and say, “This is how I know the will of God because I feel strongly.” It’s not nothing, but it’s also not what you rely on; right?
Brian: Right, it’s not nothing.
Dennis: And to the man who would say to a friend, “I just don’t have any feelings for my wife anymore; I want out of this relationship.” At that point, you’d say, “Go to the Bible, where Jesus said, ‘Let your yes be yes and your no, no,’ and, ‘Don’t you understand that two joined together are not to be torn apart?’”
Feelings, at that point, do not negate a commitment. That’s how we’re seeing it played out today in the Christian community. I mean, “If we don’t have feelings for each other; therefore, we’re out of love with one another.”
Brian: Right; and I think that what we need to do is we need to have, in our minds—we need to have a hierarchy of priorities. In a situation like that, if I were counseling a person, I would say, “You made a covenant before God to this woman. You’re going to keep your promise. This is a matter of integrity. It is a matter of commitment.” But, then, I would also address the issue of when you say, “I don’t love my wife,” or, “I don’t have feelings for my wife,” that is also an issue that needs to be addressed. I would say it’s actually a sin issue that needs to be addressed.
Bob: Well, and I like what—we had a pastor here recently who said, in that situation, he takes people to Revelation, Chapter 2. He says, “Here’s where the church has lost its first love. The instruction there is, ‘Repent. Return to the feelings you had at first and live those out.’” There is instruction that says, “Okay, so you’re not feeling it. Here’s what you do, and see if God can’t rekindle. See if He doesn’t rekindle some of that emotion back in you.”
Dennis: I think what’s happening in our culture today is we have created love and feelings and made them equal. Love can be a feeling, but it’s not always a feeling. It may, first and foremost, be a covenant and a commitment to another person. Sometimes the feelings are there; sometimes they’re not.
Barbara and I have had an extremely rich 39 years together. I mean, what a ride! What an incredible adventure and experience. Yet the number of hours, days, weeks, months, and years that have been lived without feelings fueling the relationship—I wouldn’t even know how to count them.
Most of life is not lived on the romantic plane! There are those moments, but you don’t live life there, where you’re falling helplessly under the control of romantic gravity and where you are just infatuated with each other.
Brian: Right; and you know, Dennis, I would want to make a distinction between—let’s say—romantic feelings of love and the idea that love can be emotionless. I realize, certainly, that we don’t live in the realm of romantic feelings all the time; but I think Paul, for instance in 1 Corinthians 13, would warn us about the attitude of doing the right things but not having love.
So I think that it’s possible for us to kind of swing too far to the other side to where we say, “Okay, look, I’m a covenant-keeper. I’ve never cheated. I bring home my check. I pay the bills. Of course, I’m a loving husband.” Well, that doesn’t necessarily follow.
Bob: I want to ask you about another scene in Scripture that’s kind of an interesting scene. It’s the scene in the life of David where his son is sick unto death, and David is grieving. The son dies; and we see David, all of the sudden, get up, stop grieving, get dressed, and go to worship.
He’s confronted about it and he says, “Well, when he was still alive, I was pleading for his life. Now that he’s dead, he can’t come to me; I’ll go to him,” and he goes and rejoices. I read that account and I wonder—families facing grief over the loss of a loved one—is it wrong for us to grieve over our loss when a husband, a wife, a father, a child is taken from us?
Brian: Absolutely not. In fact, if we go back to that definition of emotion as being reflective of what we value—when we lose a loved one, this side of heaven, we will grieve. The difference, though—there is a difference—and that is, even as Paul says, “We don’t grieve as those who have no hope.”
A lady in our church—a wonderful, wonderful Christian woman—married to a terrific Christian man for almost 40 years—vibrant marriage—just the kind of people you wanted to send others to and just hang out with these people and let some of this rub off on you. He ended up dying of pulmonary fibrosis shortly before his 71st birthday or so. It is a horrible disease.
He was preparing his own soul for heaven, which did a world of good for his wife. There are times where she feels darkness and loneliness, but it is the fact that her roots go deep down into Scripture—she has a hope. She knows where her husband is. She lives in light of eternity. That is what redeems her grief. It makes her grief have that element of hope to it.
Dennis: Yes, Brian, I agree with you. When a husband and a wife have journeyed together over a lifetime, and death takes one of them, and we know where they are, practically speaking, we have to give ourselves the freedom to miss the relationship—miss the richness of the other person’s love and the richness of memories that we’ve made with one another.
I think about the reverse, however, of two people who didn’t get along or two people who aren’t getting along, where there are other emotions that can begin to set in—emotions of bitterness, resentment, and an unforgiving heart. Speak to the person who is listening right now—and they may be at odds with a family member or someone outside their family. Emotionally, when you bring up that other person’s name, there’s a churn. Their stomach goes into knots. There’s something that’s just not right. What should they do?
Brian: Well, first of all, you have to recognize that that kind of bitterness is frequently the fruit of unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is a huge, huge issue in Scripture. We also need to remember that there is an emotional element to forgiveness and unforgiveness— both. When we start to actually become consumed with bitterness, we’re putting ourselves, spiritually, in harm’s way. So for that person who struggles with that, I would say that you need to go right back to Scripture and you need to see what the Bible says about forgiveness.
There are some pretty scary passages that deal with an unforgiving heart. Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 18. Peter thought he was being so generous, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother if he sins? Seven?” Of course, Peter thought he was being generous because the rabbis generally taught three; and once they get to three, then you are done—no more.
Jesus says, “No, seventy times seven.” And then He tells this parable and at the end—of course, you remember the parable in Matthew 18—at the end, Jesus says, “So shall your heavenly Father do to you if you do not forgive your brother from the heart.”
We need to realize that we have actually sinned against God more in one day than another human being could sin against us in a lifetime. We need to keep those scales clearly before our eyes. When we begin to realize that God, in Christ, has forgiven us of a mountain of sin that would have sunk us into hell, that is actually what empowers us to turn around and forgive somebody else.
Paul could say, “Forgive one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” The power to forgive and overcome bitterness is right there through God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
Dennis: Have you ever had to do that personally?
Brian: Yes; yes.
Dennis: Give me an illustration.
Brian: Well, we have a man (who is obviously unnamed). After a service, he came up and started swearing at me, using incredible profanity.
Dennis: After church?
Brian: Yes, after church.
Dennis: And you’re the pastor?
Brian: I’m the pastor; yes.
Dennis: Was it that bad of a sermon?
Brian: It was actually one of my better ones. So I couldn’t understand what he was so upset about. (Laughter) But he came up, and he actually started poking me in the face. One of our deacons was standing there, and I was expecting the deacon to give me a hand; and he just kind of watched. Anyway—“I love you brother!” (Laughter)
Anyway, the guy stormed out of the church; and through a number of circumstances, he came back. We told him he couldn’t come back until he repented, obviously. He came back with somewhat of a repentant attitude; but I did not realize how much bitterness I had in my heart until a very unfortunate circumstance happened in his life, and I did not show him the mercy that I should have.
It wasn’t until a year after, that he came to me and said, “You know, when you responded to me in that circumstance like that,” he said, “I just needed you to be there for me.” It was like the Spirit of God just revealed to me, “You have been harboring that resentment in your heart.” Now, I thought I had dealt with it; but I had been harboring that resentment. I asked him to forgive me right there on the spot because I realized that, in fact, I had been treating him in a way that I harbored resentment. The Bible tells us that we need to make sure no root of bitterness springs up in our heart and cuts us off from the grace of God.
Dennis: Forgiveness means we give up the right to punish another person. We give up all of our rights and we say, “I relinquish you from the debt that you incurred with me.”
Dennis: Someone poking you in the eye, cussing you out—that doesn’t feel good. What in the world? Why was he doing that? What was behind all of that, Brian?
Brian: He didn’t like the way I responded to his criticism of some of the songs that we sang. Some of the songs induced people to raise their hands.
Bob: Wow. You know, as we’ve talked this week about our feelings, we’ve tended to go toward those destructive emotions that can damage relationships. If you were going to fertilize and pour water on emotions that need to spring up and grow, what would a few of those be?
Brian: Compassion, joy, and love.
Bob: Those are some good ones.
Brian: I think so.
Dennis: And what would you do to water them, feed them, and nourish them?
Brian: Well, we need to remember that what we have in the Lord Jesus is the example par excellence. I have to qualify that Jesus is always more than our example. He is our Redeemer; but the Bible is also really clear we are to walk even as He walked—we’re to follow in His steps; we’re to imitate Him.
So, to water those emotions, I think we spend time looking at Jesus. We spend time with Jesus. B.B. Warfield had a great essay a number of years ago (a hundred years ago or so) on the emotional life of our Lord. He points out that, in the Gospels, the preeminent emotion that Jesus displays is compassion. I find that that is a challenge for me.
Brian: So you water those emotions with the truth of God’s Word, asking God to show you where you’re short and where those areas are deficient. You look to the Lord Jesus. I have a guarantee; and that is that the Spirit of God, if He is dwelling in me—He is conforming me more and more to the image of Christ. His desire is for me to be more like Jesus. So I can count on the fact that when I’m praying, “Make me more compassionate. Give me more love,” that He will do those things.
Dennis: That’s a good word.
Before I came in the studio here to do this broadcast, I was having a conversation with one of my co-workers here; and I looked at him and I said, “You’re far more compassionate than I am.” I have need in my life of doing what you’re talking about doing—looking more at the life of Jesus Christ and allowing His compassion to flow through me—not just looking at people through my own eyes, but looking at people through His eyes.
There’s one last assignment I want to give you that involves emotions. Before we’re done here, I want to ask you to step back in here—I’ve got a little assignment for you, Brian.
Bob: I tell you what, before you give that assignment, let me jump in here and let our listeners know how they can get a copy of Brian’s book, which is called Feelings and Faith, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; and there’s information there about Brian Borgman’s helpful book, Feelings and Faith. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; you can order from us online if you’d like, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and ask for a copy over the phone: 1-800-358-6329. Again, the book is called Feelings and Faith. When you get in touch with us, we’ll make arrangements to get a copy sent out to you.
Let me also say a quick word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with your financial gifts. We are listener-supported, and those donations are what make it possible for us to pay for the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. A number of you have told us that you find it helpful. In fact, I was just out recently with some of our listeners, and they were sharing with us about particular programs that God had used in their lives.
That’s always a great encouragement. We love hearing from listeners. We also appreciate it very much when you help support us by making whatever contribution you can make—whether it’s $20, or $30, or $50, or $100, or even more than that. We are grateful for your support!
If you help us with a donation this month, we’d like to send you a copy of Barbara Rainey’s book, Growing Together in Gratitude. It’s a devotional guide for families, all about how we cultivate a heart of thanksgiving in our own heart and in our children’s hearts. If you make your donation online at FamiyLifeToday.com, all you have to do is click the button that says, “I Care” and fill out the donation form. We will automatically send you a copy of Barbara’s book, along with a Thanksgiving prayer card.
If you call to make a donation at 1-800-FLTODAY, be sure to mention, when you make your donation, that you’d like the Thanksgiving devotional book; and we’ll be happy to send it to you. We do appreciate your support of this ministry and want to say, “Thanks,” to you for your partnership with us. Dennis—
Dennis: It’s been our privilege this week to talk with Brian Borgman about his book, Feelings and Faith, and helping Christians better understand the emotional component of their lives.
I know that your parents are really important to you. You write about them in your book and how they came to faith. I gave you the gift of a book, called The Tribute, which I wrote. To kind of give you a jumpstart on writing that tribute to your parents, I’m just wondering if you’d be willing to take the last few seconds of our broadcast here and address your mom and your dad and give them a verbal tribute for how they’ve built into your life and what they mean to you. Would you be willing to do that?
Brian: Of course; of course.
Mom and Dad, I know that you will probably listen to this. I want to tell you that you two have been an example to me of two people who have loved each other through thick and thin, and have always been there for each other, and never turned away from each other. That has been a model that has infused 23 years of marriage for me.
I want to thank you for what you have done. I want to thank you, Dad, for your quiet wisdom. Mom, I want to thank you for your undying love. I always have known that you loved me more than anything else in this world. I love both of you very much.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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