Sanctifying Your Emotions
About the Guest
You feel happy, sad, or angry. But what are emotions, really? Pastor Brian Borgman explains that your emotions are indicators of what you really value, and that part of dealing with your emotions is changing your thoughts.
You feel happy, sad, or angry.
Sanctifying Your Emotions
Bob: There is such a thing as righteous anger; but let’s be honest, “Most of the time when we get angry, we’re not being particularly righteous.” In fact, the Bible says the anger of man does not produce or achieve the righteousness of God. Here’s Brian Borgman.
Brian: There are times where we think that getting angry is the way to get our way or getting angry is the way to control. Dealing with anger really begins by seeing what an ugly, horrible sin it is. The fact is, some of those things get imprinted on people’s souls; and it’s very serious stuff.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Anger is just one emotion that can get stirred up in our soul. What do we do with those emotions, and how do we deal with our anger? We’re going to talk about both of those questions today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m glad we’re going to tackle this subject because I think this is an area where there is confusion, where there’s not been a well-thought-through theology of how we understand our emotions. I’m glad we’re digging into this.
Dennis: I am too. I think every single person who is listening to our broadcast can benefit from a better understanding biblically of how they were made—their emotions. This will help husbands and wives as they relate to each other. Parents are shaping their children to better understand their emotions as well. I think what Brian Borgman has done here is going to be very helpful.
Brian, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Brian: Thank you.
Dennis: Brian is a pastor at Grace Community Church in Minden, Nevada; and he writes, “I live in beautiful northwest Nevada.” You said you started preaching at the age of 15. What did you preach on at 15?
Brian: The first sermon I preached was Matthew 6:33. It was the fastest, shortest sermon of my life.
Bob: (Laughing) You said everything you knew about the verse; right?
Dennis: It must have not been too bad because you’ve made a profession out of it.
Brian: Well, the Lord has been kind.
Dennis: Yes. Well, he’s also a writer. He and his wife Ariel have been married for more than 20 years. They have three children; and he’s written a book, Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life.
I have to ask you, “If I had known you growing up, would I have known you as an expressive person or more private, perhaps a little more unexpressive in your emotions?”
Brian: Well, I would probably have been a paradox to you because on the outside I would have been very reserved, very serious. I knew how to have fun, but I was not a very expressive person. But then I also was very emotional; and in fact, at a certain period of my Christian life, gravitated towards some extreme emotional expressions of Christianity.
Dennis: I think we do tend to make the assumption that people who don’t express their emotions, or feelings, or are maybe difficult to read, don’t have them. What you’re saying is, “They do.”
Brian: Correct. Correct.
Dennis: And the problem is most people don’t know how to identify what they’re feeling and really put a name to it.
Brian: Yes. There is a lot of what you could call emotional dysfunction—whether it is, “You run hot or you run cold,”—the fact is, “There’s a short-circuit somewhere, and the Bible addresses those things.”
Bob: God designed us to have emotions, to feel about things. Help us understand how that is a part of our soul, how God made us. What’s the feeling component? Am I saying it right by talking about our feelings when I talk about our emotions?
Brian: I would just say that emotions are more than feelings. Normally, when we talk about feelings, we’re just talking about the senses that we experience. Emotions, actually, are deeper than that but definitely related to that.
When we think about it, we actually need to start by thinking about God because, when we go to Scripture, the Bible is absolutely chock-full of a God who feels deeply and intensely. So if we’re made in His image and likeness, then the emotions actually are just going to be a part of what it means to be an image-bearer.
Dennis: What are some of those emotions that you’re talking about that God expresses?
Brian: There’s a whole panorama of them. For instance, God takes delight in His Son, Isaiah 42:1. He rejoices over His people, Zephaniah 3:17. He’s grieved; think of the flood narrative in Genesis 6. He is angry. It says in Psalm 95, “I loathed that generation,” speaking of the generation that wandered in the wilderness.
Then he uses imagery, for instance, in the Psalms and the Prophets, where he connects a brokenness of heart that He has over His people to a person who has experienced the unfaithfulness of a spouse—very, very graphic, vivid, intense language.
He compares Himself to a mother; Isaiah 49. The language of Scripture is just filled with God expressing a whole panorama of emotion.
Bob: And one of the things that separates us from the rest of creation is that we share in this aspect of God’s personality. Dogs don’t necessarily experience jealousy or experience anger. They can be provoked and they can growl, but they can’t experience deep love like we can as humans.
Brian: I have a golden retriever and she’s pretty special, and so I think that—
Dennis: When Bob was saying that, I was thinking, “Now he’s getting in trouble with all the pet owners. They’re going to say, ‘You do not know my cocker spaniel!’” (Laughter)
Bob: But you have a little more highly-defined emotions than your golden retriever; don’t you?
Brian: Yes, I do; hope I do.
Bob: So to be an image-bearer of God is to participate in these emotions; and yet, honestly, it feels like emotions often get us into a whole lot of trouble.
Brian: Right. I think that’s probably the basic reason why there are so many misperceptions about the emotions because our experience of them is normally not positive. And then, when we do have positive experiences, we don’t usually attach those to emotion. So there’s no doubt that sin has permeated the entirety of our being and has affected our emotional life as well.
Dennis: Early in our marriage, I made the mistake of proclaiming to a friend—I said, “You know, I can only remember a handful of times that I’ve ever been angry, just really ticked off.”
Bob: This was early in your marriage. (Laughter)
Dennis: I said early. I said that, Bob. And then one day when we had all six of our kids in a 600-square-foot, one-bathroom apartment for eight weeks in the summer, where I taught a graduate level class for Campus Crusade for Christ®, one of the kids, with his Big Wheel®, ran over my favorite fly rod.
As I was pitching a fit like a 14-year-old, Brian, I grabbed the fly rod. I was so ticked. I took it and finished breaking it into sticks, smaller, and smaller, and smaller. As I was doing that, the words that I had said some months earlier, saying, “You know, I can only count on my hand the number of times I’ve really gotten mad.” I thought, “I think I’ve been angry a few more times than I care to admit.”
Dennis: Most Christians don’t know what to do with these emotions. You talk about our emotions being sanctified. Now that’s a big word. What do you mean, “Having your emotions sanctified,” other than helping me become clothed and in my right mind when I’m dealing with my favorite fly rod being crushed?
Brian: Well, one of the mistakes that we make is that we think that our emotions are sovereign over our lives, and that we are just subject to however we feel.
Bob: “I can’t help how I feel.”
Brian: “I can’t help it.” I’ve had people in my office tell me, “I’m getting a divorce.” I’d say, “You don’t have biblical grounds for a divorce;” and they’d say, “Well, I found somebody else; and I’m in love, and I can’t help the way I feel.” So we have this misperception that the emotions are absolutely sovereign and just rule us, and we have to obey them.
So, anger, desire—all those things are seen to just rule over us. The Bible does not present that as our lot in life. The Bible tells us that we are actually filled and controlled by God’s Spirit if we’re believers; and part of the Fruit of the Spirit, of course, is self-control. We are to be people who have sober judgment, sound minds.
When we talk about “sanctifying the emotions”—what we’re talking about is actually doing basically two things. On the one hand, putting to death ungodly or sinful emotions or emotional displays; and on the other hand, bringing into existence and growth godly emotions.
My premise is that the Bible is actually, not only authoritative in telling me how to live, but it’s also authoritative in telling me how to feel. So the Bible can tell me, “to rejoice.” The Bible can tell me, “to be angry and not sin.” The Bible can tell me, “mourn with those who mourn,” “weep with those who weep,” “rejoice with those who rejoice,” “forgive from the heart.”
So my premise is that our fundamental assumption that the emotions rule us is just flat out wrong. That’s mostly our experience, but the Bible shows us a different way.
Bob: Alright. So let me take you to Dennis’ apartment and the fly rod. He walks in; he sees the Big Wheel going over the fly rod. Instantly, this thing happens in him. Here’s this rod that he loves, and it’s been ruined; and he can’t help the—
Dennis: No. Uh-uh.
Bob: Could you have stopped that feeling from coming up inside of you?
Dennis: Sure. Well, I could have controlled it, rather than allowing it to control me. I would say, “When I described myself like a 14-year-old throwing a fit, it was describing a grown man who was allowing his emotions to rule over him.”
And that’s what I hear you saying, Brian. We’re not to allow our emotions to rule over us. We’re to have the Holy Spirit of God control us and, therefore, bring about what you’re talking about, Bob—which is a check. There’s a check on those emotions of anger that keeps them from being displayed like I did.
Bob: So, I understand you’re talking about a sanctified response; but my question to you, Brian, is, “That feeling that he had—that he just let control his actions—are we able to control the feeling itself?”
Brian: That’s a great question, and here is part of the answer. We need to remember that our emotions actually are an indicator of what we value. In other words, the emotions are a response to the way we perceive and the way we value and evaluate things. The reason you get so angry is because you loved your fly rod. Okay?
And there are a lot of great examples that you could think of, of how the emotions actually express what you value. You can’t get angry by just thinking about anger; you actually have to have an object. There has to be something that actually provokes that in you—same thing with joy or any other of the arrays of emotion.
So the question is, “Could he actually stop that surge?” I don’t necessarily think that we will attain a level of sanctification to where we never feel that kind of thing; but the proper biblical response is, “What do you do with it?”
Dennis: “What do you do with the surge?”
Bob: But I also hear you saying, “Dennis might not have had the same visceral feeling if he had not made an idol out of that fly rod in the first place.”
Dennis: I knew you were going to spiritualize this.
Bob: Let’s just get it out on the table. He had made an idol out of his fly rod.
Dennis: I just want you to know, Brian, that fly rod was a sanctified fly rod. I only went fishing on Sundays with it. (Laughter)
Brian: You know, Bob, I’d have to agree with your assessment. I think it was pure heart idolatry.
Dennis: Brian, I want to remind you. Who is the host of the broadcast? And we’re hoping to do a couple more shows with you. (Laughter)
But I’m looking at the clock, and I’m thinking it’s time—
Bob: Boy, we’re out of time; got to end this right now.
Dennis: You know, we’re laughing about this; but there are some wives who have leaned awfully close to the radio and they’ve said, “Now wait a second. I’m married to a man who is violent in his emotion, scary in his emotion.” And he’s not even in the ballgame we’re laughing about here.
I mean, I didn’t take my anger out at a person. Now, my kids saw me get ticked and then I apologized later on; but we’re talking about some folks, and sometimes it’s women too, who have a short fuse and phew! They’re off! They’re ticked! What do you say to that person because they evidently are allowing both the surge and acting out the surge to be a part of their visible demonstration of their emotions.
Brian: Unfortunately, for wives who suffer from the anger and wrath of a husband, there’s not a whole lot that we can say to them that fixes their husband. We know that, but part of dealing with the emotions is actually starting to learn to think differently.
If we start to think about anger correctly, we have to start with a passage like James 4, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?”—great question; right? You want to stop somebody in their tracks; ask them. We’re driving down the road one time on family vacation, and my kids were little. They’re all in the back seat of the van, and they’re bickering and arguing. I said, “You guys stop. Stop!”
I said, “Ashley, do you have a Bible back there?” She said, “Yes, Daddy.” I said, “Turn to James, Chapter 4. Read the first verse.” She reads, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” I said, “Stop! Isn’t that a really relevant question right now?”
If I could just paraphrase what James says, it is basically, “We have desires that are unmet; and when those desires are unmet, then we go to war. We look at anybody that stands in the way of meeting those desires as being the enemy, and we have to start thinking properly about the emotions.” That is, in a sense, one of the major premises of Feelings and Faith. With the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s Word, that really can happen. The fact is, I’ve seen it happen in people’s lives.
Dennis: I think one of the best things we do at the Weekend to Remember® is a section where we talk about conflict between a husband and a wife. We talk about what they feel and how anger is usually a secondary emotion to having been hurt or disappointed. We help husbands and wives begin to put names and labels to that which they’re feeling and their spouse is feeling; and then, we begin to equip them to know what to do with it when they fail—not if they fail—because we all are going to fail.
What do you do with hurt when you take your emotion out on your spouse and you need to double back and say, “Sweetheart, I need to ask your forgiveness”? Or, like I did with my fly rod, I got down on one knee with my kids; and I looked them in the eye and I said, “Okay, you all shouldn’t have run over my fly rod; but I shouldn’t have gotten angry. I need to ask you to forgive me.”
Our emotions are given by God, almost like a red light on a dashboard, to tell us, “Something’s not right and something needs to be dealt with here.” You need to grow with respect to what you’re feeling—and not just unleash what you’re feeling all the time—not just say every word that you’re thinking. Measure your words carefully.
This is where the Bible—Brian, you’re a preacher, you know this as well—the Bible really can instruct how we think and how we feel.
Brian: Amen. Amen. You know, the whole thing about, “What do we do when we blow it?” I can’t tell you how important it is, especially for husbands and fathers who are listening, to actually go to your spouse or your kids and actually just ask for forgiveness and acknowledge specifically what you’ve done.
I’ve had women over the years tell me, “I’ve been married for X amount of years, and my husband has never admitted that he’s wrong, let alone ask for forgiveness.” And yet, it is part of the process of actually dealing with our sin—in this case, sinful emotional displays—that brings about that reconciliation process.
Bob: You know, I think it’s interesting, too, that we start off a conversation talking about the emotional side of humanity and our feelings; and we pretty quickly run right to anger. Is it the emotional issue—is it the most destructive of the emotions that we experience; do you think?
Brian: Yes. I did a men’s retreat the week before last up in Oregon, and they wanted me to do something along these lines of the emotions in two practical messages. You know what I did?—lust and anger. Those are just–the anger is always right there; it’s always so prevalent. I would say that, in marriage, it’s one of the most destructive things that can happen. So yes, anger is always right up there.
Dennis: I have to ask you this question because it’s blazing across my mind, “Do you call lust an emotion?”
Brian: Sure. Absolutely. In the Bible, the idea of lust is actually a neutral idea—it is desire. The Greek word does not have a moral connotation to it; it depends on the context. So you could have a desire for food; you could have a desire to the office of overseer, I Timothy 3:1; or you could have what the old-timers might have called an illicit desire for a woman that’s not your wife.
That desire is definitely—there’s an emotional component to it.
Dennis: I think what I just demonstrated is how we started this broadcast, which is, “We’re really pretty biblically illiterate about the emotional dimension of who we are and how we reflect the character of God.” You started out by quoting how God has desires—He delights in us—in Scripture.
I think we really need to do a better job of studying this for ourselves as single people, married people, parents—so that we can, not only have better relationships, but also so we can equip the next generation of children to know how to relate when they get into the most intimate of all relationships, marriage.
Bob: As you said, we’ve not thought deeply about the subject of emotions; but Brian has, and thankfully we have his book to help us. It’s called Feelings and Faith, and we have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of the book Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman.
The website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com; or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY, that’s
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I want to quickly mention a project that Dennis is working on right now. Dennis wrote a book a number of years ago called Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date, a book for dads of teenage daughters so that those dads can be protectors when young men begin to pursue their daughters.
What we realized after Dennis wrote the book is that there are a lot of parents of teenage boys who are going, “The roles are reversed, and the girls are pursuing our boys; and we’re not sure what to do about that.” So Dennis is working right now on a book called Aggressive Girls; and we’d love to hear your story, your experience, your question, what you’ve done about this, as parents, as your boys have approached the teen years.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and there’s a link there that says, “Aggressive Girls.” If you’ll click on that link, it will take you to an area of the site where you can leave us some feedback, ask any questions you have, or share your story with us. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; and you click on the link that says, “Aggressive Girls”. We hope to hear from you.
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And we hope you’ll be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation on the subject of emotions and how we’re to understand them—our faith and our feelings. We’re going to talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today—his name is Keith Lynch—and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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