Friday, October 18, 2013

When Emotions Run Riot

As I grow more mature in Christ, He makes me more aware of my sin -- I can't get close to His light without seeing the darkness of sin in my life.  One of the things He has shown me lately is that I sin the most when my emotions are running high.  I get angry and say hurtful things to the people I love; I am sad and take more comfort in food that in my Savior; I become anxious and try to handle the pressures of life myself instead of joyfully casting them upon the Lord.  

Thankfully, God never shows me a problem area in my life without showing me the solution.  As I've read and studied the Bible, I've seen more clearly the emotions that many of the heroes of the faith have had.  The difference between them and me is simple but powerful.  When they faced an emotionally charged situation, the first thing they did was pray.

I noticed this habit first in Samuel.  In 1 Samuel 8, when the people of Israel demanded a king, it was "displeasing in the sight of Samuel" (8:6).  Although there is no strong emotion word here, I can imagine he was not dispassionately displeased.  The people first called him old, then criticized his sons, then demanded a king.  I imagine he was pretty hot under the collar.  What did he do?  He prayed. Immediately.  Then he obeyed the command God gave to him through that prayer.

I've been reading Nehemiah in my daily Bible reading.  Nehemiah was a passionate man, and he was a good example of someone who prayed without ceasing.  When he first heard that the Jews in Jerusalem were distressed and the wall broken down, there is no doubt about his feelings.  He wept and mourned for days (Nehemiah 1:4). In the same breath, he says he also fasted and prayed before the Lord.  As a result, God gave him favor with the king so that he was able to go repair the wall.  Later, when the people from other nations were mocking them, Nehemiah again goes directly to God in prayer instead of replying in kind (Nehemiah 4:4).

As ever, Jesus is the best example for us.  I love that we see the full range of emotions from our Savior.  It shows us that God gave us those feelings, and that they are good.  When Jesus was feeling strong emotions, he prayed too, most notably in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The gospel of Matthew said he was grieved and distressed to the point of death.  He didn't simply talk to his friends; He didn't talk to himself (as I often do when distressed).  He prayed.  He begged God to allow him to avoid suffering, even as he affirmed his commitment to obey the Father.  

In all of these cases, obedience seems to be one direct result of prayers.  Samuel obeyed the Lord and warned the people what a king would do.  Nehemiah continued building the wall until it was finished.  Jesus suffered crucifixion so that we could have a way to God.  Feelings were running riot, yet obedience through faith prevailed.

Coincidentally (or not), I read these stories at a particular time of the month when my emotions tend to get the best of me. (Ahem.)  The previous month had not been pretty, and I was dreading a repeat.  One evening, I came back home from a school meeting and started feeling angry at my husband for all the things he didn't do while I was gone. (The anger was completely unjustified, by the way. He had been very helpful).  With the Bible fresh on my mind, I immediately began to pray.  I prayed for a grateful heart.  I prayed for a positive attitude.  I prayed that I would not lose my cool.  It worked.  Well, mostly.  He knows me too well not to know that something was up.  But I was able to thank him honestly for his help that night.  A year ago I would have yelled.  A month ago I would have slammed things around.  Through prayer, I was able to overcome my emotional tendency to sin. As the week went on, I continued to spend time in prayer.  Obedience through faith became easier.  

God gave us emotions for a reason.  They are part of what make us human.  Since God has emotion too (Deuteronomy 4:21; 1 Samuel 12:22; Genesis 6:6; Zephaniah 3:17), perhaps feelings are part of how we are created in his image. Can you imagine living life with nothing but cold logic?  I'm glad we can feel happiness, surprise, excitement, and even sadness.  Sometimes, though, we let our emotions get out of hand and sin is the result.  If you've noticed that in your own life as I did in mine, learn from Samuel, Nehemiah, and Jesus.  When you start to feel those strong emotions that might lead to sin, say a prayer!    
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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