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  • Daniel Botkin

The Use and Misuse of Emotion


As humans, we are creatures of emotion. We are capable of experiencing a very wide range of emotions, from deep depression to hilarious, giddy ecstasy, and everything in between. Our Creator equips us with the ability to feel various emotions, so emotion is something good - if it is used properly, and not misused.

Emotions and feelings are misused when people use them to determine Biblical truths and doctrines, or when people use them to make serious decisions that have long-term or lifetime consequences.

Biblical truth is determined by what is written in the Scriptures, not by how someone “feels” about it. How you or I “feel” about a Biblical topic is irrelevant. So many times the following happens:

You share a plain, unambiguous, easy-to-understand Biblical truth with an unbeliever or with a carnal Christian. They respond by saying, “That doesn’t set well with me. It doesn’t feel right. That idea doesn’t fit with the way I feel about God. That idea doesn’t seem right.”

How you “feel” about it and how it “seems” to you has no bearing on whether or not it is true, because “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).

Some people say, “I just follow my heart, I trust what my heart tells me.” But Proverbs 28:26 says, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.”

Why is it foolish to trust in your own heart? Because Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Emotions and feelings are important, but people who depend on their emotions and feelings to determine truth end up creating a false “God” in their own image and likeness. They worship a “God” who thinks the way they feel God should think. Their “God” cares only about the things that are important to them.

Such people need to heed a lesson from Job. After Job and his three friends ended their long, rambling exchange of their personal ideas about God, God broke into the conversation and addressed Job. Then He spoke to Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, and said, “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath” (Job 42:7).

If you say things about God that are not true, you might kindle His wrath against you. So do not use your emotions and feelings to determine what is true or false.

I am not suggesting that you always totally ignore all your feelings. Sometimes you might hear some new doctrine that just does not seem to ring true. You may not immediately be able to pinpoint exactly what the error is, but it just smells very fishy. This uneasiness, when it is from the Lord, is what some people call “a red flag” or “a check in the spirit.”

I experienced a “check in my spirit” many years ago when I began attending some meetings at someone’s home with a small group of Christian friends. The meetings were very intense and exciting and stimulating. The people were very passionate and very serious about doing the will of God. We came away from each meeting with a sense of awe. Yet I had an uneasy check in my spirit. Something seemed wrong. I felt drawn to these people (as did my friends), but I also felt very uneasy (as did my friends). I could not put my finger on it, but something seemed very wrong.

I was struggling back and forth in prayer, asking God why I had this uneasy feeling. As I prayed, I remembered that Joseph told Pharaoh, “God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen. 41:16).

“Lord,” I prayed, “if You were willing to give that heathen Pharaoh an answer of peace, then surely You will give me an answer of peace.” Then I left it in God’s hands.

Within a few days, I realized from the Scriptures what the root of their error was. I shared it with my friends, and they told me that they too had been feeling very restless and uneasy in their spirits. When I shared with them from the Scriptures what the error was, they saw the light, and we all withdrew from that group. When I later shared with the leaders of that heretical group why we had withdrawn from them, they did not see the light. They just started yelling prophecies of gloom and doom at me. They could not deal with the Biblical facts I presented, so they resorted to an emotional outburst. They went deeper into darkness, and a short time later their leader was sent to prison for child abuse, and the group disbanded.

So feelings can sometimes alert us to error. However - and this is very important - we must not declare a teaching erroneous based only on our feelings. We have no right to say, “That seems weird and creepy to me, so it therefore has to be false.” When I rejected the teaching of that heretical group, I did so on a Scriptural basis, on solid Biblical arguments that even they could not refute.

When you accept or reject a doctrine, do it on the basis of Scripture, not on the basis of your emotions and feelings. Some people are drawn into cults on the basis of emotions, and some people are drawn away from Biblical truths on the basis of emotions.

Emotions, if not submitted to the rule of the Holy Spirit, are like wine and strong drink. Just as wine and strong drink cloud judgment, so our emotions and feelings can run wild and cloud judgment.

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). The truth expressed in this proverb goes deeper than physical drunkenness. There is a spiritual drunkenness that can result from following your emotions and swallowing intoxicating false doctrines. Isaiah wrote about this spiritual drunkenness:

“Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath He covered. And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed” (Isa. 29:9-12).

In the above verses, religious people - prophets, rulers, seers, the learned - are all spiritually drunk. Their spiritual senses are too numb to discern spiritual truth.

“But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean” (Isa. 28:7f).

Sadly, that is an accurate description of the spiritual condition of many apostate churches.

What physical drunkenness does to the physical senses, spiritual drunkenness does to the spiritual senses.

Drunkenness often makes a person proud and arrogant. At the beginning of Isaiah chapter 28, two times a crown of pride is mentioned: “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim... The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet” (Isa. 28:1 & 3).

The drunker a person gets, the more pride, self-assurance, and false sense of security he acquires. “I can drive! Gimme those keys! I don’t need a taxi!” People who are spiritually drunk sometimes say, “I can preach and teach and lead a congregation! Gimme that Bible! I don’t need any training or experience or accountability to anyone!”

Physical intoxication happens when you take too many intoxicating drinks into your body. Spiritual intoxication happens when you take too many intoxicating ideas into your spirit. Spiritual “wine” and “strong drink” are ideas, beliefs, and opinions that are first of all erroneous, and second of all toxic and dangerous.

Some beliefs are erroneous but not toxic. “The Bible says that Eve ate an apple, and that there were three wise men at Jesus’ birth, and that the disciples were in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, and that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she met Jesus.” The Bible does not say any of those things, but those ideas are not dangerous. Some erroneous ideas, however, are very toxic.

Some toxic ideas are like wine, and others are like strong drink. What is the difference between wine and strong drink? Wine has a sweet, pleasant taste and is easy to swallow. Strong drink is neither sweet nor pleasant nor easy to swallow. That is the reason strong drink is usually mixed with water or soda or some other non-alcoholic drink to dilute it.

An example of a toxic idea that is like wine would be universalism, the belief that every soul will be in God’s kingdom, that no one will go to hell and be permanently excluded from God’s kingdom. That’s a very sweet notion, because who wants to see souls go to hell and be forever excluded from God’s kingdom?

An example of a toxic idea that is like strong drink would be extreme exclusivity. “We and we alone are the one and only true Body of Christ in the earth. Those who are not with our group are not truly part of the Body of Christ.” Or, on an individual level, a man who begins to think that he is God’s man for his generation, that he is the one who bears the Elijah mantle at this time in history, that he is the one who people will follow if they are really in tune with the Spirit, and all those who have no interest in following him obviously are not in tune with what the Spirit is saying to His people at this hour.

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging.” False ideas that are like wine can make people into mockers. They become glib and mock at the notion of souls being forever excluded from God’s kingdom. False ideas that are like strong drink can make people rage. “If you don’t follow us, you are not part of the Body of Christ!” “If you don’t acknowledge me as God’s man for this hour in history, you will have no part in His-Story!”

Yes, ideas like that are very intoxicating! And the people who believe the braggarts and join them will soon find themselves imbibing the same spirit and proclaiming the same nonsense.

Do not use your emotions and feelings to determine the truth or error of any teaching you hear. And do not use your emotions and feelings to make important decisions that will have long-term or lifetime consequences. When you need to make an important decision, base your decision on these things:


1. Scripture. Make sure that your decision will keep you within the boundaries of God’s commandments. In other words, don’t do something if it requires you to walk contrary to the commandments of the Bible.


2. Prayer. Pray with all sincerity and ask the Lord to show you what to do. Be totally honest with Him. Ask Him to open and close the right doors. Ask Him to stop you if you are making a bad decision, and mean it with all your heart.


3. Counsel. Talk to older, wiser believers whom you know and respect. Ask them to pray with you, and be totally honest with them about your options. Seriously and prayerfully consider whatever advice they give you.


4. Check motives. Examine yourself. If it is a ministry-related decision, do you want to do this for the Lord’s glory, or for your own benefit? Are you willing to accept “No” for an answer? Are you willing to be redirected later if the answer is “Yes”?


5. Wait. Don’t rush into something serious if you are not sure. If there is not a deadline, you can afford to wait until you have confirmation from the Lord.


6. Make your decision If you have prayed, sought counsel, checked your motives, and if you see nothing in Scripture that forbids what you want to do, and if you have no check in your spirit but rather peace in your heart, then make your decision and start moving toward your goal. And remember that your heavenly Father loves you enough to redirect you if you are slightly off course. We see an example of this in Acts 16:6-10, when the Lord redirected Paul and his team of disciples as they attempted to go to various places. And don’t be stressed about every little detail. As one preacher said, the Good Shepherd leads you out to pasture, but He does not tell you which tuft of grass to chew on.


That’s enough about misusing emotions. Now let’s consider the proper use of emotions.

Anyone who thinks that Biblical faith is supposed to be an emotionless, subdued, quiet faith is mistaken. Just read the Psalms and you will see emotions expressed on every page.

There are so many examples of emotional expressions of worship and praise and prayer in Psalms that I don’t even need to give you chapter and verse numbers. Look for yourself. See the wide range of emotions eloquently expressed throughout Psalms. See how many times the word “praise” appears. Then get a Hebrew lexicon and look up the definitions of the various Hebrew words that are translated into English as “praise.” You will discover that Biblical praise often gets very emotional. It includes actions such as shouting, celebrating, robust singing, extending the hands, loudly addressing God, boasting of God, and even being “clamorously foolish.”

“Daniel, that sounds like a modern-day Pentecostal meeting to me.” Yes, it does, but this sort of praise predates the modern Pentecostal movement by thousands of years. It might sound “Pentecostal” to you, but it’s actually just Biblical.

Some people are reluctant to express their emotions in praise and worship. “I’m shy. I don’t want to draw attention to myself. It’s not the way I’m used to worshipping. I don’t really feel like praising the Lord that way.”

There you go with those “feelings” again! Do not avoid these methods of praising the Lord because of your feelings. Your feelings and emotions are not given to you to help you determine whether or not you should praise the Lord. That question is already answered in the Bible:

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

One of the reasons you were called out of darkness is so that you will show forth God’s praises. Your emotions and feelings are given to you to help you do that, and the book of Psalms is given to you to provide you with examples and models of legitimate forms of praise and prayer.

I understand that some people are naturally shy and quiet, and audibly praising the Lord seems awkward and unnatural to them. You may not know it, but I too am naturally shy and quiet. I do not feel shy when I speak to a big crowd of over a thousand people at a big conference, but I usually feel a bit shy and awkward speaking to people one-on-one, at least until I get to know them. But I do not let my shy, quiet personality stop me from praising the Lord. When I realized many years ago that audibly praising the Lord like David did in the Psalms is the Biblical norm, I crucified my pride and began to praise the Lord in spite of my shyness.

Audibly praising the Lord does not mean that you always have to have the volume at 10 and be loud and boisterous to the point of being obnoxious. There may be times when you are so emotionally charged that you want to be loud and boisterous. But there may be other times when your emotions cause you to quietly whisper your praises and prayers. The important thing is to be willing to audibly and emotionally express your feelings to the Lord, and to let your emotions be ruled by the Spirit.

It is also important to remember that the Bible speaks about a “sacrifice of praise” which is described as “the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15). If we are sad or otherwise “not in the mood” to praise the Lord, we sometimes have to take authority over our feelings and say to ourselves, “I’m going to praise the Lord anyway. I’m going to offer some words of praise as a sacrifice.”

We see David doing this in Psalm 103, where he actually addresses his own soul. He starts the psalm by saying, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” David goes on to list many of those benefits, then near the end of the psalm he calls on others to bless the LORD - angels, hosts, ministers, even all of God’s works - and ends the psalm by repeating “Bless the LORD, O my soul.”

In Psalm 42 and Psalm 43, we likewise see the psalmist talking to his own soul, asking his soul why it is cast down, and encouraging it to hope in God: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Ps. 42:5 & 43:5).

If we follow David’s example, we will praise the Lord even in difficult times. In Psalm 34:1 David says, “I will bless the LORD at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” This is quite remarkable when you consider the fact that this psalm was written when David had to save his life by acting insane and letting his spit and drool run down his beard while he scrabbled on the door. Even at such a time as this, David was able to say “I will bless the LORD at all times.”

The power of praise can be seen in the story of King Jehoshaphat. Several big armies banded together to attack Judah. Judah was greatly outnumbered. The Jews assembled in Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat prayed. “O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? For we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee” (2 Chron. 20:12).

A prophet spoke and told the nation not to fear, “for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chron. 20:15). The next morning King Jehoshaphat appointed singers to praise the beauty of holiness, and told the singers to march out ahead of the army.

As the singers sang and praised the Lord, the heathen armies were all destroyed by other heathen armies. “And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped” (2 Chron. 20:24). The Jews did not even need to fight. They just praised the Lord, and the Lord took care of the enemy.

Praise is powerful. Through praise, the Jews in King Jehoshaphat’s day were spared. Praise from David’s harp drove away the demon from King Saul. Praise is powerful because God “inhabits the praises of Israel” (Ps. 22:3).

Emotion is a gift from God. Use your emotions to put some pop and pizazz into your praise, some power, punch, and potency into your prayers, some stamina and strength into your singing, some feeling and fire into your faith, some wattage into your worship, some dynamite and drive into your devotion, some animation and adrenalin into your adoration, some energy, electricity, and exhilaration into your exaltation, some vim, vigor, and vitality into your veneration, some stimulation and snap into your song service, some life and liveliness into your liturgy. But don’t use your emotions to determine doctrinal truth.


| DB

 

Image: Psalm 47 by Daniel Botkin from his Psurrealistic Psalms Pseries. Peruse all of Daniel’s art galleries on his art website: DanielBotkin.com.

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