Where do Emotions Lead You?


I was reading my bible the other day and a line from 1 Samuel 13 hit me like a ton of bricks. In this story, King Saul is once again at war with the Philistines. He is waiting for the prophet Samuel to show up to perform the sacrifices before beginning the battle. Saul has waited seven days and his troops are scattering because nothing is happening and they are intimidated by the Philistines. So, knowing he needs the Lord, and wanting to bring him glory, Saul performs the sacrifices himself.

As Saul is finishing up performing the sacrifices, Samuel shows up and scolds him. Saul responds to Samuel saying, “I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.” (1 Samuel 13:12)

I realized Saul is wanting to seek the favor of the Lord (not a bad thing), offering sacrifices (why is that bad?), acknowledging who God is (not a bad thing), and looking to lead his troops well (also a good thing). He even is feeling compelled to do it. Saul feels an emotional leading to do something that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. So what is wrong with this?

I think we have a tendency to over-spiritualize the emotion we feel when difficulty or something unexpected arises. I’m not saying emotion is a bad thing. A little later in Samuel, David, who is called the man after God’s own heart, is so emotional!!! So where is the emotion leading astray rather than contributing to us being men and women after God’s own heart?

I see a couple of things we can learn from this story. Saul was instructed to wait for Samuel, and Samuel didn’t show up when he was supposed to. But Saul was instructed to wait, and there was no word of the Lord that changed this direction. Circumstances had changed and time had passed but there was no new word.So, we can say that Saul’s compulsion was against the direction of God.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19). We might say these things arise from the old self, and those of us in Christ are not that same person anymore. But don’t we still sometimes hand our hearts over to our old self? The heart seems to deceive us at times and direct us towards destruction.

What breaks my heart is that Saul has some blind spots, some insecurities that keep pulling him down. I often write off Saul as having fully turned away from God. But he is still trying to please God and gain his favor. Insecurity and fear of losing troops drive his decision. It is not obedience, it is not holding to the word of God, to what God said which determines his actions. It is out of his fearful heart that disobedience pours out. He sees no alternative. It is what he feels compelled to do, what he must do.

So how do we embrace emotion without being ruled by it? I think the first step is to not ignore or try and suppress emotions. Too often we see emotion as a sign of weakness or irrational thinking. I have noticed recently as I read scripture, how Jesus is often hit with compassion for people and it results in action, or he gets angry and flips some tables. Emotion is very much a part of who Jesus is. I have already mentioned David. Try and get through one of his psalms, or a story about him, without observing intense emotions.

Next, I think we need to check in with God: God is this you? Are these emotions good? What are you saying in the midst of this? What did you say before this happened? We could call this a quick discernment. I often say that emotions feel foreign to me. I have been on a journey of opening myself back up to emotions. There was a moment where I had to repent of saying I don’t feel emotions. I found out emotions area way God can speak and share things with us. How could I close myself off to that? What I have found since is emotions are a great prompter to check in with God. When I feel emotion I ask, “Is this you God? Am I trusting you? Am I picking up on something? Are you trying to tell me something?”

I remember a couple of years ago having an argument with my sister, Lisa, in the car. Things began to get heated. I suddenly realized I did not care about the thing we were arguing about, and said to myself, ”Hold on a minute, why am I mad?” It turned out there was a phrase and an assumption made that had very little to do with the conversation which caused righteous anger in me. Lisa showed so much grace as I told her what I was actually upset about. A great conversation ensued with both of us on the same side, with God, trying to figure out what was good and right. It turned out great, but my jumping on emotion instead of asking God those preliminary questions could have completely derailed us! The good news is God does show grace as we try and figure our emotions out.

I think another thing to ask God at this step in the process is whether to act on this emotion or not. Is it just a feeling that demands no action? I have been learning how pride can derail us. The urgency we feel at times is God-given and at times is our needing to fix everything because we don’t trust God as the hero in the story.

I feel compelled to say our Father in heaven is so gracious with us. As we learn and surrender, he covers our blunders and redeems our failures. As we learn to trust him with emotions, we become more healthy and trustworthy as his agents. Let us be quick to surrender to God, our solid foundation.

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