November 11, 2014

Emotions as Clues

It has often been implied that, as followers of Christ, we should be wary of our emotions. We should, it's been said, give greater attention to our beliefs and will and let the emotions follow behind like the caboose on a train. 
I understand the wariness; we can't build our beliefs about who God is and how He relates to us on the foundation of fluctuating emotion. However, I've found my emotions to be vitally important to my spiritual life, because they act as indicators of my beliefs. If my heart is overcome with jealousy, for instance, my emotions often recognize it before my mind does. On the other hand, if I've repented of said jealousy, there is an emotional component to the release and relief of God's forgiveness and restoration. So I've learned to listen to my emotions like I read lights on my car's dashboard: if a certain negative emotion is flaring, there is likely something going on in my heart that needs to filtered through the truth of the gospel.

A few weeks ago, I was living under a cloud of frustration and bitterness toward people. As is my tendency, my emotions led me for days before my mind jumped in. I just felt and felt, reacting to every little thing and creating for myself a negative cycle of emotion. Finally I stopped to think about it: Why am I so frustrated toward others when there has not been a specific circumstance to precipitate such a response? 

This took me deeper, from emotions to the beliefs and motivations that were driving them. I am frustrated because people are not responding the way I want them to respond to me. And what was it that I was wanting? To be frank, I wanted a response of love, approval, and appreciation. And whether I wasn't receiving it or I wasn't receiving what I perceived as enough, I don't know. All I know is that it was birthing an emotional response in me, a negative emotional response. Because it was sin and sin can't bear good fruit. 

Then I happened to read this passage in The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller:

"Gradually during those weeks it became clear to [Jack] that the reason for his anger and disappointment was his own wrong motivation for ministry. He realized that instead of being motivated only by God's glory, he was hoping for personal glory and the approval of those he was serving. He said that when he repented of his pride, fear of people, and love of their approval, his joy in ministry returned." 

Joy. Although joy is not always an emotion, it was in fact the emotion suffocated by my frustration and bitterness. The passage from the book made it so clear what was at the root of my emotions: a desire for personal glory. The fact that others wouldn't (and couldn't) give it was creating in me a great dysfunction and a well of negative emotions. How sickening to discover, as I considered who's glory I sought, how much what I was doing for others was motivated by self! How prideful I was to think I could swipe God's glory for myself!

When we confess and repent, God is so quick to forgive and restore. And how quick frustration and bitterness fall away and how quick joy returns when our hearts are for His glory!

This has become the question I ask myself as I start my day and look ahead to ministry opportunities: Am I doing this for my own glory or for God's glory? It has also become my prayer--a prayer that leads to joy, I might add--God, let me serve in this day, in this moment for Your glory. I want to bring honor to Your name!

Perhaps you are where I was a few weeks back--weary, burned out, annoyed, or frustrated. It may be that you just need a really good nap, but it may also be that you need to look at your emotions as clues to your underlying beliefs and motivations. Do you believe you're responsible for the spiritual growth of everyone around you? Are you looking for validation or approval from people? Or are you serving for your own personal glory? 

God, let us serve for Your glory alone! Let us bring honor to Your name, believing that You will give us joy in return.