Scripture tells us, “Our life is lived by faith. We do not live by what we see in front of us.” (2Corinthians 5:7) I would add to that, “… or by what you feel”.
We live in the day and age of feelings. Feelings rule us. They’ve taken over the world. If we don’t feel it, there’s no legitimate or genuine reason to do it. If my behavior isn’t supported by my feelings I’m a hypocrite. I’m being phony. Nowhere does this cause more problems than in my walk with God.
The biggest stumbling block to living by faith hasn’t been my reason but my feelings. In the past I doubted by salvation because it didn’tfeelreal or I couldn’t feelGod’s love. There were times I wouldn’t worship because I feltmy heart was in it. I’d refuse to forgive because I didn’t feelI could. I fall into sin because it feelsbetter than obedience.
In the words of Eugene Peterson, “feelings are great liars.” Feelings are important in a lot of ways, but completely untrustworthy in matters of faith. The world has made an idol of our emotions. To which Paul Ehrman Scherer, former Professor at Union and Princeton Seminaries commented, “The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.” It focuses us on a life governed by faith in him rather than our feelings. Feelings aren’t wrong. Even Jesus had feelings. He didn’t try not to feel. He didn’t hide his emotions instead, like the psalmists, he took them into his relationship with his Father. He was always honest and real. But he didn’t confuse faith with his feelings because they felt right, good or convincing. His actions were determined by his Father’s will alone.
In the same way, we’re called to live by faith rather than our feelings. Our actions are to be based not on our feelings but on what God says and calls us to do. We don’t believe because of how it makes us feel but because of what Scripture says about it. God’s Word should inform our feelings, not the other way around. Over the years there were countless Sundays I showed up for church in no mood to worship or give thanks. But because God commanded me to I made myself do it and ended up feeling uplifted and in a much better frame of mind. Years ago, I served at a soup kitchen in Times Square with a group of men from my church. There were lots of times, sitting on that long pre-dawn subway ride, feelingsleepy, cold; feelingless than enthusiastic, I looked for an excuse to turn around and go back home and get back to bed. But I kept my feelings in check and showed up to serve anyway simply because God commands me to care for “the least of these”. And strangely, by the end of those long, smelly, stressful mornings dealing with homeless, often mentally burnt-out people, I found myself on cloud nine as I walked across town to my office. I felt energized and alive! Close to Jesus. The fact was, I didn’t feel my way into obedience, I obeyed my way into a new way of feeling.
One of the biggest obstructions to living a vibrant and fruitful life of faith is giving into the tyranny of our emotions. God created us in his image and part of that image is that we are emotional beings. Feelings are necessary and helpful servants but they are terrible rulers. That job belongs to God and God alone. You and I have to learn to trust that reality and allow his Word, by his Spirit, birth an obedient spirit in us.