Our society teaches us to place a lot of value on feelings and emotions. We’re told to “do what feels right”, “do what makes you happy”, and “follow your heart”. Now it might seem super obvious to say that as followers of Christ we aren’t supposed to live this way. And yet…how often do we let experience and feelings guide us rather than facts?
I’ve had this topic on my mind for several weeks now. I seriously keep seeing it pop up in my life over and over again. I’m realizing that looking to fact and truth is a conscious decision I need to continue to make every day- it’s not necessarily something that comes naturally. Satan loves to play off of feelings and convince us that feelings and emotions should take the lead. The Bible even clearly tells us that our own hearts or emotions can deceive us.
When my sister and I started the discipleship course in Colorado back in April, there was an illustration in one of our lessons that really stayed with me and I continuously return back to it. I’d like to share it with you.
Three characters have been assigned the impossible task. The three characters are Fact, Faith, and Experience. The impossible task is to walk a razor-thin ridgepole, high up on a barn. Fact goes first and has no problem completing this task. We can also refer to Fact as Truth, or, the Word of God. Now it’s Faith’s turn. Faith is you and I. We get started on this impossible feat, but are quickly followed by Experience. Experience is our emotions, feelings, past experiences, etc. Experience has a loud voice and will try to convince us that it won’t work. “You can never do it! Think about last time. You don’t have the courage. You don’t have the strength!” It clamours for our attention. Now Faith has a choice: It can continue looking forward, keeping its eyes fixed on Fact, or it can turn around and look at experience. Looking at Experience will inevitably cause Faith to lose its balance and fall. But keeping eyes fixed on Fact will mean that Faith, too, can complete this impossible task of walking the ridgepole.
A silly illustration, I know. And yet, I haven’t forgotten it.
I know we can’t discount ‘Experience’ altogether. We still have emotions and feelings, we still have past experiences that have shaped the way we react to things. God has actually given us a gift of a mind to reason with and that includes experiencing things as emotions. But the key point I took away from this was that if we keep our eyes fixed on Fact and keep moving forward, Experience will eventually follow.
Since this is one of those topics that is easier to understand through examples, I thought I’d share a few examples that God has been working me through personally.
The overarching theme is victory. In all of the different areas God has been teaching me about “looking to the facts”, it always comes back to the decision of what I will put my faith in? This determines whether I will be victorious or not.
1. Anxiety and Fear
Whether I realized it or not, I used to make this a part of my identity. When I would read scriptures like “be anxious for nothing” or “fear not”, it didn’t fully resonate with me. I didn’t understand how it was possible, realistically, for someone like me. I understand now that even though I still have a tendency towards anxious and fearful thoughts, I cannot be controlled by them. In Christ I have access to ALL I need for victory in this area of my life. I can take each thought captive and make it obedient to HIm. I can claim and cling to every single promise that is made available to me to allow anxiety and unruly thoughts to become subordinate to ME, rather than me subordinate to them.
If you struggle in this area then this might seem way oversimplified to you…but take it from someone who understands. Satan wants to do everything to convince you that your feelings and emotions are a part of you that can’t change. He wants you to buy into the lie that you can’t become free from captivity. But Faith must fix its confidence in Fact. Experience will eventually follow. Praise God for that reality.
2. Temptation to give way to discouragement, frustration, bitterness, self pity.
This one is a tough one too. There have been times that I’ve been disappointed or hurt by someone or something. Times where I’ve felt misunderstood, wrongly judged, or overlooked. Haven’t we all? To be honest, in the last month alone I’ve already had a handful of experiences, situations or interactions with people that left me feeling incredibly discouraged and upset. I don’t even consider myself a super turbulent person- God has done lots of work on me in the last couple years to sanctify the emotion-driven part of me- and yet, I’m still human and I’ve had a tough few weeks. God has been taking me through some pretty challenging things.
This one night last week in particular I went home and I wasn’t sure what to do with my feelings. My mind immediately started flooding with memories of past experiences that were similar. I started feeling discouraged, defeated, uncertain about a decision I thought I already had God’s clarity in, and I wanted to just give way to self pity and stubbornness. In that moment I had the faint whisper, “Remember to look to Truth.” So I made a decision in that moment to do exactly that. I wasn’t sure where to turn, but I decided to go where I’d left off in my study through the book of Matthew. I read from chapters 16-18. I’ll give you an idea of how God spoke to me through these passages and returned me back to His truth.
“Daughter, who do YOU say that I am?”
“You are Jesus, the full embodiment of God in flesh. Fully grace and truth. The action of God’s love made manifest. My Saviour. My Father. You are faithful time after time again, my Provider and my Advocate. My Refuge. My Comforter. The One in whom I place my full trust. You are my Guide and I will follow You.”
“Don’t forget so quickly. I always have been and Always Am. If this is who I am to you, continue to take up your cross daily and follow me. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t look back. Your life is now in my hands. Surrender your all to Me, including worry and fear and discouragement. Just as God proclaimed to the disciples at the transfiguration on the Mount, Hear ME. Hear me above all else, above all of the other voices. Don’t lose your faith in Me. For by faith mountains can be moved. Humble yourself to be like a child. Have childlike faith in me. You don’t see the big picture like I do.”
Another night I had a similar experience and I decided that instead of going to hang out some people I was going to take a walk with Jesus instead. I knew my feelings weren’t in a healthy place. As I walked with the sun setting in front of me, I was in tears. Tears of frustration and hurt and maybe even anger. And literally within no more than two minutes Jesus was already whispering His loving reminder to me… “Look to Me. Satan is trying to gain a hold in your heart right now, don’t let him. Look to Truth.” And in that moment I decided once again to stop dwelling on my feelings and to submit them to Him, and replace them with Truth. And it brought me such peace.
I could share example after example, but my points with this is to show you how God spoke these truths to me through His Word and through time with Him. It was a simple decision I had to make in a moment of two choices. I could continue looking back to emotion and experience, or I could fix my eyes on Jesus and the facts. The decision we make in these moments will define the outcome. My life can’t define the truth, His Word must.
3. Loving The Body of Christ
Hmmm this one could really be its whole own topic. I wasn’t even going to include it, but then I felt I really should. Friends, there are SOOO many tactics that Satan uses to cause division, discontent and idleness in the body of Christ. I think we have all experienced this firsthand. It can look like unforgiveness over something that happened, strong differences of opinion, or even just apathy towards loving and edifying your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that in the past there were times in my life where I was so caught up selfishly in my own issues or discontentment that I neglected this part of God’s commission to believers.
I recognize now how easy it can also be to become hindered in opening ourselves up to other believers because we’re occupied looking back at past experiences that didn’t end well. This can cause you to become closed off, distrusting, slow to share prayer requests or anything of personal or spiritual nature. Fear can also hinder us in this way- fear of judgment, of not sounding ‘good enough’, of having private things shared with others…the possibilities could be endless. The bottom line still comes back to this: experience and emotion can’t take the lead. Look to facts. What does God’s Word say about this?
The world has done a great job of convincing us that true and satisfying rest looks like all of the wrong things: Watching TV, excessive sleeping, bumming out doing nothing, disengaging our minds, scrolling through the internet mindlessly… Yet how many of you have also noticed that this never seems to actually provide renewed energy or drive? We know scripturally that time of rest and renewing is very important for us. But I know from experience that it’s all too easy to think that by engaging in these mindless activities we’re actually achieving rest. In reality, we’re being sucked dry.
Jesus says, “Come to ME all who are weary, and I will give you REST.” That rest is only found in Christ.When we abide in Christ, we find renewal, restoration, refreshing, and refilling. When I’ve fixed my heart on that truth and followed it, my experiences have totally followed. I can absolutely attest to the fact that my only real rest and refreshing comes when I spend time with Jesus. So whether I’m listening to a podcast, reading an edifying book, listening to/worshipping with music, in prayer or bible study, or a variety of other things along those same lines, THAT is where I really receive my rest. I’ve heard people say, “My brain is just tired I feel like spending even more time doing ‘God related stuff’ will just be draining for me”. But this is totally Satan feeding us this lie because he knows the power that can be found during this time with Christ. Don’t buy into it!!
Too often we say, “…but my experience doesn’t match up with fact!!”. Once again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, look to fact and experience will eventually follow.
5. Trusting in God- for direction, for provision.
A lot of people in my life seem to be going through a time of uncertainty and seeking God’s direction…myself included. I don’t know what it is about our silly human minds, but we seem to so easily buy into the lie that we know best! We reason with our own understanding: “What will make me financially secure? What will give me the life I want? What will provide for me consistently? What will make me happy? What will be seen as successful?…” None of those things are necessarily wrong to think about, but they become wrong when they become central to our decisions. God must direct our steps.
As this commonly known passage of scripture in Proverbs says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your way.” I think that’s pretty clear… in ALL our ways we’re supposed to turn to Him for wisdom and direction, submitting our own desires and will in exchange for His.
I’ve experienced many times over how faithful He when I do this. Often His will involves challenge, sacrifice and total dependency on Him. That’s no easy road to walk. Even after experiencing His provision over and over and over again I still sometimes struggle to trust. Isn’t that crazy?? Satan’s lies still sneak in and I suddenly doubt that He will come through for me this time. Experience whispers, “Well, maybe He did last time, but that doesn’t mean He will this time… You better count on something more reliable. Make a plan B…” But once again, FACTS! We can reckon with the promise that He who promised is faithful!!
I once spent time writing down alllll of the different truths and promises that came to my mind- not just related to God’s faithfulness and provision, but tons of them actually did apply to this- and it was so empowering and encouraging for me. I highly recommend for you to do the same. And then memorize them, saturate in them, learn to claim them every single day in your moment of need.
6. Studying the Bible.
I find it super interesting that while we are quick to justify investing many hours into social media, favourite TV shows, relationships (especially dating…) and other pursuits, we can also put the bare minimum into Bible Study and then be frustrated and discouraged when we feel like we’re not learning or seeing growth in our understanding.
There are many lies in relation to Bible Study that the Enemy will attack with. Just to name a few:
- Bible study is boring.
- You didn’t get anything out of it yesterday, why will today be any different?
- Working out or an hour in front of the mirror would be a better time usage.
- An extra hour of sleep would make you feel better. You’ll get to that later.
- There’s no more to get out of it, you already know it all.
- Give up, it’s too hard.
- The more you study, the more confusing it gets. You’re overwhelmed, give it a break.
Can you relate to any of those?? I know I can. When I start to catch myself feeling overwhelmed, tired, bored or unfocused I’ve tried to create a pattern out of rehearsing truth to myself and refocusing on the purpose of my study. Honestly, there will be days where you don’t “feel” like going to the Word. There will be times where you don’t “feel” connected to what you’re reading and are having trouble relating with the topic. But does that mean it’s a waste of time or fruitless?? Absolutely not.
I’d love to just remind you of one incredible truth that I’ve been reminding myself of almost daily. We read the Bible to know Jesus. That’s what it’s all about. All of it points to Jesus. The purpose of reading is to know Jesus deeply and intimately. So grind through the feelings of being tired, overwhelmed, bored or confused… submit those to Jesus and ask Him to reveal Himself to you in the scripture.
Oh man, I just love this topic. I hope it’s getting you excited too. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “the Enemy comes only to steal and kill and destroy…but I have come that they may have LIFE, and life more abundant.” Let me tell you something. I’ve figured out that life lived by feelings and looking back at experience is NOT the more abundant life.
What will you put your faith into? What will you base your decisions and life off of? Feelings deceive. Feelings change and waver daily. Feelings confuse and fail. But the truth will set you free. Truth brings life. Truth brings peace and triumph.
I don’t know what you’re struggling with personally. Maybe it’s pride, lust, selfishness, an unruly thought life, addiction, gossip…we each seem to have our own bends or tendencies towards certain sins. But in CHRIST there is victory to be found. This is the theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re attempts at not sinning haven’t been victorious in the past, it doesn’t matter if you feel like it’s hopeless to try, it doesn’t matter if every single one of your past experiences says otherwise: Look to TRUTH. Look to Jesus. In Him there is victory to be had.
Just the other day I was reading in Romans again, and in chapters 7 and 8 it is just SO abundantly clear…on our own we will keep sinning. We are hopeless. Bound to flesh and carnal in mind. But thanks be to GOD, for by HIS Spirit of life in me I can bear life! I can be victorious! I can put to death my sinful desires, put to death my fleshly tendencies and thoughts, and be Spirit led to victory. When truth is offensive, challenging, or even totally impossible to wrap your mind around it is still truth. My feelings or inability to experience it as truth doesn’t change the facts.
So what does this all mean for me? Where do I even start when I’ve been leading with emotions and experience for so long and don’t know any different?
It starts with understanding three things:
1) You are IN Christ. This is your position.
2) You have access to all you need for life and godliness and victory in Christ.
3) To know Christ and His Word intimately and deeply is to know victory.
I won’t get into that too much on this post because I’ll be talking about this more in my next post…but I’d encourage you to dig into that deeper yourself!
I want to let you know that I’m praying for each of you who reads this post. I pray that you would be strengthened and revived by the love and truth of God. I pray that you would be transformed and renewed in your mind according to His power and for His glory. And lastly, I pray that whatever you might be struggling with in the area of feelings and emotions and past experiences, that you will find victory in Jesus to step into a new pattern that puts fact and truth first….and remember, Jesus IS truth. Look to Jesus, friend.
I want to end by encouraging you from a passage in Psalm 119.
“Revive me according to Your word.
I have declared my ways, and You answered me;
Teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of Your precepts;
So shall I meditate on Your wonderful works.
My soul melts from heaviness;
Strengthen me according to Your word.
Remove from me the way of lying, And grant me Your law graciously.
I have chosen the way of truth;
Your judgements I have laid before me.
I cling to Your testimonies;
O Lord, do not put me to shame!
I will run the course of Your commandments,
For you shall enlarge my heart.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.”