Can Emotions Be Trusted?

220px-EmotionsWhen I asked readers how they discern God’s will, several mentioned “a feeling of peace.”

But a “feeling” of peace is an emotion, isn’t it?

Jeremiah 17:9 says that “the heart  is deceitful above all things.” Surely we can’t trust feelings to lead us along godly paths.

Yet, I must admit that the experience of being guided by a sense of peace is familiar to me. It seems to happen when I am praying in a spirit of obedience, willing to follow God’s plan instead of my own.

Seeking a “sense of peace” is no substitute for using the earthly resources God has given. We have the scriptures. We have the advice of Christian leaders. We have our own powers of reason and conscience. After using these to the best of our ability, if the answer is still not clear, then it’s time to go into deep prayer and ask God to speak directly through our thoughts and feelings.

Obedience is a key to discernment. Jesus told his disciples, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me. If anyone desires to do His will, he will know…whether it is from God, or if I am speaking from myself.” (John 7:16 -17)  A heart that wants to obey is sensitive to God’s gentle nudges.

So, can emotions be trusted? I’ll tell you what doesn’t work:

Don’t expect a God-pleasing outcome if you base your decisions on worldly emotions such as anger or pride or despair. I’ve tried it. It seldom leads anywhere good. Those emotions are as changeable as the weather. That’s why it’s often wise to “sleep on it” when making an important decision. Last night’s optimism may seem grandiose in the light of day. Last night’s fears may vanish with the sunrise.

Unlike our fickle emotions, the peace of God comes from outside ourselves. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit. If we seek the Spirit’s companionship, we can learn to feel His steadying hand even when our human emotions are in turmoil.

Well, then, what about those human emotions? What are we supposed to do with the confusing, conflicting feelings that arise from our hearts? Should we simply ignore them? No, we should acknowledge them and hold them up to the light of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom.

Jesus said:  “If you love me, keep my commandments. I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you…My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.” (Excerpts from John 14:15-27, World English Bible.)

When our kaleidoscope of emotions seems overpowering, we should submit each feeling to the Spirit’s cleansing and mending. “Here, Lord, what do I do with this one?” is a good prayer to remind us that, no matter how strongly an emotion may strike, our feelings don’t rule us. We have a Grownup in the house, and He is in charge.