“Because of this I remind you to rekindle God’s gift that you possess through the laying on of my hands.” – 2 Timothy 1:6 (NET)
I briefly mentioned this scripture in my previous essay and now I intend to spend more time in it. I find the different mental images conjured up by the various translations of this passage that range from “fan the fire” to “stir up the gift” to “rekindle” interesting. Yet no matter the phrase used the same message is delivered as Paul exhorts Timothy to get off his rear end, generate some intestinal fortitude and do something about his state of mind. The fact that the Apostle went out of his way to address his friend’s depression in such a direct manner indicates that Timothy had become a miserable Christian. The words miserable and Christian shouldn’t be found in the same sentence but the sad truth is that many believers are depressed and therefore the Bible makes it our business to come to terms with the condition. While there are a few narrow-minded theologians and preachers who have little patience with those of us who suffer with bouts of the born again blues, intimating that it proves we’re not really Christians at all, the scriptures are much kinder in that regard. While the Bible never justifies spiritual depression, it does acknowledge its existence and offers practical help in dealing with it. And deal with it we must because, whether it’s fair or not, the world judges God and His Son Jesus Christ by what it sees in us and many people make up their minds about becoming disciples by our behavior and demeanor. Therefore we can never forget that we’re constantly being scrutinized even by those who claim to be atheists and how we conduct ourselves in general is of supreme importance.
This time I’m going to shine a light on being bulldozed by feelings. Initially they may not seem relevant but I’ll do my best to explain how and why they are. A guy named Albert Morris had a hit back in the 70s with that title and some have deemed it the worst song ever foisted upon the public. Its sappy hook line went “Feelings, nothing more than feelings” and that banal lyric says volumes. On the surface they’re of little worth. But since feelings can contribute to the Christian blues (despite their alleged “nothingness”) we need to examine them closely. They’re certainly not going away anytime soon so how do we handle them? As I’ve emphasized before, all of us must utilize the mind and the intellect that God gave us (in addition to faith) and, when it comes to coping with our feelings, we need to rely on our brain cells more than ever. One needs only to scan the headlines to see the havoc, misery and wretchedness that results from people not having a clue about how to keep a lid on their volatile emotions. I came across a pertinent quote by Jim Morrison of The Doors. He said, “We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” Since he did himself in with drugs we should take his statement at face value. What we let our fears, anxieties and self-loathing do to us can be just as deadly as a hollow-point bullet. But there are millions like him all around us who refuse to accept the good news of the gospel that says if we surrender all to Jesus Christ the resulting regeneration and rebirth will effectively rein in our runaway feelings and emotions that have the potential to land us in the throes of depression and despair.
It seems to me that the most efficient way approach this subject is to establish some generalizations about the position feelings should occupy in the life of a Christian. First I would put forth that since feelings spring from the heart and, as Romans 6 tells us, the mind and the heart and the will have to be working together to consolidate the truth of the gospel in us, our feelings must be considered. If your emotions have never been stirred at any time by the moving of the Holy Spirit inside your heart I would suggest that something vital is missing in your relationship with Christ. You can’t peruse the Epistles and not notice that joy is an essential part of the believer’s salvation experience. By definition conversion pulls us out of our jail cell of futility, plants our feet firmly on the rock that is our Savior and grants us a brand new outlook on life. If that’s not a reason to be joyful then I don’t know what is! Secondly, we can’t create feelings out of thin air and we can’t command them at will. False sentimentality can produce crocodile tears but we all know they aren’t authentic and have no lasting impact. No matter how hard we try to generate a particular emotion the more we meet with failure and eventually that’ll only add to our frustration. Psychologists will tell you that few things are more remarkable than our utter inability to be masters of our selves. We’re swayed by emotions and all too often we act like puppets attached to the strings of our fickle feelings.
There’s nothing as unpredictable as our emotions because so many things influence them. I speak not only of inborn temperament, but of physical conditions, too. A throbbing headache can turn us into a grizzly bear but more often than not our strange attitudes come out of left field. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and find myself trapped inside a foul mood that wasn’t there the night before. Though it arose from somewhere within me I won’t have the foggiest notion of its reason to be. It just appears and straddles me like a bloated toad. What I’m trying to say is that our feelings tend to be uncontrollable yet we run the danger of being controlled by them. We’ve looked into how our unique temperament is bestowed upon us by God for His good purposes but if we allow it to rule us we’ll get into trouble. The same goes for our feelings. If not held in check they can run rampant. Read up on King Saul if you want to see what happened to someone who put their emotions in charge. It ain’t pretty. On the other hand we must avoid thinking we’re not saved if we haven’t been swept up into a rattlesnake-handling frenzy. Don’t confuse emotions with Christianity. While feelings are essential to knowing happiness in our faith we mustn’t view them as gauges of whether or not we’re redeemed. They can steer us wrong. I quote Goethe: “Do not give in too much to feelings. An overly sensitive heart is an unhappy possession on this shaky earth.” Some take it too far, citing Isaiah 50 as a warning that if you pay any attention at all to your feelings God will make you lie down in a “place of pain.” Their implication is that if you’re content you aren’t a genuine Christian. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was more reasonable, saying “Frothy and lighthearted happiness is not Christian joy, but that must not lead us to say that joy is never Christian.” I tend to side with Dr. Larry Crabb when it comes to paying heed to our feelings. He indicated that they’re important. He wrote, “When feelings are cast aside people become machines who develop little awareness of the richness of their personality. Feelings can function as a window to deeper parts within. When the window is shut, depth is lost.” I’ll add that God gave us a conscience and it employs feelings to communicate with us so we should respect them. However, a feeling isn’t necessarily your conscience talking. Feelings can be hurt, your conscience can’t.
As always, the wise seek what the Bible says about handling our fragile feelings and one suggestion it makes is quite practical. If you’re guilty of a sin you have yet to confess and repent of you’re bound to flounder in an emotional funk because, as we’re told in Proverbs, “The way of the transgressor is hard.” If you’re disobedient to God’s laws and hanging on to a vice you know is wrong but you persist in doing it because it gives you fleeting pleasure (even though it never lasts) you’re destined for a date in the dumps. If that’s you then immediately take it to God, tell him all the gory details, repent and then believe that because you’ve done so He will forgive you. Confession is the key. One of the central scriptures highlighted in the Celebrate Recovery ministry is 1 John 1:9 that reads, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” I dare say that if unconfessed sin is the source of your depression then stop reading this very second and drop to your knees. Nothing is going to get better until you do. If that’s not your dilemma then perhaps you’re guilty of overanalyzing your feelings. The thing that the Bible emphasizes more than anything else from front to back is that we can never put anything ahead of God in our lives and that includes our feelings. Truth isn’t an emotional stimulus. Truth is addressed to the mind and whatever feelings are cultivated should be an outcropping of comprehending the information absorbed. How we feel about the truth we read in God’s Word has to be secondary to our wholehearted belief in it.
This whole matter of feelings is a slippery slope and difficult to cover without veering off into unhelpful tangents. However, one thing is certain. Self-examination and holding oneself accountable are indispensable to maintaining spiritual health. Searching our hearts with Jesus Christ as our guide, the Holy Spirit as our aide and God as our goal will help us to ferret out destructive feelings manufactured by our fears. We can go to church every time the doors are open, tithe faithfully and patiently teach snarky 8th graders in Sunday school class till the cows come home but if we aren’t taking a thorough, honest look at what our renegade emotions are doing to our relationship with our Father in heaven and the people around us we’re wasting our time. Dr. Crabb wrote, “We simply must get to the core of the matter. Sin in the heart must be uncovered, looked at and dealt with.” I can offer no better advice than to urge you to follow what’s stated in Lamentations 3:40, “Let us carefully examine our ways, and let us return to the Lord.”
Another point I want to make is that there’s a difference between rejoicing and feeling happy. The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4 to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He didn’t say when things are so lovely and bright we gotta wear shades, he said always. Even when we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. In 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “We are experiencing trouble on every side, but we are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed…” That’s not exactly happy talk, is it? Yet, as any reader of the New Testament will aver, Paul never stopped exhorting Christians to rejoice in the Lord. As I stated before, you can’t make yourself happy, but you can make yourself praise God, regardless of how you feel. Jesus Christ didn’t suffer an agonizing death on the cross to make us happy, he died to make us holy.
I’ll now bring this essay full circle and give you the bottom line that’s spelled out in the featured scripture. We must rekindle God’s gift whenever we find ourselves in the grasp of the born again blues. When a dark cloud descends upon our countenance we too often allow it to dominate and defeat us. We moan that we’d give anything to be rid of it yet we do nothing about it. “I guess it’s just the way I am,” we complain sullenly. The remedy is to speak to yourself, not listen to yourself. I risk sounding like a broken vinyl record when I say that but the scriptures teach us how to talk to ourselves over and over. The Bible says we need to remind ourselves of certain things, including who and what we are. We are justified, sanctified and beloved children of the great I AM! And how, you may ask, am I supposed to do that when I feel like I’m drowning in a swamp of darkness? I’m here to inform you that what you should never do is to stir up your feelings. Your Christian duty is to believe. As Lloyd-Jones preached, “We are never told anywhere in Scripture that we are saved by our feelings; we are told that we are saved by believing.” Look in Acts 16 where it clearly proclaims “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Plain and simple. Now that’s something you can do. You can’t make yourself be merry but you can remind yourself of your belief. This series began with a poignant passage from Psalm 42 that puts everything in perspective. “Why are you depressed, O my soul? Why are you upset? Wait for God! For I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention.” That’s how it’s done. Satan will argue to the contrary, that if you’re not feeling uplifted it’s because there is no God to lift you up at all but we’re encouraged by the Holy Word to stand our ground in the face of all adversity and declare our unwavering trust in our Heavenly Father. To hell with the devil.
Never forget that Jesus taught us how to be joyful Christians. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied,” he said. Seek righteousness, not happiness. Say to yourself, “Feelings come and go like leaves in the breeze. I want more than a Coke and a smile. Happy is fine, but righteous is better by far. I want to be holy like Christ and I want to walk as confidently as He did through this fallen world.” Here’s the secret. If you search for happiness you’ll never stop looking. Search for righteousness and you’ll discover, as a bonus, that you’ve found happiness. Jesus told us how to acquire joy everlasting. Seek God first. He is our fulfillment, our joy, our reliable source of happiness. He is life itself. He is everything. Don’t let Satan convince you that you should always “follow your instincts.” He lies. Your animal instincts will tell you to protect yourself at the expense of others, to run away from adversity and to fear your enemies. But Jesus told us to bravely turn the other cheek, to repay cruelty with kindness and to love those who wish to do us harm. Let your Christ-filled conscience lead you to act like Jesus. Put God at the center of your existence, let Him light your path and praise Him come what may, even in the middle of the raging storms that roll through your life. As it says in Matthew 6, “But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you as well.” Included in “all these things” is the unparalleled joy of being certain of who you are.
(Inspired by the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book “Spiritual Depression.)