Feelings Are Real. But Are They Always The Truth?

feelings

There’s a new movie coming out about James Brown, who sang the hit song called “I Feel Good.” He’d wail, “I FEEEEEEEEEL good. I knew that I would now.” And of course in his song “Happy” Pharrell Williams gives us some deep insights into that emotion:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Have you ever thought about how many feelings we can have? God has created humans with the capacity for an incredibly wide range of subtle feelings. We can feel happy, playful, calm, confident, courageous, peaceful, joyful, comfortable, optimistic, delighted, encouraged, satisfied, jubilant. We can also feel angry, afraid, depressed, hopeless, confused, hurt, sad.

Our culture is feeling-oriented and feeling-driven. Of course, Nike tells us “Just Do It” whether we feel like it or not. But popular music tells us we can’t help falling in love, and can’t help it when the feeling’s gone. We say “I’m just not feeling it.” Rather than saying, “I believe we should do this,” we say, “I feel like this is the way to go.” Even as believers we use “feeling” language a lot – “I feel like God wants me to go into music.”

I don’t have anything against feelings. They are a gift from God. But I’m grateful that early on in my Christian life I heard a truth that helped me immensely:

Feelings are real but they are not necessarily the truth.

Feelings are real – we truly experience them. We don’t imagine them. They are real. But they are not necessarily the truth. They may be the truth but they aren’t always the truth. If we believe in Jesus Christ and feel like God loves us and accepts us that is the truth. If we feel condemned or or that God has abandoned us that is not the truth.

Feelings are a poor barometer of the truth.

As believers we live by faith, not by sight. Our circumstances may appear to indicate that God is not for us or that he is giving us too much to handle. Yet we live by faith in God’s word which says despite our circumstances God is for us and is not giving us too much to handle.

So it is with our feelings. We live by faith in God’s word not what our feelings tell us. We may feel hopeless. We may feel like we can’t go on another day. The challenge for believers is always what are we going to believe– our feelings or God’s word?

We must believe and obey God’s word no matter how we feel.

I’m sure that Jesus did not “feel” like going to the cross for us. But Jesus didn’t live by his feelings. He obeyed his Father whether he felt like it or not.

We may feel like we can’t go on. We may feel like it is impossible to forgive someone. We probably won’t feel like rejoicing in the midst of affliction or giving thanks in everything but we can and we must obey God’s word.

Of course to be able to live by faith in God’s word we need to know God’s word. If we regularly take in God’s word and meditate on his promises, our faith will increase and we won’t be dependent on our feelings.

So remember:

Feelings are real but they are not necessarily the truth.

Feelings are a poor barometer of the truth.

We walk by faith and not by feelings.

I hope that you feel great today. I hope you feel God’s love and pleasure today. I hope you feel happy and joyful and thankful. But if these feelings elude you, don’t be discouraged. Thank God anyway. Praise him. Ask him for the feelings you desire. And believe and obey his word whether you feel like it or not.

Comments

  1. Kim Swyden says

    Yes, what you write is true, thank you. However, the unwritten message that too often the church applies is: “Feelings are real, but they are not necessarily truth, so stuff them and never talk about them.” The effect has been churches with superficial relationships among their congregants.

    • says

      I certainly didn’t intend to say we shouldn’t talk about our feelings. We should and we should listen with compassion and not be quick to correct. But at some point after much listening and much compassion it can be appropriate to gently point someone to the truth of God’s word, while still acknowledging how painful a situation can be. Thanks for adding your comment!

  2. Kim Noble says

    As always, Mark–incredible truths! I remember hearing a sermon that emotions/feelings are the caboose of the life train. They are still a part of everything but they are not the engine but at the end. Appreciate you, as always! :)

      • says

        I agree with the point of this post. Emotions are wonderful companions, but they make brutal tyrants when we allow them to rule our hearts.

        The train analogy has been used for many years, I’ve borrowed and taught it often. I have chosen to expand the illustration.
        1) the tracks represent the all-sufficient truth of God’s Word that equips God’s people for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:14-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-9) Believers must be well-informed as to God’s Truths so that we know “where we are to go”, if you will. Emotions can be trained and used to serve God, but we must make the effort to proactively plan to obey God and ‘run on His tracks’.
        2) The engine represents the believer’s mind; what we think drives our behaviors. Our minds must be filled with Truth. (Phil. 4:4-9)
        3) The coal from the coal car represents the Truth of God’s Word which motivates behavior and life-change. (Ps. 19:7-14)
        4) The coal from the coal car also represents our emotions. Emotions are God-given energy that also motivates us to act. (Anger is fuel to right wrongs, seek justice, etc.; jealousy is energy to protect what is rightfully ours; fear is energy to act to protect and preserve, etc.) Emotion is a vital part of our lives. we must not only acknowledge their presence, but understand the reason God gives them and know the root cause for the particular emotion we experience.
        5) the cars of the train represent acts of obedience as we seek to apply God’s word to daily life. (Jn. 8:29-36)
        6) the caboose also represents the emotions that results from knowing that we’ve glorified and obeyed God. (Ja. 1:22-25)

        thanks for sharing very relevant thoughts on emotions, Mark.

        For more teaching on emotions, go to http://www.bethanycommunitychurch.org/ministries/docs.asp?id=513&catid=325

  3. Darnly says

    Thank you. I was just asking myself a few days ago why is it so important to feel happy, satisfied, loved when I trust God more and need Him more when I don’t feel so happy, ect. Being reminded of truth is good.

  4. Kat says

    Hi there. I need such help with this. I don’t *feel* like I deserve judgement or like God is kind, and I feel like I’m too weak and stupid to just live by God’s word. Like I cannot feel anything rightly toward Him. Will you please pray for me? For faith and repentance? I *feel* hopeless and devoured by pride. Will you please pray I will have new thoughts toward self and toward The Lord? That I’ll have sense to live by truth, even if in feel terrible? Thank you.

  5. Kat says

    One more feeling that’s ruling my life–feeling offended by grace/election/God’s way of ruling. And my mind is sooo messed up from dwelling on my feelings about these things for so long. I don’t *feel* desire for God; I don’t *feel* rightly at all when I try to counsel myself that he is my hope. So then I feel evil and abandoned and hopeless. Please pray.

    • Kat says

      Mark, will you please pray for spiritual sesne for me? To see Jesus and belonging to Him as my hope and joy even with all those thoughts.? Please advise me, and pray for grace to accept truth and advice with humility.

      • Kat says

        And that I will always recognize and hate lies and desire the truth and hope of glory that are with Jesus. I feel so tortured when I’m in a crowd of people that I perceive as lost; why doesn’t God sovereignly save everyone? Then I feel afraid and wish God would help me see all people as grass that withers before Him instead of feeling that way. But I feel I never reach humility and fear, and then I feel like I’m abandoned and not chosen.

        • Kat says

          Last comment. I also feel such fear that God won’t save someone I love or my children will rebel and I won’t be able to side with God over my loved ones. It feels easier and safer to be a scoffer. But it’s truly foolish and stupidity and of course does nothing to help lead people to The Lord. Please read all my comments and let me know how you advise me to anchor my soul when it feels so rebellious.

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