The woman dropped the f-bomb in my office. And she didn’t even flinch.
I tried to hide how offended I was, to take a deep breath and not overreact, but then she dropped it again. Then a third time! The word came flying out of her mouth like it was any other four-letter combination of consonants and vowels.
Eventually, I had to say something. So, I interrupted, “Do you know you just used the f-word?” She looked at me, confused.
“In fact, you used the f-word three times in three minutes,” I pointed out. She looked at me, even more confused.
So I gave it to her straight: “Three times you said, ‘I feel.’” She looked at me, the most confused.
She shouldn’t have been confused. Because few things cause more problems in my office than the words I feel. The phrase I feel is so toxic it should come with a list of potential side effects, like those commercials for the latest prescription drugs.
Here are a few examples of what I mean (forgive the offensive language):
“Pastor, I just don’t feel like God loves me.”
“Pastor, I feel like I have no purpose at my job.”
“Pastor, I just feel like God is so disappointed in me.”
“Pastor, I don’t feel like God is with me.”
“Pastor, I feel like God would want me to be happy.”
“Pastor, I feel like serving my wife isn’t working.”
“Pastor, I just feel like everyone is judging me after the divorce.”
“Pastor, I feel like I am not being ‘fed’ when I go to that church.”
(If you want to see a vein pop in my forehead, try the double f-word feel fed in reference to worship . . .)
I could go on. Feelings fell with the fall into sin. They fell from their factual throne, fell from being trustworthy and true. Feelings lie to you every day.
No wonder the smartest man ever wrote these epic words: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Lean not on your own understanding. Don’t put your weight on the unsteady Jello of your own emotions.
No wonder the prophet Jeremiah warned, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (7:9). Beware of the compulsive liar who whispers to your soul. Above all deceiving things—shady car salesmen, emails about Nigerians with bank troubles, etc.—is the heart inside your chest.
Please don’t misunderstand me (your feelings might be tempted to right now!)—emotions are not evil. I don’t want you to turn into the kind of Christian who “straight faces” the pastor whether he bellows with fire and brimstone or bursts with the blessings of grace. Join Jeremiah and weep. Join Solomon and gush. Join David and dance. Enjoy the emotions of life, unexpected laughter, and the butterflies of first love. Embrace the sorrow of sin and the inexpressible joy of knowing Jesus.
But just remember. When all is said and done, feelings are not the final word. As an old professor used to tell us in class, “Gentlemen, touch the emotions but don’t trust them.”
I like that. We write and teach and sing and design and parent and paint to touch people’s emotions. But emotions are not gospel truth. The gospel is. So thank God Jesus does not submit to your feelings. Jesus does not salute your heart’s emotions or bend the knee to your gut’s reactions.
So when you feel like God doesn’t love, he does. Jesus says.
And when you feel like God is disappointed, he isn’t. Jesus says.
And when you feel like God is far from you, he’s not. Jesus says.
And when you feel far from peace and joy and hope, send your feelings to their room and make them recite what Jesus says.
Because Jesus gets the final word. That’s what it means when we call him Lord.
That’s how I feel about feelings.
Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.
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