When I was a much younger Christian, I was taught that feelings were unreliable. I learned that God still loves me even when I don’t feel like He does—just as a chair would still support my weight even when I don’t feel like it would.
My feelings did not determine reality, I was reminded, and neither should they be allowed to dictate my actions. I was told that I didn’t have to wait until I felt like praying before I started to pray; I was to pray because it was in line with God’s will.
I’ve tried to keep this in mind, but I’ve found that it can be challenging to act against my own emotions. There were times when I willed myself to go to church or cell group, but my heart remained unwilling or even grudging towards God. Although I was obedient outwardly, I felt no joy inwardly.
That is how I’ve come to realize this: it’s not healthy to always act according to my mind without engaging my emotions.
After all, Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Luke 10:27). Both our heart and mind must be engaged in loving Him. Just as it isn’t wise to trust the heart without checking back with the mind, it isn’t healthy to always go with the mind without engaging the heart, either.
But how are we to do that when the heart and mind sometimes pull us in different directions? God has taught me a few things that helped me to see that this doesn’t always have to be an ongoing battle, but the heart and the mind can instead have an ongoing conversation.
Listen to our Emotions
God showed me that while my feelings aren’t always reliable, it doesn’t mean that I ignore them. Even though my emotions may not always tell the truth about reality, they do tell me something about myself.
So if I feel a sense of rejection even when I’m surrounded by loving family and friends, I won’t immediately think that they are actually rejecting me. But I would ask myself why I’m feeling this way. I would seek God’s help to reveal to me any deeper issue that’s causing me to feel like that. After I get some idea of what might have led to that feeling of rejection, I’d ask God to comfort and heal me, and to show me His truths about me and the situation. He might remind me, as He has in the past, that He has accepted me (Romans 15:7) as His beloved son (1 John 3:1). And He might show me how I’ve misunderstood the situation or misperceived the intents of others.
Processing my emotions with God can help me to apply His truths to myself. If I have been hurt by something, God can bind up my wounds (Psalm 147:3). If the underlying issue is a sinful attitude, He can show me where I’ve gone wrong, so that I can confess my sin to Him and repent of it.
By digging deeper into what our emotions may be trying to tell us, we can receive God’s comfort or cleansing from sin. Our minds can then use the truths revealed by God to align our emotions closer to Him and His truths.
Get our Treasure Right
That said, while emotions are important, it doesn’t mean that we need to be controlled by them. When I was younger, I thought that my emotions would always have a huge hold over my actions. If I felt like doing something, it’d take a lot for me to not do it. I believed that there was nothing I could do to change how I felt.
That is, until one day when God spoke to me through Matthew 6:21: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He brought to my attention that the verse didn’t say, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also”—which would mean what I love is dependent on how I feel—and if I don’t feel that way, then I can’t make myself love it.
However, what God was saying in the verse was this: what I intentionally choose to value will eventually become what my heart cherishes. This gives me a lot of encouragement because it means that I don’t have to helplessly succumb to the influence of my emotions!
For example, I didn’t use to like to pray or read the Word. But I asked the Lord to help me to want to treasure whatever was upon His heart. So, with God’s help, I began to pray and read the Word as my way of giving value to these things, regardless of whether I felt like doing so or not. Over time, my heart began to follow suit. Today, I love to pray and read the Word much more than I did in the past. Through this, I learned that what I choose to value with my actions can affect what I emotionally treasure in my heart.
There’s something my pastor used to say which I’ve come to experience personally: “When you see as God sees, you will do as God does. But sometimes, you have to do as God says before you can see as He sees.”
When my heart isn’t aligned with what is upon God’s heart, I’m very thankful that He has given me a mind that can lead my heart to prefer His ways. Instead of needing to first feel like I agree with or value what He says before I can obey Him, God showed me that—regardless of what I feel—when I choose to do what He says and lay my treasure where He wants me to, that would help me to see as He sees and so, treasure what He treasures in my heart.
Think Right Thoughts to Influence Emotions
And ultimately, we can also influence our emotions by thinking the right thoughts. I’ve heard a quote that goes, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” Another saying explained it this way:
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
This, to me, underlies how our thoughts play a primary role in determining the kind of person we become and life we live. This must be why the Bible instructs us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
This helped me to better appreciate why God’s Word exhorts us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8)—and nothing is more excellent and praiseworthy than God and His Word, will, and ways. If these are what we think about more, our brains will not only retain them, but these thoughts will also affect our heart, and ultimately, our life.
In my desire to love God, I want to love Him with both my heart and my mind. American pastor and theologian Timothy Keller said, “You have a circumcised heart when what you ought to do and what you want to do are the same—pleasure and duty are the same.”
On our journey of letting God circumcise our heart more and more, I’m glad that God has given us ways for our heart and mind to engage each other so that we can love God fully. He is totally worthy of us loving Him with our whole being—because He’s the One who first loved us with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength.