What Do My Emotions Have to Do With It?

I pause with my hands on the steering wheel to suck in a few breaths of air, then scan the church parking lot. Daphni’s red Toyota sits a few stalls away, glimmering in the early evening sun. A wave of bitterness washes over me as our previous conversation comes to mind. I shake it off.

Forgive and forget. Love, joy, peace, patience.

And if not love, a steady dose of tolerance–or duck tape.

Yeah, I know. Not loving, but Lord, help me out here. You remember what she said. You’ve seen how many times she’s slammed on me, with that painted smile of hers and those narrowed eyes–as if she’s Your gift to the entire congregation.

A familiar passage fills my find, adding a twinge of guilt to my already heightened senses.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:43-46 NIV)

I sigh, jump out and lock my van. Footsteps shuffle behind me. I turn and smile as Yana approaches with her three children.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” She smoothes a stray lock of hair in place.

“Absolutely lovely.” I lift my voice to hide the bitterness fermenting within and cast a glance to the metal door leading to the fellowship hall. Forgive and forget. Gentleness, patience…love. Good thing love is an action, not an emotion.

But then there is David from the Old Testament.

*      *      *

Relax, that story was fictional. I’m not secretly seething every time I go to church, but I have struggled with bitterness and unforgiveness on occasion. And in those moments when my blood boils and negative thoughts fill my head, I console myself with the oft quote phrase, “Love is an action, not an emotion.” But then I read 2 Samuel 1.

For years, David served Saul faithfully, but Saul mistreated him again and again. Saul promised David his daughter’s hand in marriage if he killed the Philistine warrior, Goliath, but come time, he gave her to someone else. Even so, David remained faithful, playing music for Saul when agitation set in. Over time, Saul’s anger and jealousy grew, until he began to hunt his trusted servant. David fled, hiding in caves, among the Philistines, and where ever he could to flee Saul’s wrath. Again and again, he had the opportunity to slay Saul, but again and again he refused, vowing to never harm the Lord’s anointed.

Rationally, we can accept this. David doesn’t murder Saul because he’s trusted God to exact revenge. It’s easy to lay down your sword if you think someone else will pick it up. But then we get to 2 Samuel 1 and read about the moment David learns of Saul’s death.

Put yourself in David’s position. You’ve lived on the run for so long, you can’t remember what peace feels like. You’ve been slandered, cheated and mistreated, and now, after countless nights of anguished prayers, your enemy is dead. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you rejoice or mourn?

David mourned. Granted, much of his mourning was for the loss of Jonathan, his dearest friend, who was also killed. But he mourned for Saul as well. In fact, he didn’t just mourn. He composed a song. (You can read it here.)

In the NLT, he calls Saul Israel’s pride and joy. Does that sound like an embittered man?

As I read 2 Samuel 1 this morning, having followed the story from 1 Samuel 16, when David was anointed, to 1 Samuel 17 when David slew Goliath, to 1 Samuel 19 when Saul tried to kill him, and on and on, I was a bit taken aback to see David display such genuine love for his enemy. One question burned: How did he do it? How did he overcome the bitterness I know had to spark at least on one occasion.  What enabled him to forgive so deeply, so completely, that his bitterness turned to love?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could travel back in time and ask him ourselves? Unfortunately, we can’t. But we can compare and contrast his attitude and responses from other biblical characters, including Saul, who took the opposite approach, and allowed bitterness to consume them. But I’m not going to be able to do that in one post. (Otherwise I’d break the cardinal rule of blogging–never go over 1,000 words.  lol) Over the next week or so, we’ll talk about the effects of bitterness, and steps we can take to move past it.

Emotions are a funny thing. Often it seems they have a mind of their own, and we poor, emotionally-driven humans are helplessly carried along in their unpredictable current. But I don’t think that’s the case, at least, not entirely. Our emotions are largely triggered by our thought processes, and vice versa. As we align our thoughts with the truth of God’s word, and turn to Him in prayer, He begins to align our emotions to match. It’s not a get-happy-quick deal. Quite the contrary. It takes diligence and determination, but I believe bitterness free living is possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on this, and make sure to come back next post to discuss the destructiveness of bitterness. When we’re fueled by anger, we feel like we have the upper hand, but in truth, we are enslaved.

But Christ wants so much more for us. He died to set us free!

 

 

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At Just the Right Time

I don’t know about you, but often I think God and I are on totally different schedules. When I want to go forward, He pulls me back. When I’m dragging my heels, He nudges me forward.

About four years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a place of unemployment. Now that’s one of those times when you really want God to hurry. And as we watched our savings dwindle, we prayed and prayed for a miracle. Guess when it came? Yep, at the last minute. And as usually is the case, it was unexpected, and totally a God-thing.

We quickly put our house on the market. It sold in one week. Another God-thing. We loaded most of our things in three storage units, packed the rest in our van, and headed west. We found a small, five-hundred square foot rent-by-the-month apartment and crammed our stuff inside. This was a difficult and frightening time, but it was also a beautiful time. During those two months of living elbow to elbow, our family grew closer than ever. And we clung to God like never before.

I remember waking up every day saying, “Okay God, what now?” We had no idea how long we’d be staying, or where we’d go once my husband’s contract work was up. But we were trusting God to provide—at just the right time.

Meanwhile, we found a local church and jumped right in. I started teaching youth classes. I’m still amazed the educational minister let me, but I came with my “volunteer resume”, so I think that helped. And I think God knew I needed the connection, stability, and feeling of being needed, so He opened that door. And He had a bigger plan. A year later, after we moved to Missouri, I got a phone call. The church we had visited the summer before wanted to use a Vacation Bible School curriculum I had written (that’s another God-story entirely) and wanted me to come back as their key-note speaker.

Funny how God works. While we were in Texas wishing God would move faster, save us out of the mess we were in, give us that five year plan that’d let us know everything would be okay, He was busy working out a bigger plan. A better plan.

Our experience reminds me of the Israelites and all the ups and downs they’ve faced throughout history. For four hundred years, they slaved in Egypt waiting for their deliverer. Or think about David, the anointed king, who spent years hiding out in caves as the ruling king sought his life. What about Joseph? You remember him—the dreamer—the one who would one day rule over his brothers? The one who was thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, spent seven years in prison, to one day stand as the second in command to all of Egypt. What do you think he was thinking while he slept on the prison floor? How many nights did his heart cry out to God, asking, “Where are you? When will Your promise come?”

But each time God did come through, at just the right time.

For years the people of Israel waited for their Messiah. They had the promises—from Genesis chapter three all the way through Malachi. While evil kings rose to the throne, Isaiah spoke of an eternal just Ruler. When the Israelites were taken into Babylonian captivity they cried out for a Savior. I’m sure many felt as if God had abandoned them. That God couldn’t see them.

But God hadn’t forgotten, and He wasn’t off-duty. He was waiting for just the right time. Jesus came at just the right time.

Step back about 2000 years to the Roman world. Greek and Roman development helped make the first century AD the perfect time for Christ to come on the scene. The roads created by the Romans increased traffic and commerce, allowing the rapid-fire spread of Christianity to the ancient world. The Romans developed a sense of unity under their universal law that helped pave the way for the idea of monotheism. (A large proportion of ancients were polytheists.)

“The sense of solidarity within the empire created an environment favorable to the reception of a gospel that proclaimed the unity of the human race in the fact that all men are under the penalty of sin and in the fact that all are offered a salvation that makes them part of a universal organism–Christianity.” (Cairns, p. 35)

Non-Romans could become Roman citizens and people could move freely throughout the Roman Empire. Such travel would have been difficult prior to the reign of Augustus Caesar in 27-14 BC. As Rome conquered neighboring lands, natives began to question their polytheistic views. If their gods had abandoned them into the hands of another, then perhaps their gods were not as powerful as they thought.

And then came the Greeks and the expansion of ideas that they brought. They brought a universal language that later aided in the communication of the gospel. They also brought the  study of philosophy and a love for debate. Philosophers like Plato and Socrates encouraged people to look for an eternal Being. All of these things set the stage for Christianity.

And I could go on, but in a nutshell–Christ came at just the right time. At the fullness of time. When all the pieces of the puzzle were locked in place.

Just like Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

And the Bible records this story–God’s love story–throughout its pages. A love story that will ultimately conclude in a great wedding feast. Are you coming?

Maybe you’re in Babylonian captivity right now, crying out for a Savior. Now is the  time of salvation. Maybe you’re enslaved by the problems of this world. God sees you. He loves you. And He’s coming. Even now He’s working out His plan. His good plan. His loving plan.

Hold tight.

1) Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 1954.