Emotions are essential to our human experience.
We use our emotions to connect, express and understand others. A world without emotions would be boring, dry, and robotic.
Emotions are important. But if left unchecked, they can easily become disruptive and destructive.
At a young age, I (Messer) lost my father unexpectedly. This tragedy changed the course of my life. Although I came from a culture that mourned death with many traditions like wearing all black for a year, shaving the head, and many other rituals, we never discussed the actual loss of my father or the sadness and insecurity we felt as a family.
These unchecked emotions I felt went unexpressed, unresolved, and unprocessed for years. It produced in me a tremendous amount of fear – fear of loss, fear of attachment, and fear of intimacy, to name a few. It made me selfish in my relationships, self-protective of my heart, and self-consumed instead of thinking of others.
Learning how to face and handle my emotions with God has been a lifelong learning process. I am grateful for the many courageous examples God has put in my life and in the Scriptures to learn from. The Bible is full of men and women who, despite their circumstances and challenges, took their emotions to God and became stronger as a result.
In this study, we picked four emotions we deal with regularly to learn from inspirational people we admire in the Bible how they handled these emotions through their walk with God.
How to turn hurt to trust: Jesus
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Matthew 26:47-50 NIV
Can you imagine being betrayed by someone you shared meals with, memories with, and loved deeply? This was Jesus’ experience with one of his closest friends. I would imagine it caused incredible pain, hurt, and sadness.
Hurt feelings, especially by those we feel close to, can leave such an impact on us. If we don’t learn how to work through them spiritually, they can leave us distant and detached in our relationships. The undealt-with hurt can easily cause us to choose selfishness by withholding our hearts and being self-protective with our time, our love, and our lives.
Unresolved hurts turn to bitterness. Bitterness can be a further form of selfishness. It’s a way of preserving ourselves rather than forgiving, speaking the truth, and giving our hearts again.
15 Watch over each other to make sure that no one misses the revelation of God’s grace. And make sure no one lives with a root of bitterness sprouting within them which will only cause trouble and poison the hearts of many.
Hebrews 12:15 TPT
One of the main relationships we deal with hurt is in marriage, probably because it is one of the closest human relationships in life.
I tend to express hurt verbally and feel justified with my anger, while my wife tends to suppress her hurt and distances herself. However we express our hurts, choosing blame and bitterness over resolution and forgiveness can be damaging to our faith, home, and friends.
Thankfully, we can learn from the incredible example of Jesus how to overcome hurt emotions.
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[a] 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:21-23 NIV
The Bible says we are to follow Christ’s example and follow in his steps. There is no one who has endured more emotional pain and hurt despite being completely innocent than Jesus. He teaches us by his example how to turn our focus, our dependency, and our trust in God, instead of retaliating and wanting to get even.
38 Jesus said to Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, “My heart is so heavy with grief, I feel as if I am dying. Wait here and stay awake with me.” 39 Then Jesus went on a little farther away from them. He fell to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, don’t make me drink from this cup. But do what you want, not what I want.”
Matthew 26:38- 39 ERV
One of the ways he deepened his trust in God was by choosing obedience to God over his emotions and wants. Jesus was vulnerable with his friends and took his emotions to God through prayer. He chose to surrender what he wanted for what God wanted.
- What hurt emotions keeps you from obeying the scriptures?
- How can you start applying the scriptures to your relationships?
How to turn disappointment to determination: Hannah
6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.
1 Samuel 1:6-7 NIV
We can imagine the heartbreak and emotional pain Hannah must have felt, as she was unable to have children.
Some disappointments we can get over quickly, but other disappointments seem unrelenting and affect us so deeply that it is easier to harden our hearts and ignore truths rather than face them. When we harden and ignore, we become self-focused and can miss what God can do.
Hannah is a great example in how she handled disappointment. Her dream was to become a mother. Day after day, month after month, and year after year, she felt nothing but heartbreak. If that was not painful enough, she was constantly reminded by her rival that kept “provoking” and “irritating” her that her dream was not coming true.
Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.
Proverbs 13:12 MSG
Disappointment is one of the most painful experiences in life. It causes sadness, hopelessness, and leaves us heartsick. What is needed to turn our disappointment around is a “good break.”
Hannah shows us how to pursue this “good break” with God.
10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
1 Samuel 1:10-11 NIV
Hannah exemplified someone who chose to face painful emotions in prayer. Instead of settling for her circumstances and ignoring her pain, she chose to cry out to God. She embraced the fact that only God could give her the “good break” she longed for.
15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” 18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
1 Samuel 1:15-18 NIV
Hannah teaches us how to handle our disappointments by turning our hearts and our emotions to God. Instead of avoiding, ignoring, or giving up, she was honest, remained soft-hearted, and kept praying. Hannah didn’t allow the years of disappointment to make her selfish, instead, she vowed to give back the son she was begging God so he can serve others.
How did she do it?
As a result, she left her prayer time resolved, at peace, determined, and no longer downcast.
- What disappointment is making you heartsick?
- How can you start taking your emotions to God?
How to turn fear to love: Peter
When I was 6 years old, I was in my living room watching my favorite show “Thundercats.” I can still hear it now: “Thunder, thunder, thundercats, hooo.”
This was quickly cut short by the sounds of my mom screaming my name. As I ran in, I saw my father on the floor gasping for air and tears running down my mom’s face. She turned to me and told me to call the ambulance because my father was having a heart attack.
What I remember most about that day was my fear. My fear of how quickly life can change and how helpless I felt. My fear of possibly losing my father, my fear of the pain my mother was feeling. That experience of fear stayed with me for decades. It wasn’t until my twenties, when I began my journey of faith, that I even started to understand my fears and their impact on my life and decisions. Fear is a real emotion that we all must learn to deal with and overcome.
According to Psychology Today, there are four types of responses to fear: fight (be on the attack), flight (run away), freeze (unable to move or make decisions) and fawn (try to please people and avoid conflict). However it shows up, fear affects many areas of our lives. Like many of us, Peter was a man who struggled with fear.
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed.
Matthew 26:69-74 NIV
Many of us can relate to Peter. His fear made him abandon his best friend when he needed him most (Matthew 26:56), then caused him to distance himself from the painful situation his friend was going through in order to protect himself (Matthew 26:58).
Fear is a debilitating emotion we must learn how to handle spiritually, or it will control and cripple our faith and our lives. My fears make me unloving and self-focused in my relationships. My primary concern becomes how I feel and how I look instead of considering what those around me are going through. As a result, I miss the opportunity to connect with and care for others.
Peter turned his fear into love by choosing to turn to God and face the impact of his fears (Matthew 26:75). As a result, he became a man who valued love above all, as he expressed in one of his letters:
Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults.
1 Peter 4:8 Voice
- How has your fear impacted your relationships?
- How will you learn from Peter to choose love over fear?
A few tips we take away from Peter that can help us turn our fears to love…
- Build your faith in the scriptures (1 Peter 1:5-9 NIV).
- Practice what you read from scripture (1 Peter 1:22 NIV).
- Identify and repent of sins (1 Peter 2:1 NIV).
- Keep your conscience clear (1 Peter 3:13-16 NIV).
- Let love be your highest priority (1 Peter 4:8 NIV).
- Rely on prayer (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV).
How to turn anger to vulnerability: Moses
Anger is destructive! It can destroy faith, trust, and relationships. Anger deceives us into thinking that our emotions are correct and justified. Moses was a man with many talents but one of his downfalls was his impulsive anger.
11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
Exodus 2:11-12 NIV
It is safe to say that Moses had an anger issue! The consequence of his anger shifted Moses’ life: he was so afraid of being caught for killing the Egyptian that he ran away and hid for 40 years in the desert.
Have you ever said or done something out of anger that you immediately regretted and wanted to take back? I have made so many mistakes fueled by my anger and have hurt my family, friends, and other relationships as a result.
Just a few months ago, my teenage son told me he went over to a friend’s house and decided to take off his mask. My first reaction was to be afraid that he put himself and our family in danger of catching the virus during a pandemic.
However, as I was explaining to him the risk he put us through, he proceeded to tell me I was overreacting and I needed to calm down. In my anger, I decided to open the door and throw his most precious possession, his phone, out the door.
I realized immediately as I saw the look of shock and fear on my family’s faces that I had really lost my temper. Even though I apologized and resolved the situation, I hate the fact that I allowed my anger to make me react selfishly and impulsively, causing fear and chaos in my home. These choices make me feel ashamed, incredibly guilty and wanting to escape like Moses did.
Like all emotions, we cannot turn anger into something useful unless we learn to take it to God.
7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
Exodus 33:7,11 NIV
Moses was transformed through spending time with God. As a result of these powerful experiences, he gained the courage to deal with his anger, frustration, and even uncertainties by choosing humility over pride and vulnerability over shame.
3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)
Numbers 12:3 NIV
Facing his weaknesses and deficiencies caused Moses to see his need for God. God turned Moses’ anger to passion, determination, and conviction and used him to impact a whole nation.
- How do you see the impact of your anger?
- How will you choose vulnerability over anger today?
Here are a few lessons we can learn from how Moses turned his anger to vulnerability:
- Put your confidence in God by believing His Word over your emotions (Exodus 14:13-14).
- Handle emotional and relational stress and disruption by going to God in prayer (Exodus 15:22-25).
- Lean on your spiritual friendships versus handling things alone (Exodus 17:8-13).
- Get input from people you trust on your faith, life, and future (Exodus 18:13-18).
- Share the load and responsibility with others (Exodus 18:19-23).
We all have many emotions we feel on a daily basis. These heroes in the faith show us by their examples how to turn our emotions to God and use them for a purpose.
- Which one of the four examples in this study do you relate to the most?
- How will you practically apply what you learned to your life today?