“If what you believe does not reflect the truth, then what you feel does not reflect reality.” – Neil Anderson
Feelings are amazing and beautiful and absolutely necessary, but never at the expense of truth. When our behavior is dictated by our feelings, we may act irrationally, believing we are absolutely RIGHT about something, but our FEELINGS are not the TRUTH. The problem is, Satan likes to make us THINK that those feelings are real, and that they reflect the truth. What we often lack is an “in-the-moment-feeling-check” mechanism to pause and reflect on a situation. The inability to pause and reflect can lead to additional feelings: Anger, fear, sadness, guilt, shame. Those are not products of God, and worse, they keep us from God.
Three of the ways Satan has been whispering in my ear lately are by planting seeds of worry, guilt, and holding on to offenses.
One of the first Bible verses I ever memorized was Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
That is hard sometimes. But I usually feel better after I repeat the above scripture to myself. Sometimes twice. OK, maybe three times. This is easier said than done when life’s circumstances seem beyond our control. (Oh wait, they ARE beyond our control).
What IS under our control, is our response to our circumstances. I heard somewhere that “worry is like praying to yourself.” I always liked that, because it’s so true. When we worry, we demonstrate our LACK of trust in God, and put the burden on ourselves to “solve” whatever problem we are experiencing at the time. Using that method, however, causes whatever troubles we are going through to be compounded by our complete inadequacy to “fix” them. (This is not to say we should just accept whatever situation we are in and do nothing, but if we blaze out without consulting God, we are likely to just get further into trouble. It’s like the joke about the guy who stood on the roof of his house in a flood and kept refusing assistance to be saved because “God would help him,” but it was actually God who had sent the boat, the helicopter, etc.).
This a bit of a tough one, because there is an important distinction between appropriate guilt (acknowledgement of a wrong, accountability, repentance) as a consequence of a wrongdoing, and the consuming, ugly, “I can’t go on” feeling of worthlessness and shame that Satan uses to fuel and feed the guilt fire. One is healthy, the other is not.
God tells us we can do better, do right, make amends. Satan tells us we can never change, never make it up to those we have wronged, never make it up to God. I feel tremendous guilt over things I have done, but I am learning to look up and ahead instead of back and down. We can all rise with God’s help, and use the tools He provides to rid ourselves of Satan’s “guilt anchor.” When we feel consumed, hopeless, or stuck in our guilt, we need to realize that Satan wants us there.
On a particularly bad day in the not too distant past, I was struggling big time. I knew God was there, saying “I’m over here! Come to Me. I’ll hold you,” but Satan was whispering that I didn’t deserve it. That’s what we think. That’s what keeps us there, alone in our thoughts and in pain. Just as I thought of that word, “deserve,” God said, “Stay there for a sec.” That word: Deserve. Defined as: Merit. Be worthy of. Ought to have. Earn. Warrant. Justify. “Look for a verse about that,” He said. OK. Trust.
The first verse I found was Psalm 103:8-12:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
We DON’T deserve grace, but we get it anyway. 1 John 3:20 says “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” I rest in that.
If my feelings are not in check, I am easily offended. “How DARE him!?” “Who does he think he is?” “How could she say that?” “I’m offended!!”
Being offended, or holding on to an offense, is pretty much the same thing as not forgiving, but it’s more subtle. The act of forgiveness comes after we recognize or identify that an actual offense has occurred, and then choose to forgive. When we take offense, or hold on to an offense, there may or may not have even been an ACTUAL offense.
Huh? To explain it a different way, I think that we mask a lot of different emotions under the umbrella of “I’m offended.” I’m “offended” when someone cuts in front of me in traffic. I’m “offended” when my husband says something in a certain way that hurts my feelings. I’m “offended” when I’m not chosen to do this or that. What happens when I am “offended?” I mope, or retreat, or blame, or make excuses, or get angry, or retaliate. Wait a second. Those actions or emotions might in the moment make me “feel” like I’m justified, or regaining ground, but all they do is keep me focused on the “wrong” (real OR perceived).
So the difference is that in some situations, maybe a real wrongdoing was committed and forgiveness is appropriate, but it is likely that in many more situations, it is only a PERCEIVED affront that leaves us with those feelings of anger, resentment, etc. It is amazing how stepping away and CHOOSING NOT TO BE OFFENDED can lift away and eliminate any feelings of injustice and negativity. It is OUR burden, and it is GONE when we choose not to be offended. And as an added bonus, this process looks a little bit (a lot?) like HUMILITY (i.e. that dying to self thing that’s so hard.)
There are some situations where offense is appropriate and deserves action, such as when some guy is lobbing the “F-Bomb” around your kids. Please feel free to stand up for what is right and call him out on it (as long as it doesn’t put you in danger). That type of behavior IS offensive and will cause a desire to react, but our motivation is different. It doesn’t “hurt our feelings” that the guy is cussing, it hurts our sense of what is right.
And finally (and on a more societal than individual note), in this age of rampant "political correctness" it seems like a lot people manufacturer or exploit "being offended" for every little thing. Kinda like "crying wolf." It's too bad, because legitimate offenses are now diluted by self-centered cries of “you hurt my feelings!” when no real harm has been done. (Keeping in mind that “real harm” can look very different to different people, so it’s not our place to judge, but just to check our own responses.)
Psalm 139 says “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Feelings are sneaky. As was mentioned already, what we “feel” often does not reflect reality. If we feel angry, nervous, scared, sad, ashamed, etc. there might be something lurking beneath the surface that we haven’t identified. Check yourself. What’s going on? Sometimes we are bothered by something that really DOESN’T warrant the feelings we attach to it. That might be one of those times where Satan is whispering in your ear, distracting and diverting you from the TRUTH. Consider Psalm 139. It really does all come down to trusting God and knowing that He will provide the answer based on truth.
So, in a nutshell, many things we encounter in life are easier to handle if we remember these two things:
1. The truth will set us free.
2. Satan’s goal is to prevent and pervert truth.
#1 is pretty simple. John 8:31-32 says, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But, since we are human, it can be difficult (impossible?) to abide in the mindset of “truth” all of the time. Why? Well, see #2.
We must take it to heart that the enemy DOES NOT WANT US TO BE FREE. He wants us to worry, be angry, be sad, take offense, etc. To simply be AWARE that we often react emotionally to a situation may help our “in-the-moment-feeling-mechanism” to at least give us PAUSE before we respond. The feelings may still be there, but they aren’t driving the car. (They’re just in the back seat until we can figure out where we’re going).
And what this pause gives us is the opportunity to fasten our “belt of truth.” (Eph. 6:14). The belt (truth) holds everything in place, and is the first line of defense. To “gird” means to surround, provide, equip, and to prepare for action or confrontation. We have to BEGIN THERE. Oftentimes, the truth isn’t the first thing we seek. When the going gets tough, we’re all about the righteousness and the faith, but our pants are falling down.
So, PUT ON THE TRUTH. It will set us free, expose lies, and prepare us for whatever comes.
And then … “having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”
And everyone said … AMEN.