Monday, September 25, 2006

But, I don't feel like it....

“I know God wants me to read his word and to pray to him. But, I just don’t feel like it. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite to talk to God when my heart is so flat?”

“I know God says to respect my husband, but he’s so stressed out at work and he’s acting like such a jerk these days. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite to be kind and gentle to him, even when I don’t feel like respecting him?”

“I know God says not to give up coming to the meetings of the church. But, it’s so hard to get all the children ready, and besides, someone at my church really hurt my feelings the last time I was there. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite to come tonight, even though I don’t feel like it?”

How many of us have heard (and, let’s be honest – how many of us have said) things like this in recent years? This came to my mind as I wrote about using good manners in our homes. It seems that many believe it is hypocritical to be courteous if we are not somehow emotionally moved to do so in the moment. This extends itself to feeling hypocritical for following God's word in any matter that goes against our temporal feelings.

In my humble opinion, I think our culture is a little mixed up about what it means to be a hypocrite. We define hypocrisy as obeying God even when it is emotionally difficult to do so. Thus, we excuse ourselves from obedience until we are motivated by “the right feeling”.

I know women who frustrate themselves by trying and trying to manufacture a correct emotion about some issue, instead of simply obeying God. Thus, they drag out situations, rather than stepping out in faith that Gods’ word is true. Since good feelings often follow, rather than precede obedience, these women never achieve their goal. I've fallen into that trap myself. It's not a fun place to be.

If denying a momentarily contrary feeling is not hypocrisy, then what is? We all know that this term originally meant a stage actor. Jesus used it to indicate someone who outwardly plays the part of being religious, while, inwardly, their heart is far from God.

Jesus used this term in connection with the Pharisees, who meticulously kept every point of law while missing the big picture. Outwardly, they looked good, and they believed they were serving God. Inwardly, their hearts were blinded by religious and national pride, personal ambition, and greed. Because of these deep-rooted attitudes, they failed to recognize God in the Flesh when they saw Him. As men who were well educated in the Law and the Prophets, they should have been the first to welcome and champion our Lord. Instead, they opposed him.

Of course, we don’t want to fool around with hypocrisy of any kind. It blinds the heart. It separates us from God. It causes us to focus on our own righteousness, rather than on the righteousness which comes through faith in Christ. It’s always good to check our hearts lest we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees.

We have to remember, however, that such hypocrisy is an attitude and not a momentary emotional struggle. In my opinion, merely having to choose on a given day between obeying God or between following a selfish feeling does not make us a hypocrite. The key is what we do when we are tempted. Do we pray and then get up from our prayer resolved to do God’s will, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane? Do we admit our feelings to a few close friends, as Jesus also did in the Garden of Gethsemane? Or, do we give way to our feeling?

Jesus says that we are to deny ourselves and to take up our cross daily and to follow him. Matthew 16:24. If our emotions never tempted us to be selfish, we wouldn’t have to deny ourselves. Nor, would it be necessary to daily crucify our sinful nature in order that Christ may live in us.

Our temporal emotions make great servants. They help us respond to the world. But, they can be affected by all kinds of things: lack of sleep, hormones, what we ate last night, the amount of stress in our lives, whether someone has been kind or hurtful to us, etc.

Because our feelings can be so up and down, they make poor masters. Jesus, and not our feelings, is our Lord.

Christ has set us free from the power of sin, including being a slave to our own emotions. The Holy Spirit works the fruit of self-control within us, so that we can choose to stay in step with Him. Through Christ's strength, we can choose to obey God in the moment, even when every emotion in us is screaming for us to do otherwise.

Of course, if we never want to read and pray, something is wrong. If we are always short-tempered, we may need to take a deeper look. If we don't see the fruits of joy and peace in our life, we must uncover why. If we look at our walk with Christ as being nothing but toilsome drudgery, we're off-base somewhere. If we are frequently depressed or anxious, we need to seek help.But, we must learn to distinguish between damaged or sinful attitudes of the heart and momentary emotional temptation.

We get into trouble with our emotions whenever we say, “I know God says, but…. "

For example, we think, “I know God says to be patient, but I have a headache and I’m tired and this is the fifth time I've told the children not to be so loud in the house, and I feel like snapping at them.” And so, we snap harshly, and the children either cry or ignore our whining, and we all feel worse.

Instead, the better way to think is _____________, but God says…”

For example, we can say to ourselves, “I have a headache and I’m tired and the children did not obey when I asked them to "use their inside voices" and I feel like snapping at them, but God says to be patient and kind. If he asks me to be patient, He will give me the strength to carry it through. As the parent, it is my responsiblity to follow through when I ask the children to do something. Therefore, I will firmly, but kindly train my children to use their "inside voices". I will impose consequnces if they do not obey. I will also provide them with some quiet things for them to do. Then, I will take some time to pray and unwind.” Thus, we resolve the situation God's way, and everyone in our home feels better.

No comments: