Posted by: gbake783 | June 15, 2011

Blessed are the . . .

The pursuit of happiness, one of our country’s three inalienable rights, has proven vexing. In the post-war era, American happiness has sharply declined by almost any empirical measure: Americans are growing dissatisfied with their marriages (boredom), jobs (unsatisfying tasks), and image (78% of 17 year old girls say they’re unhappy with their looks). A perception among some is that these emotional struggles affect only a certain segment of the population – those without internal fortitude or personal discipline, kids whose parents failed to instill mental toughness. Those who accept this perception might be surprised by a recent miliary.com investigation: one in six servicemen and women take prescription medication to ease psychological ailments, many of whom enhance the drugs’ effectiveness by mixing different prescriptions and chasing them with alcohol. Perhaps incoincidentally, suicides in the military, according the story, have skyrocketed 150% from 2001-2009.

Christians sometimes accept the secular notion that happiness is life’s ultimate pursuit. Fleeting emotions sometimes become the basis for life-changing decisions or, worse, the excuse for ongoing sin.

An aside – every believer wondering how emotions enhance the Christian life would do well to read Dr. Ronald Horton’s Mood Tides. Dr. Horton was my modern philosophy professor the semester his wife suddenly passed away. Witnessing first-hand his emotional reactions to the tragedy and then reading his reflections ten years later have both informed and inspired.

One way believers can begin to win the emotional battle is to discern the difference between God’s blessing and human feelings. Christ began both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain with the word blessed. I believe a proper application of the term would help American Christians win their emotional struggles. In the Old Testament, the term blessed (ash-re) never refers to Yahweh, but man’s objective position of favor with God.

Psalm 32 is a wonderful example. David sinned and would be forced live with the staggering consequences. Consider Solomon, his heir. Even Solomon’s presence, Bathsheba’s son, was a living reminder of this dark chapter in David’s life. Yet, David confessed his sin and God poured out His forgiveness and blessing. David’s repentance was key to the outpouring of God’s unlimited and unchanging grace – none of which were dependant on David’s ever-changing circumstances.

Consider also Job 5:17 – God’s discipline is a sign of His blessing. Despite famine, death, destruction, or war, “you shall know that your tent is at peace” (5:24). God’s blessing flows despite the worst circumstances.

My wife keeps a magnet on our refrigerator that reminds us what to do when our emotions threaten to get the better of us: Stop, Reflect, Recover Right Thinking. I probably cause Danielle to repeat this refrain more than most wives! Regardless, emotions are reactions – sometimes irrational and sometimes ill-informed. God granted them to enhance our lives and add an intangible glory as we bear His image. We can experience the widest range of emotions in the shortest amounts of time – and we love it. We wouldn’t change it if we could. We watch Old Yeller because it makes us cry. We cry at weddings … for the joy of the bride and for the brief sadness that flashes across her father’s face. We’ve been known to hug complete strangers because our local team wins a championship.  

As good as emotions are, they can get out of control. They can drive us – they can take over. Our emotions need to be managed by God’s word.

In times of emotional excess, we ought to meditate on our position in Christ, the objective blessings repentance affords, and the rewards God has waiting for us. Mere repetition of verses, though sometimes helpful, can become ritualistic and frustrating when the verse (sometimes treated like a magical incantation) does not produce an immediate emotional turnaround. Here again we’ve lost focus on the differences between blessedness and happiness. God’s blessedness is objective, unchanging, and transforming. Human emotions, though wonderful gifts, are subjective, transient, and reactionary. Understanding these differences is a good first step in winning the emotional battle.

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Responses

  1. This is a good reminder. This is definitely something I struggle with at times.


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