Happy Fourth of July weekend to everyone! I trust that you all had a safe and fun holiday weekend with your friends and family. Out of curiosity, how many of you have sent a text message to somebody this weekend? How many of you have sent a text message to someone already this morning? Okay, a moment of brutal honesty here: how many of you have sent a text message during church this morning? Shame on you! Take their phones away!
Did you know that the very first text message was sent in 1992? But, it took a while for it to become mainstream. In 1995, for example, the average cell phone user only sent 0.4 text messages per month. But, by the year 2000, the United States was sending close to 14 billion text messages in a year. In 2007, we marked the first year in America where text messages sent surpassed phone calls made. And, in 2010, we sent 188 billion text messages. Today, text messaging is the most widely used data-application in the world with over 80 percent of all mobile phone subscribers using it.
Now, I love text messaging; I use text messaging frequently myself. But, it comes with its own set of obstacles, doesn’t it? Part of the appeal of text messaging is that it can make an awkward situation that much less painful. I can send something as a text message, and I don’t actually have to say it to your face. But, developmental psychologists contend that pain is the point. One psychologist even comments that through text messaging “the complexity and messiness of human communication gets shortchanged. Those things are what lead to better relationships.” Our nonverbal cues are a crucial part of our communication with one another, but none of that comes through a text message. So, we have a solution to this problem: emojis or emoticons. Some of you have no idea what I’m talking about; those are the little smiley faces you can send to people. Emojis were designed to help us communicate some sort of feeling through our text messages.
Last year, Alex and Liza, a couple in New York, decided to text each other using only emojis for an entire thirty days. They set out with their goal to see if it would alter their emotional vocabulary. And, what they found was while it helped convey some emotion, emojis lacked in making important decisions and planning out logistics like what they were going to do that day. Let’s see if you can interpret these two conversations:
- So in the conversation on the left, Alex asks Liza if she’s going biking with friends, to which she responds that she’s going running. He tells her he’s going grocery shopping and she asks if he noticed they were out of milk.
- In the conversation on the right, Liza asks Alex when he’s coming home because she wants his help photographing a shirt she’s making. He asks if she needs batteries; she says no. He, then, later tells her he’s going to be at work until midnight.
Can you see it? Maybe you’re able to make sense of it now that I described it, but imagine trying to decipher these sorts of conversations on the fly. Trying to communicate our feelings can be complicated; sometimes trying to even understand what we are feeling or why we are feeling a certain way can be impossible. And, to think that our emotions and thought processes and feelings can be boiled down to a simple emoji—to me—is a little presumptuous.
So, this morning, I want to take a look at some common feelings because I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve felt like we were in the middle of one of these emoji conversations at times. We feel a certain way and we’re trying to communicate that to each other—trying to communicate that to God even—and things seem to simply get lost in translation. Sometimes we even begin to wonder if we should feel a certain way. Our hearts tell us, “God, You said you would be close to me, but I feel really alone right now.” And, then we begin to think, “I feel alone; therefore, I must be actually be alone,” and we begin to follow these feelings that we don’t even quite understand ourselves.
Our feelings are not great indicators of our reality.
But, here’s the issue we face this morning: our feelings are not great indicators of our reality. In fact, Jeremiah 17:9 warns us, saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our feelings can lie to us! Our feelings can lead us astray from the truth of God’s Word. And, I love how Jeremiah writes, “Who can understand it?” You’ve been there before, haven’t you? “I don’t know why I feel this way, but…” So, this morning, I not only want to look at some common feelings we have all experienced—Jeremiah tells us our feelings can deceive us, remember? So, I also want to look at what the Bible says about how we feel. We must train our feelings to follow faith in the Word of God. Feelings ought not to determine our faith; our faith ought to determine our feelings. We need to reorient our feelings around God’s reality and no longer our perception of reality around our feelings. Sometimes we have to tell our feelings what to think.
I FEEL AFRAID
So, this morning, I want to start with the common feeling of fear. Our first point is I feel afraid. Chances are pretty good you have one or many different kinds of fears. You may have heard before that every person is born with only two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear is learned somewhere along the way. And, some of our fears seem rational and others irrational. Unfortunately, we convince ourselves that every fear we have is rational, right? I have here a list of five, what I would call, irrational fears. Maybe you have one of these, too:
- Nomophobia: This is short for no-mobile-phone phobia. This is the fear of not have cellular service and that you might not actually be able to use your phone! And, according to one study in the UK, 50 percent of people suffer from it.
- Ergophobia: Now, I don’t want anyone trying to use this one at the office tomorrow. But, ergophobia is the fear of work or the workplace environment. Psychologists believe it is actually a combination of various fears such as failing at assigned tasks, social anxiety and public speaking. You’re going to have to bear with me on the pronunciations of the next few fears.
- Gephyrophobia: This is the fear of crossing a bridge. Some cities actually offer services where they will drive your car over the bridge for you. I’d imagine it’s so you can be curled up in the fetal position in the back seat.
- Chronophobia: This is the fear of time passing. It is typically found among prison inmates or the elderly, but it is also common among the stressed and anxious.
- And, last but not least—Omphalophobia: Is it an innie or an outie? If you have this fear, you’d rather not know at all because you are afraid of belly buttons.
I remember in college one of my roommate’s fears was that someone would use a fingernail clipper on one of his front teeth. And, I was like, “Dude, I’ve never thought about that before, but now that you said something, I think that’s one of my fears, too!” It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Like, who is going to put fingernail clippers to your teeth? But, they’re irrational fears, right? Some of our fears are superficial and some of them go very deep. Maybe you have a fear of what the future may hold. Or, maybe you fear the past—that some past mistake will finally catch up to you. Whatever it is, we all wrestle with some sort of fear.
Yet, when we take a look at what Scripture says about fear, we see a reality drastically different than the way many of us view our lives. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And, so, Scripture says that instead of feeling afraid, we should feel at peace. Many of you are probably familiar with this passage and the others throughout Scripture that encourage us not to fear. You might even believe that God is indeed with you, but there is still this unshakeable feeling of fear in your life. Why? What do we do with that?
What you fear reveals what you value the most. What you fear reveals where you trust God the least.
Pastor and author Craig Groeschel notes that there are two things we must understand about fear. First, what you fear reveals what you value the most. If you fear losing your job, you have a lot of value placed in your occupation. If you fear losing your marriage, you have a lot of value placed in your marriage. Our fears and value systems are closely intertwined. Secondly, what you fear reveals where you trust God the least. You might be like me and think, “Now, wait a minute. That’s not fair! I trust God!” Do we, though? I mean God is telling us through Isaiah that we have nothing to fear because He is with us. And, when I continue to choose my fear over God’s reality, what I am really saying is, “God, I know you are with me, but, honestly, I’m not sure you have this one covered.” Our fears reveal where we have room to grow in our trust in God.
And, so this morning, you may be living your life in fear. You look around you and you feel like you have plenty of legitimate reasons to live in fear. Yet, remember, your feelings are not always great indicators of your reality. I know the situations around your life are scary, but the reality of God’s Word is that He is with you. He will strengthen you. He will help you. He will uphold you with His hand. Fear not, my friends. And, living our lives free of fear begins with us repenting for our lack of trust in the Almighty God. “God, I’ve trusted you here and here, but not here. I want to fully surrender my life—my fears—to You.” And, so, our first feeling statement this morning is, “I feel afraid,” but our first reality statement is, “Fear not. The Almighty God is with you and upholds you.”
I FEEL INADEQUATE
So, some of you might be wrestling with feelings of fear, but our second common feeling is inadequacy. I feel inadequate. Inadequacy is the feeling of trying to prove yourself by performing to some standard. In a recent study of 1,500 social media users, 62 percent said that these sites make them feel more inadequate about their life and achievements. And, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Think about it. As you scroll through a Facebook timeline or a Twitter feed, you are seeing other people’s highlight reels. You get to see the one picture they chose to publish and not the other fifty where the hair wasn’t right or the angles were wrong or they got their thumb in the picture. You get to see their stunning accomplishments and not necessarily all the times they fell to get there. And, we begin to feel inadequate because their life looks so perfect from where we’re at.
Yet, let’s take a look at what Scripture says about inadequacy. In Judges 6, we read the story of a man named Gideon. Gideon’s people were oppressed by their enemies; and, one day God appears to Gideon while he’s working and says, “God is with you, mighty man of valor.” And, Gideon basically responds by saying, “Oh, come on. Seriously? Mighty man of valor? God is with me? Please. I’m out here hiding from my enemies while I work. If God is with me and I’m such a mighty man of valor, why are we oppressed?” And, I love God’s response as He sort of ignores Gideon’s complaint in Judges 6:14, “And the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’” Gideon felt inadequate to do anything about his people’s circumstances. But, God saw something in Gideon that Gideon did not see in himself. You see, it’s the Lord who sends us, so it’s the Lord who makes us able.
Again, here, Craig Groeschel notes that feelings of inadequacy can stem from three different sources: unfair criticism, unrealistic compliments and unwise comparisons. Maybe someone said something to you at one time that made you doubt yourself. Their criticism was harsh and unfair, but ever since then you have felt inadequate in life. Or, maybe people have praised and complimented you way over the top. And, you’re thinking, “Man, if they only saw who I really am and what I really struggle with,” but now you feel the need to perform to their standards which leaves you feeling inadequate. Their compliments, though good-intentioned, were unrealistic and created a standard that has left you feeling small. Or, maybe like our social media friends earlier, you see all the people around you who seem to be doing so well and accomplishing so much while you are just barely making it by. And, you’ve strived to become someone who you are not and that has left you feeling inadequate. You’ve made comparisons to other people that were unwise.
So, this morning, perhaps you’re feeling inadequate—like, you just don’t quite have what it takes. It may be the result of criticism, compliments or comparisons, but whatever caused it, you’ve been unable to shake it. You may feel like you haven’t been able to live up to people’s expectations or even the expectations you have of yourself. You may look around you at all of the seemingly perfect lives that have it together and feel like you must be broken; there must be something wrong with you. But, the reality is that God has given you all you need. And, if you feel like Gideon this morning, you might be wondering, “I feel like nobody! What do I have?” You can try taking inventory of your talents and abilities, but they will continue leaving you feeling inadequate. Friends, you have the Lord. He is with you. He equips you. He enables you. He empowers you. And, He sends you. What more do you need? You’re not inadequate with the Lord. And, so, our second feeling statement this morning is, “I feel inadequate,” but our second reality statement is, “God has prepared you. Go in the strength of the Lord.”
I FEEL OVERWHELMED
It may not be fear or inadequacy that you feel, but our third common feeling is the feeling of being overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed. The moments and situations that leave us feeling overwhelmed are often unexpected; they seemingly come out of nowhere. Someone once said, “Even the largest avalanche is triggered by the smallest of things.” That sounds a lot like an overwhelmed life, doesn’t it? It’s not always the largest of things that overtake us, but they often leave us feeling defeated.
The deadliest avalanche in American history occurred in the early morning of March 1, 1910, when an avalanche roared down Windy Mountain in Wellington, Washington. The snow swept the Spokane Express passenger train—which had been stranded at the Wellington Station for days as a blizzard pounded the region—from the tracks outside the station. The train and the passengers sleeping on board plunged into a 150-foot-deep ravine, and though some were dug out of the wreckage alive, 96 people died in the accident. An avalanche can reach speeds of over 80 mph in just five seconds. Because the human body is three times as dense as the avalanche debris, it causes people to sink rather quickly; and, once the avalanche stops, it settles like concrete. If a victim can be rescued in the first 18 minutes of being buried, the survival rate is 91 percent; the survival rate drops to 34 percent between 19 and 35 minutes.
Some of you are feeling overwhelmed as I just talk about avalanches! But, I think an avalanche is a perfect picture of what it is like to be overwhelmed. It often comes suddenly with no warnings or indicators and when it comes, it is powerful. You cannot overtake it; it will overtake you. Rescue workers say a common problem for victims is that they can’t tell what direction is up, down, left or right when they are buried. Man, that sounds like life sometimes, doesn’t it? Like, we can’t even get a bearing on what direction we should go? Rescue workers further note that often times victims will attempt to dig themselves out of the avalanche but because they can’t tell which direction they are going, they dig themselves deeper.
They can’t do it themselves. They need help from someone on the surface. They need help from someone who overcame the avalanche. Friends, we serve a God who has overcome the overwhelming moments of our lives. In John 16:33, Jesus says to us, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” What is this saying to us this morning? It’s saying that Jesus overcame. We can have peace in Him because He has overcome a world full of tribulation. Troubles are going to come your way—they will!—but, we can have peace in those moments because He overcame.
Friends, what gets our attention ultimately determines our direction. And, if we are constantly focused on our circumstances, we will feel overwhelmed. We must focus on Jesus Christ, the author and the perfecter of our faith. We must focus on the One who overcame world. Stop trying to dig yourself out of every circumstance; seek God in the midst of overwhelming moments and know that He sees your situation better than you can. He knows your situation. Trust in Him. Find your peace in Him. Overcome with Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. So, just trust in Him this morning. And, so, our third feeling statement is, “I feel overwhelmed,” but our reality statement is, “Jesus overcame the world so that I might have peace in my troubles.”
I FEEL LOST
So, this morning, we’ve learned that we have nothing to fear because the Almighty God is with us and upholds us. We’ve learned that we no longer have to feel inadequate because God has prepared us, and we go in the strength of the Lord. And, we’ve learned that we do not need to feel overwhelmed because Jesus has overcome the world so that we might have peace. There are certainly more than these three core feelings we’ve discussed this morning, but it is obvious from Scripture that our feelings ought not be the object of our attention; Jesus Christ should be. But, this leads us to our fourth and final feeling. What do we do when we feel alone? What do we do when we feel like we can’t see Jesus? What do we do when we just feel lost? Have you ever been there before?
Perhaps you’re there right now. And, before you say, “That’s not me,” I think this feeling really applies to two different groups of people, so hear me out. You might have found your way into church this morning looking for something, but you’re not quite sure what it is. You have heard of Jesus; you have read about Jesus; but, you would not consider yourself a Christian or someone who loves Jesus. And, yet, you feel lost this morning. But, secondly, there are some of you who have been a Christian for some time, and you would have to admit you have felt lost at moments. There are those of you who would have to admit there was a time in your life where you were much closer to God—more passionate about the things of God—than you are today. And, you feel distant from Him; you, too, feel lost.
The Apostle Paul wrote two different letters to a church in Corinth that we find in the Bible. I want to read something he wrote in his second letter—and, again, remember, this is to a church. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Paul references how Satan led Eve astray from God’s truth back in Genesis 3. And, Paul warns us that we must be aware of Satan’s deception, too. That deception can quickly and easily replace our devotion. Our thoughts can be led astray. Our feelings can be led astray. Our hearts can be led astray from a pure devotion to Christ. If we are not careful to bring every thought, every emotion, every feeling back to the foot of the Cross, they can lead us astray from the truth of God’s Word.
So, do you feel distant from God and a little lost along the way this morning? If so, I want to ask you a simple question: who moved? Who moved? You might feel like it’s God who has moved and drifted from you, but in Luke 15:4, Jesus says, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” You see, you may feel like God is far from you, but Jesus seeks after you. He won’t relent. He’s not quitting on you. He’s not far away and distant from you. He is the God who seeks after those who are lost until they are found again. When you feel distant from God, be assured that He is there. The cross assures you that He is there. And, so, our final feeling statement is, “I feel lost,” but our reality statement is, “God sees you. Jesus relentlessly pursues the lost until they are found again.”
As we move to our closing this morning, we must ask ourselves, what do we do with our feelings? We can’t—we shouldn’t—ignore them. After all, God designed and created us with these feelings. But, we have to bring them back to the Word of God. We have to tell our feelings what is true and what to think sometimes. And, no matter what you are feeling this morning—it may be fear, inadequacy, overwhelmed or a thousand other emotions—I assure you that Jesus is near to you. He sees you. He knows your situation. Coming to the foot of the cross will not necessarily eliminate all of our negative emotions, but it will put them into their proper perspective. Do not allow your feeling to misguide you and lead you astray. It’s the Word of God that is a lamp to our feet and guides our path. And, when you’ve just gotta feeling, I encourage you to simply ask, “What does the Word of God say about how I feel.”