Keep watch over me and keep me out of trouble; don’t let me down when I run to you. Use all your skill to put me together; I wait to see your finished product. (Psalm 25:2-21)
Our daily “up and down” emotions are energy hogs. They become a consuming force – so we need to learn how to “spend” our energy wisely and when it is being “wasted”. Clarity comes in those “clarifying” moments we create in our lives – quiet times of renewal, revelation, and relationship. There are many influences over our emotions. Letting go of what is not bringing us emotional health and guarding whatever comes into our minds that ultimately influences us is paramount to us staying “balanced” emotionally.
It goes without saying that our emotional responses can define us - we are defined by our emotions and the thoughts we act out based on those emotions. Defining something means that we determine the essential qualities or meaning of something. In other words, we attach some value to what we perceive. Since our emotions are such a powerful influence over our actions, it will do us well to evaluate them, choose wisely which ones we allow to define us, and then to subdue those that would attach any type of negative definition to our character.
Being “defined” in our character comes through a process of evaluating each response through the filter of the Holy Spirit in our lives. How we speak, the ways we respond, how we interpret life – all distinguish us from another human being and “define” us as unique creations. For the sake of our discussion here, let us consider that what we express influences what others define as “us” or “you”. The expression of emotion gives us a distinctiveness of character that others interpret as good or bad, likable or repelling, creative or stagnant, etc. It is important for us to allow the Holy Spirit to impact each expression of our emotion – whether it is a “positive” or “negative” emotional response.
We need to allow the Holy Spirit to impact our emotions and thoughts so that what is revealed matches the definition God has of each of us – letting go of our need to control who we are, what we do, who we allow “in”. The Holy Spirit has the daily work of refining us, not redefining us. God is not in the business of “redefining” us. He takes us through experiences that work to free us from the imperfections we have embraced in our thoughts or actions. Through his refining work, he is placing within us subtle changes that make us distinctly unique individuals in his family. As unique individuals, we are no longer defined by others, but by him. We don’t have to be identified by that which others have said about us, what we’ve done or what we have not done in life. We are uniquely defined by God – our creator. Who is better to do the defining work than the one that created us?
There is a character in the Old Testament that brings to mind the power of embracing the refining process. He is Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, a descendent of Abraham. Joseph was just one of Jacob’s sons, born in his old age, but he was noted in scripture as “favored” by his father. As you can well imagine, this “favorite child syndrome” caused just a little tension between Joseph and his brothers. As a matter of fact, scripture defines their response to him as plagued with jealousy, hatred, cruel treatment, taunting or teasing behavior, and ultimately, a scheme to make him disappear from their family so they no longer have to deal with him. Joseph was actually sold into slavery and sent to a land far away from his family by his brothers. Not exactly the picture of an ideal family as we’d like to imagine one.
Yet…even apart from his family, away from his home land, surrounded by foreign practices, and alone in his dedication to the God of his fathers, he learns to trust that there is a larger purpose being acted out in and through him which he must honor and respond to. Joseph certainly had unending opportunity to be defined by the circumstances he was in – he could have embraced bitterness, anger or hardness toward family or faith. He even had opportunity to retaliate more than once against his family, but he was willing to break the circle of unkindness in his family and act kindly toward his brothers. All because he was willing to trust a purpose for his life that was bigger than what he immediately understood in his present circumstances. It amazing to see the response Joseph has toward his brothers so many years after they had treated him so cruelly.
I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save your lives. There has been famine in the land now for 2 years; the famine will continue for 5 more years – neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and to make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance. So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God. (Gen. 45:5-8)
It never ceases to amaze me just how God works well beyond us. We can develop the warped perception that others have aided us or caused us to be where we are today. We may think we have placed ourselves there by our own doing. The truth is that there is a larger purpose for everything we go through – life is bigger than we imagine in the finiteness of our minds. There is liberty in recognizing the hand of God in “refining” us in the circumstances we find ourselves facing. In embracing the refining process we are embracing things in life that seem a little risky to us.
Do we resist risk? It is risky to accept people as they are. It is equally risky to sort people out as “good” or “bad” and then to resist anyone that doesn’t measure up to what we imagine as “good”. It is also quite risky to forgive. It is riskier to hold a grudge – hatred and fear often reproduce themselves in our lives through abuse, alienation, and violent behavior. It is risky to give of ourselves. Some emotional risks seem too high to embrace, but they carry great reward for our character.
Risk can be defined as the possibility of loss or injury, danger or peril. Dealing with risk requires faith – faith in the fact that God has the capacity and willingness to keep his promises. As we look at what Joseph faced, we can clearly see that Joseph was willing to embrace each circumstance and so doing, his capacity was expanded. Emotionally, he developed into a man of stable character.
We often question what is possible in our life? We usually only get glimpses of future possibilities or slight impressions of the present possibilities. We have set ideas of what we “think” is possible based on what we know, believe, have experienced, etc. We move from this mindset of “only this much is possible” to a broader impression of possibility when we are willing to allow God to expand our capacity for control over our lives - and that includes our emotions. Our emotions can hold captive to limited growth, limited perception, or limited capacity. It is important for us to recognize that God in us equals possibility. When we embrace what may not be emotionally comfortable, new things beyond our past experiences are possible; new things beyond our present circumstances are opened to us; and new things beyond our wildest imaginations are introduced into our thought. God’s creative power is not limited by our hopes or our fears, but he never violates our willingness to be led beyond those preconceived hopes or misguided fears.
God desires to assist us in learning to control our emotions. Control can be defined as the exercise of restraining or directing influence over something. Control carries the idea of checking, testing, or verifying by evidence. God is in the business of validating our experiences, not by our emotions, but by his Holy Spirit bearing witness in us despite our emotional response to the circumstance.
We want to be in control emotionally. Every time we need to “stay in control” we are resisting God and his possibilities in our lives. The “but” syndrome often emerges whenever we are facing things that are new, uncomfortable, or challenging. “Yeah, but”…is a sure sign that we are resisting God in either our capacity to experience what he has for us or in our desire to hold absolute control over our lives without allowing him to influence us. Each of us uses “but” statements that limit God’s creativity in us and holds us emotionally bound to our interpretation of the circumstance. Faith is set into action when we begin to trust God with what he can imagine (usually way more than we can presume to understand or imagine). This type of faith requires a willingness to yield control – the willingness to allow God access to our emotions and to “balance” us emotionally. To yield is to give up possession of; to surrender or submit; or to give up and cease resistance or contention. It also means to bear or bring forth a return or result – we often have no fruit because we have not learned to yield to its creation in our lives. We are so emotionally bound up, limited to what we know, have experienced, or come to “trust” in our lives.
Yielding equals creative power unleashed in us. Yielding brings forth things within us that did not previously exist. God knew they were there, but we did not see them, believe them as possible, or trust for their revelation. The ordinary is transformed within us into the extraordinary. The only difference between the ordinary and extraordinary is God’s transforming “extra” placed within us. This transforming power causes us to go beyond what is usual, regular, or customary for us - bringing about in us that which is remarkable, freeing us to live fulfilled lives.
“Extraordinary” requires risk because extraordinary means that we will be:
Moved “against” at times, causing us to sense the emotional resistance we have deeply inherent within our character
Called upon frequently to do the things that may not be comfortable, agreeable, or that leave us with the feeling that we are still “in control”
Summoned out of apathy and dispassionate existence into passionate pursuit of what God lays out before us regardless of the perceived cost
We go through all kinds of gyrations to promote “loss prevention” in our lives. Sometimes we are so focused on “loss prevention” that we dare not risk the possibility of loss. If the seed thrown into the soil was more focused on preventing the loss of its original form, the tree (and its fruit) would never be produced. In God’s economy, possibility equates to allowing and doing things that are out of the ordinary. We can be so caught up in the “ordinary” of daily life that we limit the “possibility” of the extraordinary. God just waits to break us open – but he never pushes us into the extraordinary - he looks for us to risk it all – and in turn, he breaks us open, pouring in his holiness, positioning us for greatness in him.
What is God asking you to risk? Begin to think about the things God has asked you “risk” over the past few months. Begin to ask God to change your “emotional tie” to those things you hold onto that keeps you in a place of bondage. Seek his understanding of the emotions you have attached to past events, relationships, or challenges. As we faithfully trust God to take each negative emotional experience or memory into his hands, allowing him to remove that attachment we have made, he heals. As God leads – make a plan with God to yield control in that memory we can call our emotional baggage. Embrace the emotional freedom that comes from allowing the Creator’s fingers to strum across the chords of those emotions, bringing a simple melody of praise and worship to him as he gently heals and recreates new emotions of rest, release, and restoration in place of those emotional “graves” we have allowed to be created within. It is a great thing to learn to allow God to “keep you out of trouble” emotionally.