Many who go through emotional upheaval in their lives end up adding to their problems by the way they handle their emotions. Truly, our emotions play a large part in making our lives meaningful or miserable. Take a look at some Scriptural examples that illustrate how to handle our emotions, particularly the negative ones.
What I want to share with you in this lesson comes from some of my personal pilgrimage, as well as from the life of the Apostle Paul as seen in Second Corinthians.
Many who go through emotional upheaval in their lives end up adding to their problems by the way they handle their emotions. They may say to themselves, "You shouldn't be experiencing what you are going through. It is not right to be in such a state." Truly, our emotions play a large part in making our lives meaningful or miserable. To illustrate the various viewpoints we might have concerning our emotions, let me begin with a few agree or disagree statements. What would your answer be to these questions?
Agree or Disagree?
A truly mature and spiritual person almost never has emotional highs or lows.I used to give the impression that I believed that, but in reality I have always experienced some highs and lows. There was a dissonance between what I thought was maturity and what was actually happening in my life. Then I began to look at the Old and New Testaments and noticed how many of the patriarchs and saints struggled through difficult moments and expressed deep and turbulent emotions.
Even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Scripture says, was deeply distressed and troubled and"overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death"—Mark 14:32-34.
Paul in 2 Corinthians very candidly shares with the Corinthian church his emotional upheaval. This, by the way, is the man who said, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ"—1 Cor. 11:1.
A mature believer takes advantage of every opportunity for ministry he has, regardless of how he feels.
This sounds pretty noble, and I think we do sometimes have to press beyond our feelings and minister and/or carry on at our life's work and responsibilities. But I discovered that the Apostle Paul on one occasion, as we'll see in 2 Corinthians, left an opportunity that the Lord had opened up for him because he was anxious.
If you ignore your hurts or anger, they will go away and not cause trouble later on.
I am really good at this one, but I can tell you, burying your emotions will cause trouble later on. Eventually we have to deal with them.
Just let all your feelings and anger hang out—just get them out of your system and you’ll receive relief.
Some believe that this is one of the best ways to deal with emotion. "Primal screams," "sensitivity sessions," "openness," and "being in touch with our feelings" are ways that some people believe we should deal with our emotions. We are encouraged to have a catharsis experience with feelings and then we will feel better.
I believe there are other options somewhere between the total repression and total expression of our emotions. Paul will model that for us in the book of 2 Corinthians.
If I express my hurts or anger to another person I’m angry at or hurt by, our relationship will suffer.
I think it is unfortunate that many of us believe this, because we consequently keep our hurts and anger to ourselves. Think of the number of people who do not know the blind spots they have in their life, because no one was ever honest with them about their behavior. Relationships don't need to suffer, but can be strengthened if we properly and lovingly confront others.
One of the finest examples of emotional health is exemplified in the book of 2 Corinthians. Paul shared his emotions and concerns for the Corinthians, and we will see the result of his vulnerability was not a weakening of their relationship, but rather a positive strengthening of their bond.
I'd like you to look at a number of "upheaval words" in this book: words that express deep emotion, distress and trouble. We'll then get a definition of each word and see the cause, the cure, and the consequence of each of these emotional situations.
2 Corinthians 1:3-11. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4] who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5] For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6] If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7] And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8] We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9] Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10] He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11] as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."
The CircumstancesCircle these words in your Bible.
- Troubles, hardship—vv. 4,8.
Definition: compression, weighed down, pressure from evil, affliction
Description: Paul was describing an upheaval that was really a compression from all sides—e.g., pressure from evil, and pressure from affliction
- Sufferings—vv. 5-7
Definition: be subjected to evil and suffer from it
- Great pressure—far beyond ability to endure (v. 8)
Definition: to be heavy, weighed down, oppressed, borne down by evil and calamities (These are depressing words aren't they?)
- Despaired even of life, felt the sentence of death—vv. 8-9
Definition: to be wholly without resource, to despair utterly, to be without a way of escape
Description: Paul came to a place in his life when he was not relying on God's resources and thus despaired of life—he was in utter despair.
Have you been there? Without escape?
The text gives us a number of causes.
That Paul might receive transferrable comfort—v. 4.
This is one of my favorite verses. It tells us that as we go through difficult moments we receive something: transferrable comfort. On the other side of that brick wall of stretching circumstances, where we feel without resource, is God's comfort.
That the church might receive and pass on the same comfort—vv. 4-7.
Paul went through this trial that he might receive comfort, but that's not the end. It was also so he might pass it on to others. If we could see spiritually for a moments, we would see a chain of comfort that has come through our lives and continues from each of our lives.
Think of those moments of despair and upheaval in your life that somehow by God's grace you pressed through.You now have a deposit, a bank account of comfort. What are you going to do with it—keep it to yourself, or invest it in others? If we invest it in others, it will be a wonderful blessing someday to see how the links of the chain of comfort were passed to others.
If you are asking right now, "Why is this happening to me, God?" A portion of the answer is in these verses—vv. 3-7. God sees into eternity; He sees all those links in the chain—the generations of people who will be comforted by the comfort you will receive from him during this trial.
That the church might see leaders suffer too, and that the comfort Paul received is for them as well.
This will help them endure in suffering—vv. 5-7. You might think that if you're really spiritual, or one of those leader types, you will never have any hassles. But Paul was being vulnerable here and showing that he was touched by the same kinds of infirmities, weaknesses and hurts as the Corinthians. This was encouraging to them, not just because Paul could relate to them, but because he had pressed through his hardships and sufferings, and the comfort of Christ that overflowed in his life would overflow in their lives also. It gave them endurance and helped them to press through their hard times.
That Paul would not rely on himself, but on God—v. 9b.
This is the highest reason of all.
"Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death, but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who [just happened to] raise the dead."—v. 9b.
So why do we go through difficult times? To teach us something—not to rely on ourselves, but on God. If we run from those brick walls of trial and responsibility and never face difficult times, walking through the emotional upheaval surrounding them, we will never discover the thrill of relying on God. God wants us to be without a way of escape, to be without resource, to despair utterly so we must rely on Him.
What's the cure for Paul? Look at the fourth column.
Remember God's deliverance in the past.
v. 10a—"He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us."
A number of years ago when I was going through an emotional burnout, one of the things that helped me was to remember God's deliverance in the past. As I read the Word of God, it gave me many wonderful solutions.
But so often, even when we know the solution to our problems, we're in such an emotional upheaval we can't make a decision or hear counsel from others. Therefore, it is so helpful to stop and remember what God has said to us in the past. What has He told others in the past? We need to take time to reflect. (Read verse 10a again.)
Another cure for this condition is also in verse 10b.
Set our hope on Him that He will continue to deliver us—v. 10b.
Often when we have a problem, we go running to somebody else. But the first person we should turn to is God. We should set our hope on Him. That's where our hope should be. For the believer, He is the source of all help, even if He might use a human instrument.
Solicit the help of significant others to pray with us.
v. 11—"as you help us by your prayers."
There are times when the Lord arbitrarily intersects our lives and like a Road to Damascus experience—we have a vision, and our lives are immediately changed.
But more often than not, the way He comforts us is in community—through the prayers of others. Here Paul was being vulnerable and sharing his life. As a result, the Corinthians were praying for him.
We need to solicit the help of others to pray for us, too.
- Answered prayer. v. 11b—"then many will see and give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."
- Thanksgiving given to God for answered prayer—v. 11c. How many times has the Lord been robbed of thanksgiving and praise because we haven't been vulnerable about our needs, and taken the time to solicit the prayer of others?
If we don't tell others, then they won't pray for us; consequently they won't see an answer and give God the praise. It is imperative, then, that we solicit the prayers of others so the Lord would receive praise.
2 Cor. 2:1-4—"So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2] For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3] I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4] For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you."
Here's an upheaval word . It means grief, sorrow.
Great distress—v. 4.
This means much suffering, pressure, affliction, passion, affection
Anguish of heart—v. 4b.
This is an interesting phrase meaning conflicts, affliction, mental torture, anxious of heart. Literally, it means to compress the throat, to choke. Mental torture is another way of describing this phrase, and it may express itself in panic attacks.
Many tears—v. 4c
Why was Paul experiencing such terrific emotion?
Paul had to write a letter of correction to the church.
This would help to spare them another painful visit—1:23; 2:1-3. Just the thought of possibly causing them hurt and grief was emotionally difficult for him. The anticipation caused him distress, anguish and tears.
Paul's letter would also show his depth of love for them—v. 4.
This was the reason that compelled him to write.
Paul didn't want to grieve the church.
He wanted them to share his joy and give him cause to rejoice and not be distressed—vv. 2-4. If he inflicted them with pain, there would be no reason for him to rejoice. They wouldn't be sharing his joy. Paul didn't want to hurt the people he loved. Likewise, during a time of emotional distress we think our only option is to run, because we don't think we'll be able to handle what is before us. Maybe we don't want to hurt others. God's love can compel us to go beyond our comfort zone and do what is right. Draw on it!
Start with the obvious and/or small thing.
In this case, Paul had to write the letter no matter how painful it was.
The Corinthians needed to stand the test and be obedient in everything.
There was a sense in which Paul's emotions were attached to their obedience. You might think, "If he was really spiritual, he wouldn't have that kind of thing happen to him. After all, really spiritual people don't get emotional when other people are rebellious." Then why would the Holy Spirit grieve? Why did God get angry in the Old Testament? Why did Jesus have anxiety and great sorrow when He approached the cross?
Sometimes our emotions are attached to other people's obedience. That may be why you are going through a difficult time.
The Corinthians carried out Paul's instructions and brought discipline to the person in question—vv. 5-6. The discipline was effective and sufficient—v. 6. The man was restored, given comfort, and forgiven. Satan was outwitted.
When you are in the midst of a trial, you just can't know what's on the other side of obedience. You can know, however, that it's worth it!
2 Cor. 2:12-13—"Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened the door for me, 13] I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by and went on to Macedonia."
Notice the words here: no peace of mind—v. 13. This means, no loosening or relaxing. The picture is of a string that has been tightly stretched. There is no relaxation from endurance or expectation.
Paul was uptight! "Good and mature Christians don't get uptight, do they?" Paul did.
Why was he so upset? He couldn't find Titus in Troas. Paul had sent Titus to Corinth, and he was to bring this letter and bring correction.
Paul didn't know how the Corinthians had responded. He was anxious and wanted to know what was going on. When he couldn't find Titus, he went on to Macedonia.
When you have no peace of mind:
- Get a correct picture of what is happening as soon as possible—v. 13. Don't live with your imagination. Get the facts.
- Go to the Word for perspective.
Paul in this passage was anxious, concerned; he had no peace of mind. In v. 14 he said, however, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him."
Paul's life was put into a positive and spiritual context.
In this section of Scripture (2:12-13), Paul reviews for us what it means to be in the New Covenant, and not the Old. He affirms the blessings, the responsibilities, and the resources. He goes on to discuss eternity, what our bodies will look like; he talks about the light and momentary troubles he is walking through. He shares insight into what it means to walk under pressure.
It is a wonderful section—all because we are not under the Law, but under Grace.
Paul didn't take advantage of an opportunity for ministry.
He was so anxious about what was happening in Corinth, he went into Macedonia to look for Titus. Paul had an effective door, an opportunity for ministry, but he had another priority. Something was more important. He went on to look for Titus.
2 Cor. 7:2-16—"Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 3] I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. 4] I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. 5] For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6] But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7] and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your affection, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever."
What are the upheaval words?
Body had no rest—v. 5.
Definition is the same as above, but the focus is on no rest for the body.
Harassed at every turn—v. 5.
This means to press upon, to oppress as with evils and distress.
Conflicts on the outside—v. 5b.
This refers to a fight, a battle, a strife, a controversy.
Poor Paul. He is concerned about the Corinthians, so he goes to Macedonia. When he gets there, however, he gets himself into another problem. He doesn't tell us what it is, but it seems to be a big conflict.
Fears within—v. 5c.
Fears? Godly people have fears? This refers to terror, dismay, fright, hence flight.
Low, humble, lowly, depressed
Paul went through all these emotions. We don't know if it was his concern for the Corinthians, or the pain he went through in Macedonia, but he was experiencing an emotional upheaval in his life.
What was the cure for Paul in this case?
Paul named the emotion—v. 6.
If I don't name my emotions, I don't deal with them. If I don't admit I have fear, then I don't go to God's Word to find a solution. Do you know how many Scriptures there are dealing with fear? If you don't admit it, you don't hear, "Fear not..."
Paul also drew upon the resources of God.
He received comfort from God.
"...but God who comforts the downcast..."—v. 6. This is a name for God. When you are in a worship service, rather than just saying, "Lord I praise you that you created this world," why not say, "Lord I praise you because you are the God who comforts the downcast." This is one of His names.
He received comfort from Titus—v. 6b.
Titus brought good news, and it blessed and comforted Paul. When someone you know is down and depressed, remember to use your words to bring comfort. Don't just throw out some Christian words you've heard someone else say. Be careful, because your words at this time can further wound and destroy a person, or can begin to bring healing. Write down Prov. 25:11, 13, 16; 15:4, 23; 13:17.
Paul received comfort from the Corinthians—v. 7.
Call this "second-hand comfort." Paul was not only comforted by Titus, he was comforted by what people said to Titus. One wonderful thing about the people of Hillcrest Chapel is the way they express their love and concern. If you hear a good word about someone else, pass it on to him/her. Don't keep it to yourself.
What happened because Paul pressed through his emotion and did what was right?
- His joy was greater than ever—v. 7.
- Paul's regrets were quieted—v. 8.
- Paul was happy because of the good outcome from his letter of correction—v. 9.
- Paul is encouraged—v. 13.
- Titus was encouraged—v. 13b.
2 Cor. 12:7-10, 20—7] To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8] Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9] But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10] That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 20] "For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21] I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged."
Definition: to strike with hands/fist, to buffet.
Means "to strike with fear, scare; to be frightened"
"To lament, mourn for, especially for one dead; go into mourning"
- Paul was afraid he and the Corinthians would be disappointed with each other.
- Paul had been grieving (2:5);; now he anticipated grieving again because of their disobedience.
Follow Paul's lead!
- Pray until you get a solution—12:7-8; 13:7.
- Rely on the grace and power of God in weakness—12:9.
- Have an adjusted attitude about man's weakness and God's power—vv. 9b-10
- Repent—v. 21
- Exercise properly the authority you have—13:2-4,10
These are amazing results!
Paul was strong and weak emotionally, spiritually, and relationally—12:9-10. His weakness provided an opportunity for him to receive strength and power from God, so though He was weak, he was also strong! This is the secret to being strong in an emotional upheaval.
Paul did what he could, and then he rested in the work of God's grace, love and Spirit among the Corinthians—13:14.
There are three charts I want to conclude with that will help us summarize what we have learned from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians.
How Do We Handle Our Emotions?
Because of Experiencing Them, Be Discouraged
A Vicious Cycle Occurs Which Reinforces the Problem
Some believe that a Christian shouldn't have any strong emotions, and therefore many believers ignore them or repress them. On the other hand, others say we should acknowledge and express them however they come out and whatever the cost might be. But often when we express our emotions, we can say too much, and as a result become discouraged.
If that happens, we can have guilt, depression and anxiety—some new emotions which we can ignore, repress or express. Do you see the potential for a vicious cycle occurring?
So what should we do?
A Christian Shouldn't Have Emotional Problems
If the statement, "A Christian shouldn't have emotional problems" is true, then all the circumstances and emotions Paul experienced in 2 Corinthians should not have happened or been expressed.
Note this last item on the list of accepting emotions is to keep serving others. The tendency when we get involved in a difficulty is to have our whole life focus on ourselves. Paul didn't do that; he kept serving. He kept writing letters, kept sharing his anxiety, and kept serving the Lord.
The third chart is a more complete summary of all the possible solutions and the verses found in 2 Corinthians.
Possible Solutions from 2 Corinthians
Thank you, Lord for this study in your Word. I thank you for your grace and your love; that you are the God of all comfort. We come to You today and we acknowledge our complete dependence on you.
Thank you for understanding our frame. Thank you for sharing with us that there is not an emotion, a hurt, a circumstance, that you don't understand, and have an answer to. We commit ourselves to you and thank you for your wonderful grace—the grace that is made available to us in weakness, so that when we are weak, we can be strong, because your power is made perfect in weakness.
In an article by H. Norman Wright, a Christian psychologist, he makes several comments that will be helpful to focus on as a supplement to this study. He says,
The Scriptures do not tell us directly why we are created with the capacity to feel and to experience emotions.
We do know, however, that our emotionality is grounded in the character and nature of God. He has described Himself in the Scriptures as having emotions such as anger (Deut. 29:20; Joshua 23:16; 2 Kings 22:13; Ezra 8:22; Job 9:13; Psalm 7:11; 78:12; 106:40; John 3:36; Romans 1:18); jealousy(Deut. 29:20; Psalm 75:58; 1 Cor. 10:22); and delight (Isaiah 62:4).
God does not experience emotions such as fear, anxiety and guilt. These, perhaps the most uncomfortable and miserable of human feelings, are apparently experienced by mankind as a result of rebellion against God. These would not be experienced otherwise.
The Scriptures also record that when God created man He said, "Let us make man in Our image..."
In the image of God He created him—male and female He created that emotionality which reflects His attribute in a manner that we are capable of understanding. By experiencing emotions, we are better able to know God. He could have created us without any capacity for feelings, but then in a very real sense, we would also have been left without the capacity for relationships, with Him, or with one another.
Those who seem to lack feelings are often referred to as "inhuman." They seem more like machines or hollow shells than people. It is clear then that we should take delight in our emotional nature.
To eliminate emotions would not only rid us of fear of the dark, sadness over death, and anger at inconvenience; but also the satisfaction of a job well done, deep love of one close to us, and hearty laughter at a well-told joke. Without emotions, we are hollow people. Rather than curse and attempt to kill our capacity to feel, because we cannot seem to live with our emotions, we should accept them with joy and exclaim with King David of Israel, "I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made"—Psalm 139:14.
The Bible gives many examples of men who experienced deep emotions.
(See Amplified Version: Genesis 4:4-5; 29:20; Habakkuk 3:16; Romans 12:14; 2 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 4:26; 2 Tim. 1:7.)
Emotions are a mixed blessing. They are responsible for man's finest and greatest achievements. They are also responsible for some of the greatest tragedies in our world. Our emotions play a large part in making our lives meaningful or miserable. C.B. Eavey, in his book, Principles of Mental Health for Christian Living, suggested:
"Nothing in us so defies and destroys the beauty and the glory of living as do emotions; nothing so elevates, purifies, enriches, and strengthens life as does emotion. Through our emotions we can have the worst or the best, we can descend to the lowest depths or we can rise to the highest heights. Every normal human being has a longing for the overflowing of natural emotion. Without the capacity to experience emotions suitable to the situations we meet, we would not be normal.
Emotions of the right kind, expressed in the proper way, make life beautiful, full, and rich, rob it of monotony, and contribute much to both the enjoyment and the effectiveness of living."1
Our emotions are a gift from God, for we were created as emotional beings. Because of the Fall, man's emotional life often becomes distorted. But our emotions as such should never be despised, expelled, ignored, or even neglected.
"If we try to drive away any one of them," adds Eavey, "we simply intensify its activity. When we let them go without guidance and control, they cause confusion and riot in our lives. If we try to suppress them they produce destruction in our personalities. 2
As we consider/look at our emotions, we may find that we are a person who experiences some of them too deeply and intensely (such as worry, anger, or depression). On the other hand, we may not be in touch with some of them sufficiently, or we may deny them and never share either the positive or the negative ones. A speaker once said, "When Jesus went to the cross for us, He also went to the cross for our emotional life."
1. C.B. Eavey, Principles of Mental Health for Christian Living, Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1957, p. 164.
- Why do you think God gave us emotions? How does he view our negative emotions?
- What kind of beliefs do you/have you held regarding a Christian's emotions?
- Have you lingered on one side or the other of the emotional spectrum (i.e., letting none of your emotions show, or letting them all show)?
- Does it surprise you to read that some of the most revered saints had some of the most dramatically emotional responses to their circumstances?
- What are some of the biblical reasons we've seen for difficult and emotionally stretching experiences?
- Have you experienced some of the "cures" we've looked at in this lesson? (e.g., remember God's deliverance in the past; set our hope on Him that He will continue to deliver us; solicit the help of significant others to pray; get a correct picture of what is happening as soon as possible; go to the Word for perspective.) What impact did they have in your emotional upheaval?
- What happens when we ignore/repress our emotions? Can you think of an example in your life?
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