When Feelings Fail

By Trillia Newbell

Over the weekend I experienced something that I do not often experience: a downcast soul. I guess you could say I was despondent. Each morning I would wake up and immediately sense sadness. The afternoon would come and again I would be sad. What made it most clear to me is that my husband and sisters could also sense that I was saddened and heavy laden.

Yesterday it happened again. I woke up and wasn’t feeling happy. I was annoyed with myself. I just want to feel better,  I would say to myself. I couldn’t reconcile knowing the truth about the gospel (that Jesus took all my sins on himself; died-providing forgiveness and access to God; rose and is now interceding on my behalf) with my melancholy.

My Feelings Fail Me

The problem with feelings is that they are variable. They change, sometimes hourly. Actually within a matter of a minute you can go from elation to utter despair. Our feelings are simply unreliable and I was allowing my feelings much control.  In his book, Spiritual Depression, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones provides warning about our feelings. “Our feelings are always seeking to control us, and unless we realize this, they will undoubtedly do so,” (pg. 112).

But what’s the big deal? Why can’t I just “go with the flow?” Isn’t it more reasonable to simply embrace how I feel? No. The problem with my feelings is that they don’t always align with Scripture. As a Christian, I am not to be guided by my feelings rather I am to be guided by the Word of God.

Stop Listening to Yourself & Start Preaching

My problem wasn’t that I wasn’t feeling happy, it was that I wasn’t focused on the right problem. My problem was that I didn’t believe the truth that is in my head and in my heart. I was listening to myself rather than preaching to myself.

Again, Lloyd- Jones addresses this:

“Avoid the mistake of concentrating overmuch upon your feelings. Above all, avoid the terrible error of making them central. Now I am never tired of repeating this because I find so frequently that this is a cause of stumbling. Feelings are never meant to take the first place, they are never meant to be central. If put there you are of necessity doomed to be unhappy, because you are not following the order that God himself has ordained,” (p. 114).

The problem with my unhappiness this weekend was that it spilled over into every area of my life. I began to question writing. I felt like I was an awful mother. I was sad for my family. It was just one big mess. Honestly, it didn’t make much sense. My problem at that moment was self-focus and unbelief. The most interesting part is, if you didn’t know me, you wouldn’t know. It was mostly a battle in my head.

I’ll let Lloyd-Jones take it again:

“Truth is addressed to the mind, God’s supreme gift to man; and it is as we apprehend and submit ourselves to the truth that the feelings follow. I must never ask myself in the first instance: What do I feel about this? The first question is, Do I believe it? Do I accept it, has it gripped me?…Do not spend too much time feeling your own pulse taking your own spiritual temperature, do not spend too much time analyzing your feelings. That is the high road to morbidity,” (p. 115).

What I needed to do (and thankful did do) was to remind myself of Truth. I had to preach the gospel to myself. I had to remember who God is. I had to do battle with my soul and in my mind to take captive my thoughts.

Is Happiness the Goal?

I was beginning to see the folly of my thinking and God was graciously reminding me of whom He is. But as I gained an understanding of how I shouldn’t be dominated by my feelings one thing remained: feelings. God created me with emotions and feelings. They can truly be a gift from God. But there will be times when I’m not happy. Am I called to be happy at all times?

No. But I am commanded to rejoice. Paul tells us in Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).  And then we see in 1 Thessalonians that it isn’t only commanded, it is God’s will that we rejoice: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Lloyd-Jones helps distinguish between what it means to be happy and what it means to rejoice.

“We must recognize that there is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and feeling happy…To rejoice is a command…You cannot make yourself happy, but you can make yourself rejoice, in the sense that you will always rejoice in the Lord. Happiness is something within ourselves, rejoicing is ‘in the Lord,’” (p.115-116).

I want to be a happy Christian. I do. But rejoicing is attainable at all times. It’s a choice I can make when my feelings don’t align.

How can I rejoice? Believing.

Why can I rejoice? Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the source of all joy. I can rejoice because…

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

There is no greater news than this gospel, the object of my rejoicing. So the next time my soul is cast down and I am despondent I will say to my soul like the Psalmists often did, “Soul, don’t be cast down. You know the living God. He has forgiven you of all your sin. You can approach God who is holy. Your name is written in Heaven (Luke 10:20), yet another reason for rejoicing.”

What about you? Have you equated happiness with rejoicing? How would you preach to yourself?


Suggested resources:

Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and It’s Cure, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Future Grace, by John Piper

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4 Comments to “When Feelings Fail”

  1. […] When feelings fail Trillia Newbell puts words on what many feel (or, in this case, don’t feel) […]

  2. amy maples says:

    Great stuff Trill! I need to grow in informing my feelings with Truth. Too often I lead with emotion, or rather I lead with an emotion that is uninformed by truth.

  3. Emily says:

    This was a great post. Such good reminders. I love Dr. Lloyd-Jones. His words have been encouraging to my soul many a time. Thank you for bringing the truth of the gospel again to the forefront of my mind.

  4. admin says:

    Thank you for reading, Emily! So glad it encouraged you. Trillia