Sin-tainted emotions often provide helpful navigation points … and excellent opportunities to practice the six core skills of relational wisdom.
When you realize that you are feeling anger, bitterness, jealousy, contempt, or any other negative or distressing emotion, ask yourself two questions.
First, “Is this emotion pleasing to God and consistent with his character and will?”
If the answer is “probably not,” ask yourself the second question: “In what direction is this emotion seeking to move me?”
Once you’ve clearly identified the direction that you are inclined to go, the best course of action will often be to “do a 180,” that is, to do exactly the opposite of what you feel like doing.
- Do you want to turn your back on someone who ignored you during a time of need? Then take the initiative to encourage and serve that person.
- Do you feel like sharing embarrassing information about someone who gossiped about you? Instead protect that person’s reputation and draw attention to her virtues and accomplishments.
- Are you tempted to shun someone who has deliberately rejected your advice? Surprise him by seeking his counsel and implementing his worthwhile ideas.
- Do you secretly hope that someone who rejected you will be hurt in the same way? Pray daily that God will graciously spare her from such harm.
- Was someone disloyal to you, and now you have a chance to do the same in return? Amaze him by standing fast as his friend and supporter.
Radical stuff. Crazy in the eyes of the world. Exactly the opposite of what we feel like doing. But precisely the course that God calls us to walk as his image bearers:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:27-36).
This kind of unworldly behavior requires you to exercise all six disciplines of relational wisdom:
- Self-awareness – “What am I feeling? Why? What am I tempted to do?”
- Self-engagement – “What will I do instead?”
- God-awareness – “What is God like? How does the gospel apply to this situation?”
- God-engagement – “How will I trust, imitate, and obey Jesus right now?”
- Other-awareness – “What are the other person’s needs? Struggles? Interests?”
- Other–engagement – “How can I encourage, bless, and serve him?”
Doing a 180 is of course inappropriate in situations involving abuse or danger of serious harm, when we should instead follow our protective instincts and seek help from God-ordained authorities (Matt. 18:15-20; Rom. 13:1-7).
But when emotions are churning during the normal disappointments and trials of life, doing the opposite of what you feel like doing–without expecting any benefit in return–can put you on a course that imitates God’s mercy and grace to you (Eph. 5:1-2), and gives you the best chance of preserving a relationship you might otherwise loose.
– Ken Sande
- How do these passages support the concept of doing the opposite of what our feelings are leading us to do: Luke 23:34; 1 Samuel 24; Romans 12:19-21; Acts 7:54-60?
- How does doing the opposite of what we feel like doing give us an opportunity to imitate God (Rom. 5:8)?
- Think of a time when you let negative and distressing emotions guide your words and actions toward another person. How did it feel initially? How did the situation turn out in the long run? Were you glad or sad that you followed your emotions?
- Are you in a challenging relationship that is triggering emotions that seem to be moving you to distance yourself from another person or to say or do hurtful things toward him? What would be the opposite course of action? Do you think that is where God wants you to go?
- Why is it essential that you do these things without expecting the other person to do anything for you in return?
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© 2013 Ken Sande
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