As humans made in the image of God we deal with myriad of emotions on a daily basis. The quandary is when emotions are mixed with fleshly desires and become a manifestation of our sin. When interacting with friends, family or even ourselves, how we respond to these emotions can be vital to relationships with God.

Emotions can be defined as “any strong agitation of the feelings actuated by experiencing love, hate, fear, etc., and usually accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking.”[1] Obviously, when we share our lives, stories, hardships and joys with other people it often invokes experiencing both good and bad emotions . . . love and hate, fear and contentment, joy and sorrow. So, how should we deal with emotions when seeking to love God and others well?

Don’t stifle what God has given us. Allow other’s the freedom to express emotions. Clearly we shouldn’t give allowance for sin, like allowing an emotionally angry friend to yell at his wife or vice versa. However, when appropriately allowing emotions to be shown, it can give much insight into the thoughts, intentions and desires of the heart.

Be aware. It is always important for us to be aware of what our friends or loved ones may be feeling. Don’t shy away from asking clarifying questions. If someone is using words that indicate a particular emotion or feeling, but says he or she is not, take time to ask more questions. Communicate back to them what you heard as you listened to them. This may help them be more honest before God, themselves and others. However, be careful not to put emotions on them that do not truly exist.

Ask the right questions. The real question is: Why are they feeling what they are feeling? Angry? Weepy? Fearful? Happy? Excited? What is it about this particular subject or issue that makes them feel this way? And why does it make them feel this way? Asking these questions can reveal our truest desires and wants. In other words, why something makes us feel a certain way shows motivations of the heart. 

Allow the Holy Spirit to work. Often when the Holy Spirit moves in the lives of people it can be quite emotional. Don’t cut these emotions off by speaking in the moment when silence or prayer would be best. Allow the Holy Spirit to have an agenda; don't push your own. We should always be prayerful as to what is most helpful in an emotional moment.  

Don’t waste the moment. Be careful not to move on too quickly. Emotional moments are moments given by God as an opportunity to walk out in encouragement, teaching others and loving one another. The idea is to help others (and ourselves) deal with emotions before God in order to foster intimacy with him. If we have been responding emotionally wrong for many years, it will likely take more than just one time to respond properly. This takes dedication, time and much grace. 

Find the cracks. What we feel is often indicative of what we believe and how we think. What we believe and think is dictated by our true theological foundation . . . how we truly view our reality. If we are truly a sinner saved by Grace, our reality is often much different than how we feel it is. For example, being a saved sinner doesn't mean we don't have pain or sorrow, it means we process hurt differently than those without this Certain Hope. Now, we can have a good knowledge of the Bible, but that does not mean it is our everyday foundation . . . unless you're Jesus. This foundation has to be reinforced on a daily basis for every Christian. Finding the cracks in one’s idea of God's character is key to having godly emotions.

Go to scripture. Once you know why you feel the way you feel or where the cracks are in your perspective, see what God has to say about it. This often cuts to the heart and can be incredibly impactful. Knowing that God speaks directly to an personal issue in a personal way is often a game changer for helping us trust Him in all situations.

Be willing to work hard. Interacting with emotions can be taxing, but learning how to rightly express emotion brings glory to God. Since being made in God’s image is a gift, our emotions are also a gift. We can therefore make a right conclusion that he means them for his glory and our good. Understanding what others (and yourself) may be feeling takes time and effort; know that as you are working to understand the emotions so that you may aptly apply God’s Word. In other words, you are working to glorify God.

Never think you are above it. I often grow more from my interactions with others than any other area of my life. Working through someone else’s sin and suffering puts a magnifying glass on our own hearts. If you aren’t willing to deal with your own emotions, don’t expect someone else to learn from or listen to you. Be honest, knowing but for the grace of God, we would all be an emotional mess. And likely, there are moments when we all are, even if they look different one from another. 

[1] Unabridged, Random House, Inc. 2013

Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.