Emotions – The Positive Emotions and How They Work In Our Life
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(From the skit) This little piece of humor is actually not too far from the truth. People’s affections are fickle. I want to talk about why that is in a second. But first I want to talk about what these positive emotions are and what God thinks about them.
What excitement is
We labelled this teaching “excitement and attraction” because the idea is an emotion that is brought about when something is very appealing to you. You are drawn to it. And it gives you a feeling of energy.
This could come from a situation, an opportunity, or a person. Often someone of the opposite sex gives us this feeling.
So we’re talking about a feeling of energy. You want to move towards that person, or event. If we talk about approach or avoidance, this is the approach feeling.
Some of the symptoms might be things like day-dreaming–you like to think about whatever it is. You would make time, it would become a big part of your scedule. You would smile and other body-language signs of excitement. You would tend to talk about it, or enjoy talking about it.
These are all symptoms of the feeling we are describing.
There are degrees
You could call exhileration, “exhileration.” You could call excitement, “excitement.” You could call feeling good, “feeling good,” as if they were all different emotions. But I prefer to think of these things as degrees. There are varying degrees of excitement or happiness. On the one hand there is the more subtle, positive feeling you might have about the weather. It’s kind of an all-around good feeling.
On the other hand, there is the jubilation you might feel about winning the lottery. It’s maximum excitement.
These are degrees of happiness.
Example: I take my wife for example. I’m attracted to my wife. I’m excited about my wife. But there is a different quality to those feelings than, say, 8 years ago before we were married. I still dream about my wife. I still daydream about her. I know that she dreams about me, but she usually wakes up angry at me because I did something bad in the dream.
But there is a deeper quality to our happiness about each other today. It is more subtle, but it is also much more strong. At the high end of the excitement spectrum, those feelings come fast and furious, but they also leave just as fast. They are volatile. At the other end are happy feelings that take time to build. But when they are built, they last. They’re strong.
Example: I remember when we were dating. One date we went on was over to my house, to paint a wall–actually a couple walls. She seemed to agree to this. But when we got there and started painting, she went over and sat on the couch! When we finished hanging out, I had to wonder whether I wanted to date someone who wouldn’t do what I wanted to do! What do we have in common anyway? She tells me that she was wondering whether to date someone who wanted to paint walls on our time together.
That was a real crisis. Our relationship came this close to falling apart. But what would happen today if something similar occured? Not much.
So, the subtle end is not as intoxicating. But, it is stronger. The high end is quicker, but it is more unstable and fleeting.
So, there are degrees of excitement or happiness. Let’s talk about some of the terms the Bible uses to discuss this topic.
There are some of the expected terms, like happiness. God likes happiness. In this case, the Bible recommends that we express it. A passage like James 5:13,
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.
So, let it out! Express it.
You’ll find the Bible is real into expressing this kind of emotion. And we’ll talk about that in a minute.
Another term that our translations use that is so far out of date that people don’t even know what it means is the term “blessed.” Now what if you started using that one in everyday speach?
But the term means “to be happy,” or “to be satisfied.” It’s not in that thrilling sense where you might be blubbering all over the place. It’s the kind of positive feeling that comes when things are right. It’s well-being. It’s a positive state of mind.
Example: If I were to use blessed in everyday speach, then I might say something like, “If you excercise and eat the right food, then you will be blessed.” It means that you will have a generally happier disposition.
A good example of how the Bible might use this term would be Prov. 3:13,
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding.
It is because you have understanding, wisdom, that you are happy. You can see it’s on the subtle end of the spectrum.
What’s important, as with all the more foundational positive feelings, it has to be built. You cultivate it.
Joy / Rejoicing
But by far the most common term for what we are describing is the term “joy” and “rejoice.” These terms are used hundreds of times in the Bible. So the notion of joy is no small theme.
Basically this idea of joy is what we’re talking about tonight. Because sometimes joy is sometimes very powerful and expressive. In the Bible, it is a term used to describe outbursts of singing and praise to God. Psa. 98:4 is typical,
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music
You can see that the idea here is some outrageous expression of excitement. It’s the kind of expression that probably most of us here would be embarassed by.
On the other hand, the term joy is used to describe the more subtle feeling of contentment–a positive attitude. Paul prays that people will have a joyous attitude that kind of flavors their whole life. In Rom. 15:13,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He’s not saying that he wants them to go around singing songs and leaping. This is kind of an overall attitude that Paul is praying for.
Look, it’s interesting again. Look at the language. You will be filled with this joy and peace, as you trust in God. The language is of a process again.
We could say a whole lot about excitement and happiness tonight. But what I want to focus on is the difference between how we look at happiness and how God looks at it. Because there is quite a difference there.
Excitement as a goal vs. a result
Specifically, I want to look at the type of person who looks at excitement as a goal in itself, versus the way God looks at it–as a by-product or a result of other things.
Now I know there are lots of people who hardly every really pursue excitement. Maybe it’s scary for them. Maybe they are very skeptical about happiness. But I hope that will be addressed just a little in the course of this talk. the main thing I want to talk about, though, is the very common mistake we make of pursuing happiness as a goal in itself.
Right away, we should point out that Americans consider it a matter of duty to pursue happiness. Doesn’t the Constitution itself guarentee us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
So, there it is. We’re supposed to. But God’s approach is very different. He wants us to have joy and happiness. Jesus considered this a crucial part of his mission.
God wants us to have it
In John 15:11, Jesus said this,
I have told you this so that my joy will be in you and so that your joy will be complete.
He says that he wants their joy to be complete, or as full as it can be. I want to get into the context of this passage in a second. But what I want you to see is that God says, “I want your happiness to be at the maximum.”
Lots of people are familiar with the Beatitudes. These are ten sayings in Matt. 5, where Jesus says, “Blessed are these and those people.” As you know now, that term refers to a joyous attitude. Jesus is describing to people how to be happy in life.
In Gal. 5:22, Paul says that God produces in our lives, “Love, joy and peace.” Those are the first three things that Paul mentions as the byproducts of God’s work in our lives. The terms joy and peace are right in line with the positive feeling that we are discussing here.
Beyond these passages, there are literally dozens and dozens of other passages in the Bible about how God wants to give us happiness and the secret of joy.
How do you picture God
But you know what’s remarkable about all this? If you were to get a picture of God in your mind, and I asked, What emotion would you associate with God? I’ll bet not many of us would say “joy” or “happiness.”
Think of it, God (get him on visual), how does he look?
He looks serious, maybe even angry.
You would never get a picture of God that says, “I want you to have happiness and excitement in life!” With a big smile on his face?!
And yet, as these passages make clear, this is no small theme in the Bible. God really longs for us to experience excitement . . .
I’m a big excitement fan
I think about myself and happiness. And I have to realize that I’m a big excitement fan. I love excitement. I crave it.
Example: Some of my peers sat me down recently and told me that I need to avoid breaking the law. That might sound weird to some of you. A pastor needs a lecture on refraining from breaking the law. It’s because they know I’m an excitement junkie. I’m not saying that I have broken the law, mind you. But the fear exists that I might go places that are exciting, but not allowed. Or, that I might try something that is too risky.
I love excitement.
Example: It’s for this reason that I can hardly stand teachings. How can you guys sit there? Doesn’t it kind of make you ancy? Don’t you start wondering, “When is this guy going to shut up?” I do. It’s just lucky that I wound up on this side of the microphone.
But I do what a lot of other people do. I hunt for excitment as a end in itself. What that is, is self-defeating. Because it wasn’t meant to be that way by the creator of this emotion.
A fleeting goal
The problem with pursuing happiness as an end in itself is that as an emotion, it has not substance. It was meant to be a response to deeper factors in our lives. Good feelings, especially, were intended to be carefully built. It’s something that is supposed to happen over time (as the scriptures we looked at indicated).
Good feelings were not intended to stand on their own. They weren’t intended to be just experienced without, like a shot in the arm, without careful building.
(refer to mountain drawing) People try to shoot for the peak, without taking the time to build the foundation. God’s ideal is to build positive emotions. He also wants you to experience the peaks. But he wants us to build the foundation.
We come along and say, “I want to feel the mountaintop!” And we may even succeed. But then, it’s a long way down. There’s a price to pay.
But also, what happens with emotions like happiness when you chase them is that they get harder and harder to catch.
Example: If you drink to get happy, then you have to drink more and more.
Example: If you have sex to get happy, then you get less and less from it.
Example: If you chase money to get happy, then there’s never a point when you have enough.
Whenever you pursue happiness as a goal in itself, you will face these kinds of diminishing returns.
Jesus said . . .
Let’s return to what Jesus said about joy. Remember he said in John 15 that he wanted us to experience maximum joy. But here’s what he said before that, which is very important,
If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my joy will be in you and so that your joy will be complete.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
There is a very important point that Jesus is making here. He says “if you obey my commands . . .” Then he explains that he has said this so that our joy will be complete.
So Jesus is saying, “If you do what I say, then you will be happy.” But the real substance is what Jesus says. The real meat and potatoes is what Jesus tells us to do. And he says that in the next verse, (v. 12).
“If you love each other as I have loved . . . then you will have happiness.”
This is advice from the master. It’s insight from the designer himself. We are on dangerous ground when we ignore it.
Example: In the Gremlins movie, the old Chinese guy who owned the gremlin sternly warned, “Don’t get water on this guy!” That advice was treated lightly, to the dismay of many.
That is an old theme. The idea is that when the master tells you something about the way it works, don’t take it lightly.
Jesus is saying, “I know the way to happiness. Here it is.”
I’ve spent time depressed
I’ve spent a lot of time in depression. Depression is kind of a funny thing. It’s not what most people think, where you go around sad all the time. For some it might be that way. But for the most part, what it is is a lack of energy. It’s a state where you lack the positive. You lack the drive. You lack the energy. Nothing excites you.
My natural tendency in that situation is to go out looking for the positive feelings. I go for the happiness. I want the feeling.
What I end up getting is a quick fix, that’s over almost as soon as I get it.
Example: I remember last year I was recording TV shows, specifically documentaries. I get a good feeling from a documentary. I’m one of the only people I know who goes out and rents them. But I was kind of in one of these states. And my appetite got voracious. Everything looked good to me. A documentary on medicine? Good. A documentary on building skyscrapers! Great! Planes! But I would also watch shows about weasels, and the search for Bigfoot, and strange bugs attacking crops in the Midwest.
When you get into that, and you’re looking for that escape, that fleeting feeling, there’s a letdown. I would watch one of my shows or indulge one of my other escapes and I would feel worse than before.
Example: People who go out and get drunk feel worse than before.
When people get into any one of these quick fixes, there is a letdown.
Jesus says you have to build happiness. Jesus says it takes time to cultivate it. He says that the real thing is to get involved in love relationships, both with him and with other people. The other stuff is fake.
Put the others aside
I’m going to give you a radical idea. Something I want you to really think about. I’ll just share my own discovery of what Jesus is talking about here.
I remember when I first discovered it was at a time when the Lord made me realize just how hollow and unsatisfying all my other escapes and attempts at happiness really were. I was really hungry for true happiness. I was tired of all the fakes.
I did something that was really scary to me. I told the Lord that I wanted to believe him, that true happiness comes from working on my love relationships. It’s something that takes time to build. I committed, before the Lord, to put aside all my other forms of excitement–the cheap ones, the short ones, the fake ones–and to pursue his answer.
I committed to doing that until I understood what he meant when he said that happiness is built by love. I didn’t say a week. I didn’t say a year. I didn’t say any amount of time. I committed to putting things aside and working on my love relationships until I figured out what Jesus meant here.
I put aside a lot of things. I put aside drinking. I put aside TV watching. I put aside listening to my stereo. I literally used to listen to it for hours a day! I put aside chasing women.
And I took up pursuing my relationship with God, and my relationship with a few key people. I tried to build some close, loving relationships.
I found out! I began to experience something that I fear not many have! It was real happiness. It built slowly at first. But it grew . . .
Over time, I felt the freedom to pick back up on the other forms of stimulation I had taken so much from. But I looked at them completely different from that day forward.
Now, if you are saying, “That sounds interesting, but I don’t know how,” then it is good that we are doing a series starting the week after next . . .
Next week . . .