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Put Feelings in Their Place

“The feelings we receive from our devotional life are the least of its benefits. The invisible and unfelt grace of God is much greater, and it is beyond our comprehension.” – St. John of the Cross

We live in a very feeling-oriented culture. We’re supposed to feel good about ourselves, our bodies, our jobs, our churches, our government, our entertainment … if we don’t feel good about something, then something is very wrong!

That belief system, however, is completely incorrect. To be sure, feelings are an important aspect of life; they are part of how God made us. But feelings are never to be a barometer of truth or well-being. They are too volatile for that, and too easily manipulated.

Take the case of our devotional life: we often think that if we “feel good” after spending time in prayer or Scripture reading, that we have had a “successful” devotional time with God. Maybe. But quite frankly, maybe not. I can feel good but not really have quieted my heart in prayer or been listening to what the Scripture had to say to me. Likewise, I can feel completely miserable after baring my soul to God and hearing truth from his Word.

So how do we know if we have had a “successful” quiet time with God? Well, first, examine your thoughts, your words, and your actions during your quiet time. They are a much more reliable gauge than your feelings because they are objective, not subjective. And second, remind yourself that your goal is not to feel good: it is to connect and communicate with the Lord of Hosts, and to receive the outpouring of his love and grace. And that can happen even if we don’t “feel” anything at all.

* How much do you rely on your feelings as a barometer of truth or well-being?

* How would you characterize your thoughts during a typical quiet time? Are you able to focus on God and his Word and your prayers, or are you easily distracted? If the latter, what distracts you, and why?

* How would you characterize your words during a typical quiet time? Do your prayers contain a balance of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication? Or do you lean more in one direction than another?

* How would you characterize your actions during your quiet time? Do you try to multi-task while having your devotional time? Does your physical posture indicate reverence?

* Do you find it easy or difficult to realize that God’s grace may be at work even if you feel nothing or actually feel terrible? Why?

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