The Fact-Faith-Feeling Train Analogy
I spent several years on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, what is now Cru. During that time I had the privilege of sharing their Gospel tract, the Four Spiritual Laws, to many people. At the end of the tract, it has the image above of a train. The point is to put your faith in the fact, and this will fuel your Christian life to move you toward God’s plan for your life. If you put your faith in the feelings, you will be led astray and falter in your effort to follow God. In fact I would often cross out the feeling’s car sharing how the train could run without it.
This is such a great analogy for new believers, because their new life was be just that – new. They are taking first steps and feeling awkward in their trying to be a Christian. They often doubt whether Jesus will hold His end of the bargain. Did He really forgive me? Does He really live in me?
Late One Night on a Pier in New Jersey
Late one night, many years ago, I was on a pier in New Jersey with some friends. It was around one in the morning, and we found this guy who was interested in talking with us. We got to share the Four Laws with him, and he seemed interested in the message. When we asked if he would like to pray with us to receive Jesus, he surprised us with the answer, “Well, God could never forgive me.”
( We were warned later from another guy on the pier at the time that this guy was big-time drug dealer. I don’t know what he had done, but I still believe forgiveness was available. )
We mentioned again about God’s desire for him and His death on the cross to forgive all of his sins. However, he was adamant – God could never forgive him. His feelings about this was too powerful for him to believe the facts of what Jesus had done. Finally I decided to agree with him. I said, “You are right. God can never forgive you… because you will not let Him. The offer to receive forgiveness is available to you if you chose to take Him up on it.”
Can We Really Trust Our Feelings?
I received this question last week from a good friend of mine.
“Trusting in one’s feelings is something some Christian brothers and sisters warn against doing, as feelings come and go and are fickle. So, should one trust in one’s feelings or not? But if not then what can we trust? The Book says we should not lean on our own understanding, after all! So are we stuck!! How do you trust the Lord, as we are told to do??”
What Use Are Our Feelings?
I completely understand his feelings about feelings. Feelings unchecked are untrustworthy because we often don’t know the source. However feelings reveal deep felt beliefs. My friend on the pier felt Jesus could never forgive him. While that is not true, it does reveal a deeply held believe that he had done something so bad even God couldn’t forgive him.
So, should we disregard our feelings? No, they are telling us things about ourselves. We know that God is always with us. However we may at times feel lonely or abandoned. That disconnect between our feelings and beliefs are invitations to draw closer to God so He can correct what we are truly believe to the truth that He is always with us.
Here’s a Tool to Navigate Your Feelings
So, how do we know whether our feelings are from God or from something else? This is the real questions. How do we know whether our feelings are leading us toward what God wants or away from it?
This deciphering of feelings is actually easier to judge than we give God credit for. We know the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control. If our feelings are leading us toward these things, we can trust them.
Most people have all their feelings bound up in negative beliefs, which in turn are not filled with the fruit of the Spirit, and so these feelings cannot be trusted. Those feelings lead away from faith in God’s work in us, love in others, joy for our future, etc. therefore should not be trusted. Therefore the only way people know to move forward is to ignore feelings altogether and stick with what the Bible says. Unfortunately they unintentionally cut off the voice of the Spirit, because they are more confident in their ability to be led astray than God’s willingness to lead them.
Let’s Restore the Importance of Feelings
As Christians, feeling God’s Spirit around us is easy because it is what we are made to do. And so, if our feelings are leading us toward decisions that bear evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, than we can trust them. Our feelings are a helpful tool to grow in the Lord because they reveal what we really believe. The positive feelings move us deeper in our growth, and the negative feelings reveal areas where we need more of God’s truth to impact our hearts. Both are useful tools if you use them correctly.
Let’s restore the importance of feelings. God gave them to us, He speaks to us through them, and they are a helpful tool to figure out what is going on deep within us. For too long Christians have downplayed their importance and have inadvertently restricted the growth of the kingdom and potential healing the Lord wants to do within people.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to send me an email or write in the comments below.
It is I, yet again.
First, I wanted to thank you for your encouraging replies to my comments in the post “how to overcome in your relationship with God.” I felt like God was speaking to me through your words. Thank you for believing in me too.
It’s funny about this topic of feelings. I was always taught the same as you, that we shouldn’t count on our feelings, and that they are not a valid source of truth. But even though, I believe that in my mind, I still find myself being guided by my feelings, especially the negative ones. Yet, I tend to doubt the validity of my feelings, when I feel like God wants to love me. And now, when I see this in writing, I see the ridiculousness of it. It actually makes no sense, but I don’t know how to change it. My feelings tend to govern my views about my feelings.
I thought that was good point you brought up about how our feelings can show us what is happening deep inside us. I never thought of it from that perspective before. What do you do then, when your feelings show you something, but you feel too afraid to do anything about it?
Yes! Isn’t funny how we are willing to use any experience prove our negative feelings, but anything that possibly suggests our good feelings may be correct are questioned thoroughly?
As for your question, God is patient with you. He will not force you to deal with something you are not ready for. I would suggest that you tell God that you are not ready, but also tell Him that you are open to Him helping you be ready. Stepping out in faith will often feel risky. Will God come through for you? Will He really be kind to you with those things that scare you? Fear will keep you from growth. Be willing to conquer your fear. But be comforted that God will walk with you through that as well. He is a great counselor and knows what you are ready for and when you will be ready.
So, I would suggest you pray for God to help you be ready and look for ways to make baby steps through your fear.
God is cheering for you. He knows what is in you and is excited for the whole world to see how wonderful you are.
Thank you again for being so encouraging. I needed to hear that so badly that God is cheering for me and wanting the whole world to see how wonderful He thinks I am. Something happened today that made me feel so inferior to others. So thank you for letting God speak through you. and I thank Jesus too, for affirming me that way when I needed it most.
Great post! I was skeptical about the headline, but the article won me over. Thank you!
Thank you for your kind words.