Navigating Our Emotions (seminar)

On January 28th, I led a Saturday morning seminar:


Navigating Our Emotions


This workshop provides practical, biblical guidance in these areas:

  • a practical theology of emotions
  • what to do about how you feel 
  • the critical role of emotions in a life of faith 
  • how to handle the emotions of others


Here is the first 30 minutes of the seminar:


This is the full outline of my slides:

Song: Great Is Thy Faithfulness


  • Theology of emotions
  • What not to do
  • What to do
  • Dealing with the emotions of others

I had help!

  • David Powlison
  • Alasdair Groves
  • Winston Smith
  • Sam Williams
  • Brian Borgman
  • Todd Stryd
  • John Piper
  • Tim Keller
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Mike Emlet
  • My counselees


Emotion: a fully personal (involving thoughts, beliefs, and judgments made about the environment and oneself) and somatic response to an internal and/or external experience of significant concern, experienced as some variety of feeling and which prepares the body and mind for action.
— Sam Williams

What’s your theology of emotions?

  • Our understanding about emotions can make responding to them harder.
  • We feel bad about feeling bad.

Two lists

  • Fear    
  • Anger    
  • Sadness    
  • Shame    
  • Happiness
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Contentment

Emotional capacity: part of our pre-fall state – “very good”

God’s emotions

  • Loves and delights in Jesus - Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)
  • Delights in justice and righteousness - He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. (Psalm 33:5)
  • Rejoices in people - I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:39-41)
  • Experiences anger, wrath and detestation - The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:5-6) God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11)
  • Compassionate - As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)
  • Loving - The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3)

We’re instructed to

  • Hate sin,
  • Rejoice always,
  • Delight and be glad in the Lord,
  • Weep with those who weep,
  • Grieve like those with hope,
  • Fear God

God commands us

  • To rejoice and be glad (Psalms 100:2)
  • To fear Him (Romans 11:20)
  • Not to fear people (Joshua 1:9)
  • Or persecution (Luke 12: 4-5)
  • Not to worry (Matthew 7:7-11)
  • To grieve and mourn with others and for our sins (Psalms 51:17, James 4:9)
  • To let peace rule in our hearts (Col. 3:15)
  • To be kind, tenderhearted and compassionate (Ephesians 4:32)
  • To hate evil (Psalms 97:10)

God cares about our emotions

  • God of all comfort who comforts us in our afflictions (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
  • God of encouragement (Rom 15:5)
  • We are to cast our anxieties on Him because he cares for us (1 Pet 5:7)
  • We need not fear evil b/c his rod and staff comfort us (Ps. 23)
  • Puts all our tears in His bottle    (Is.56:8)
  • “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
God gives emotions for a specific purpose. They are necessary to know and relate to and glorify God.
— Sam Williams

Necessary for us to properly relate to God

Facilitates the 2 great commandments – love God with all we have - love others as readily as we love ourselves.

Full spectrum of emotions

  • Loneliness: “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16)
  • Love: “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1)
  • Awe: “Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him” (Psalm 33:8)
  • Sorrow: “My life is spent with sorrow” (Psalm 31:10)
  • Regret: “I am sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:18)
  • Contrition: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17)
  • Discouragement and turmoil: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5)
  • Shame: “Shame has covered my face” (Psalm 44:15)
  • Exultation: “In your salvation how greatly he exults” (Psalm 21:1)
  • Marveling: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23)
  • Delight: “His delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:2)
  • Joy: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7)
  • Gladness: “I will be glad and exult in you” (Psalm 9:2)
  • Fear: “Serve the Lord with fear” (Psalm 2:11)
  • Anger: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Psalm 4:4)
  • Peace: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalm 4:8)
  • Grief: “My eye wastes away because of grief” (Psalm 6:7)
  • Desire: “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted” (Psalm 10:17)
  • Hope: “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Psalm 33:22)
  • Brokenheartedness: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18)
  • Gratitude: “I will thank you in the great congregation” (Psalm 35:18)
  • Zeal: “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (Psalm 69:9)
  • Pain: “I am afflicted and in pain” (Psalm 69:29)
  • Confidence: “Though war arise against me, yet I will be confident” (Psalm 27:3)
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.
Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him.
— Paul in Philippians 2


Love is the guiding principle. Why?

  • Made in His image
  • Roadmap to what we care about
  • Emotions follow your treasure
  • What you love shapes what you feel
- Alasdair Groves

Our emotions: fallen and distorted, like everything else

Two Ditches

“Feelings are everything”

  • Culture: Authenticity!
  • Church: Mountaintop!
  • Grain of truth? – Emotions matter

“Stiff upper lip”

  • Deny/dismiss 
  • “Lack of faith”
  • Grain of Truth: we’re not slaves to emotion / feeling bad is right - it can stir us to act

A middle way

  • Good sorrow and bad happiness are possible
  • Bad treasures
  • Embodied souls

- Alasdair Groves

It is true of course that people sometimes ‘follow their feelings” rather than thinking responsibly. But it is also the case that people sometimes follow rationalistic schemes that run contrary to what they know in their “ guts” (feelings) to be true. God gives us multiple faculties to serve as a set of internal system of checks and balances.
Sometimes reason saves us from emotional craziness, but emotions can also check the extravagant pretenses of reason….. {sometimes} feeling guides my reflection; my reflection refines my feelings.Those refined feelings provoke additional reflection and so on.
— John Frame

Reason – Redemption

In Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)


For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)

Emotions and affections 

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8)
  • Emotions are an overflow of what we love
  • We can have bad emotions for a good reason
  • Wan have good emotions for wrong reason
  • Emotions can become self serving
  • Our loves can become distorted
  • We seek happiness in what cannot last

Table Talk

  • Are you aware of any of your own rules or beliefs about emotions ?
  • What points of the theology of emotions are most helpful for you to hear and why?


Engage, not embrace, avoid, change, fix, vent

Some Don’ts

  • Stew
  • Vent (speak in a way that makes the bad in your heart worse)
  • Blow up/clam up
  • Emotions are reality
  • Succumb or deny
  • Repress and repent

What can we do?

  • Notice!
  • Quiet ourselves, no technology
  • Identifying emotions
  • Listen To Your Thoughts and Daydreams
  • Identify Your “Little and Unimportant Hurts”
  • Record What Makes You Feel Strongly For Two Months

Memories That Won’t Go Away

Look at your most uncontrollable emotions… look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong. If you are angry, ask, “is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?” Do the same with strong fear or despair or guilt.

Ask yourself “Am I so scared because something in my life is being threatened that I think is a necessity when it is not? Am I so down on myself because I have lost or failed at something that I think is a necessity when it is not?” When you ask questions like that, when you “pull your emotions up by the roots,” as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.
— Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods


  • Name it
  • Feelings wheel
  • Travel in packs
  • Brain based reasons

Begin to speak to God

Trust in Him at all times, you people, pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge Ps 62:8

What does God, in Christ , say to us here ?

Example: Self-condemnation

The lies… and the truth

  • I’m not wanted – You are wanted (Romans 8) 
  • I’m an idiot – you are a child of God (John 1:12, John 3)
  • You are an outcast – you are invited & belong (…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:20)

Begin to hear

  • Deliverance comes from the voice of God, not our voice
  • Psalms
  • Crying out to God: I cry aloud… I pour out my complaint… I tell my trouble….
  • Asking for help: turn, deliver, save, answer, vindicate me, wash me,
  • Responding in trust and praise: but I have trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation, I will sing to the Lord for he has dealt bountifully with me

Practical Things

  • Take body / biology seriously.
  • Turn down streams of bad.
  • Don’t stew - dwell on emotion, derail.
  • Don’t vent- talk that reinforces the bad in your heart.

Self examine / repent

Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. 
- Jonathan Edwards, July 4, and 13, 1723

Engaging with God

Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119.
- Jonathan Edwards, July 26, Aug 10, Aug 17, 1723


  • Don’t start there
  • Understand first
  • Heart that produced emotion, not healing the emotion
  • Recognize you need help
  • Medicating emotions

Hot, Cold, and Just Right

Surface waters



  • To God
  • To self – why so downcast oh my soul? "But this I call to mind…" (Lamentations)
  • To others
Self aware, engaging
Other aware, engaging
God aware, God engaging
- Ken Sande


  • Engage the emotion
  • Engage the Living God - turn and listen
  • Psalms as playbook

Table talk

  • Which parts of this material are most inviting or helpful for you ?
  • What practical things    do you do that helps with your emotions?
  • (If there’s time) What have other people done or said that has not been helpful for you in dealing with emotions ?

Dealing with Others

  • Remember 2 great commands
  • Enter in: Essence of love
  • What is it like for them? (Not you)
  • Connect: let them know you have heard
  • Keep it simple


  • Fixing
  • Changing
  • Invalidating when trying to encourage
  • Consider timing very carefully – Romans 8:28, true but not always helpful
  • Show the love of God, rather than just telling them about the love of God

Want to bring this to your group?

I'd love to bring this seminar (or another) to your church or group. Check out my Training page to learn about some of the topics I've taught on. Contact me through the form on that page - I'd love to talk with you about your group's needs and interests!