Right off the bat I'll tell you where we are going to end up. Here it is: feelings make great followers but terrible leaders; feelings make great servants but terrible masters. Over the past few months, I have found myself saying this over and over again. It is often applicable, because as Dallas Willard wrote in The Spirit of the Disciplines, "Our communities and our churches are thickly populated with people who are neurotic or paralyzed by their devotion and willing bondage to how they feel." That's us.
Now there have been two extremes to which different ages and different persons have succumbed. First, there is the path of the Enlightenment, which regards thought as supreme and feelings as nothing more than an unnecessary distraction. Then, there is the Romantic reaction, which turns the tables by treating emotions as ultimate and thought as meaningless. But both of these positions attempt to separate what God has not.
Our emotional and intellectual natures are both included in us by God, and God has an intentional purpose in both facets. God did not create us as unaffected logicians, and he also did not create us as mindless saps. He could have, but he chose not to. And as with every part of God's creation, he was intentional in the choices he made. There is something that God is trying to get done. As David commanded his son, Solomon, "Serve God with a whole heart and with a willing mind" (1 Chronicles 28:9). And Jesus himself picked up the biblical expression that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our mind. Both of these aspects of our natures are fallen, but both are created by God to bring him glory; no part of us is exempted.
Feelings are important. In fact, God commands certain feelings. What else are the imperatives of Psalm 32:11, "Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice," and Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord." Further on, Psalm 98:4 orders us to "make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth." And this is not dependent upon favorable circumstances. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us to "rejoice and be glad" when we face persecution (Matthew 5:12). In the Luke rendering, he takes it even further; not only are we to "rejoice in that day," we are to "leap for joy." God commands us to have such a joy welling up within us that we cannot remain seated, even when we are threatened. And Jesus denounced the crowds because they "honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" (Matthew 15:8). So following Jesus requires an emotional response; you cannot follow Jesus and leave your emotions on the shelf. Even the foundational virtue of love, while being more than a feeling is certainly not less.
So what is the problem? Well, feelings make great followers but terrible leaders; feelings make great servants but terrible masters. When feelings are in the lead, we start with where we are emotionally and everything else becomes distorted by our clouded perceptions. Feelings end up being like a pair of tinted glasses that alters everything we take in. We doubt what the Bible says because it does not line up with how we feel, and we have allowed our feelings to become the final arbiter. When you are under this sway, you will find yourself saying "I feel" or "I don't feel" an awful lot; "God says" or "in the Bible it says" is hardly even allowed to enter the picture. Rather than being led by the truth, we are under the oppression of our own personal fog.
Instead, we want to have the truths of God's word lead our thoughts and control our feelings. We want the truth that we find in the Bible to renew our minds and direct our feelings. Our feelings are not just a "given" about which we can do nothing; we want the great truths about Jesus to transform our feelings. So we want those truths to be in charge. We want those truths to be steering the cart. And when you get a taste of this, you will find deep and profound affections welling up within you. Powerful affections, worshipful affections, satisfying affections. Affections that serve the purpose for which God created them.
See that? Feelings make great followers but terrible leaders. They make great servants but terrible masters. So what is leading you?