Healing from the Inside Out
John 5:1-9 1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. Verse 4 is omitted in many manuscripts so move on to verse 5. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL?”
In the new hit movie, “Inside Out,” Riley is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions, led by the emotion of Joy try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event. However, the stress of the move brings Sadness to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind, the only emotions left in Headquarters are Anger, Fear and Disgust. It is a great movie mainly for teens and adults to see because it helps us think about how elaborately our minds and emotions work. It helps us consider what happens to a person when a challenge comes that is difficult to overcome or bounce back from and how one negative experience can bring negative emotions to the forefront and dominate the person’s affect and personality.
We truly are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” Psalm 139. God has given us our emotions to help us experience life and to make the most out of life. It is part of the human experience to feel. But when we try to minimize our feelings or ignore them, the lack of attention to them can cause problems in our focus, our relationships, and can negatively impact our willingness to participate in life which can alter our success. What happens, then, is we become broken in our core, our soul and there is a tremendous negative impact on our spiritual selves as well. When the voice of sadness drowns out the voice of God, for example, it is a dangerous thing.
Sadness is a necessary emotion if we are also going to be able to experience the emotion of joy. There is no gauge for love, no intensity of love without its antitheses. Knowing what sadness feels like helps us experience what love feels like. Every emotion is important. Fear is an important emotion because having a sense of fear alerts us to trouble and helps to keep us safe in many circumstances. Be thankful that you have the capacity to be afraid.
So the movie detailed how the leader in Riley’s brain, the emotion of Joy, did all she could at all times to only allow Riley to experience happiness. Joy was sort of in charge, and she would “manage” Disgust, Anger, Fear, and most of all Sadness, to try to keep Riley happy all of the time. How many of us know that is impossible? In fact, one way to lose your Joy is to try to wrap your life in bubble wrap and manipulate your circumstances and try to anticipate every negative thing so you can avoid it . . . .You will wear yourself out and lose your Joy.
In this clip you are about to see, Riley was getting ready to start her first day in her new school, something that has the potential to create anxiety for anyone. The emotion of Joy was doing everything she could to think of all the things that could go wrong or could make Riley uncomfortable, so, from the inside of Riley’s brain, she was giving all of the emotions their “assignments” for the day. Watch this clip.
How ridiculous is it to think we can keep sadness inside a circle, inside a box and not expect to be touched by it? Trying to avoid sadness would be like trying to nail Jello to the wall! It can’t be done. All of our emotions need to work in concert to help us mature. James chapter one talks about how when we face difficulties our faith is strengthened and we develop the character quality of perseverance. Perseverance isn’t developed in the happy times as much as it is in the sad, frustrating and difficult times.
So our emotions are gifts from God to help us mature, to help us be balanced, to give us perspective, to develop compassion in us for others. And positive emotions are impossible to feel to the max when we don’t also have experience with their counterparts.
But when one emotion becomes the dominant voice and drowns out the other feelings that could be part of our journey like hope or contentment even in the midst of disappointment it can cause our lives to be altered in a negative way. When one emotion takes over and sabotages our faith or our ability to hear and respond to truth it can lead to trouble. In the movie, Riley was unable to think past or feel past the overwhelming sadness she felt from having to move and get established in a new place. She was also keenly aware of the huge stress her parents were under as they tried to establish a new business. As a result of her inability to engage in all ways with her emotional self her sadness led to a kind of “crash” in her brain and she decided to run away from home.
Adolescents aren’t the only people looking for escape today, are they? Adults can also be really good at running away, distancing themselves emotionally, hiding their pain, and walling themselves off from communities of people and processes that could really help them. When we become led only by our emotional selves rather than by the Word of God and the counsel of Godly people it is easy to become vulnerable to the lies Satan wants us to believe.
I encounter many people, for instance, who are grieving. When they take the risk to share with me how difficult life is, and I mention that we have a Griefshare support group they may tell me they will think about it, but then wind up not coming. In their minds, they have bought the lie of Satan that something like that won’t do any good. If they were around people who were also sad, it would just make things worse. The same thing is true of our Divorcecare and Single and Parenting classes. Many have believed things like, “Since I’m divorced, I’m not loveable anymore” or “Nothing said in a class can change the fact that I am single and lonely and don’t want to be.”
What are some of the other lies the enemy feeds us? Have you ever said things like this to yourself?
“God may help other people, but He won’t help me.”
“I am bad and deserve to suffer for the rest of my life.”
“I can never trust anyone again.”
“I will never get better so why bother?”
Being stuck in a state of sadness or negativity or anger is just like being stuck with a physical illness that you wish could change. Only we have more control over our emotional selves than we often do over our physical selves. The question is simply, “Do we want to get well?”
Jesus asked the question of the man in our story today. Who wouldn’t want to get well? After being unable to walk for 38 years, after having your life shaped by this limitation for 38 years, who wouldn’t want to get well? It almost seems like an absurd question. Jesus wouldn’t have asked the question without reason. The reality is, some people don’t want to get well. You see, we have a way of getting used to things, accepting things and accommodating things in our lives that aren’t helpful. But, they are what we know. They are what we are used to. They are what become “normal” to us. The thought of a different kind of existence, though we may dream about it, becomes very scary for many people.
Take it to the emotional realm. People who get used to bottling their emotion and living isolated from others find a safety there. At least they won’t have suffer rejection. Bubble wrap layer number one. At least no one will disappoint them. Bubble wrap layer number two. At least they can’t disappoint anyone else. Bubble wrap layer number three. At least no one will ask them why they do what they do. Bubble wrap layer number four. At least no one will judge them for feeling the way they feel. Bubble wrap layer number five. You know what happens when you continue to add layers of bubble wrap? You walk through life and wind up not being able to feel anything altogether. You are cocooned in “blah,” in mediocrity, in depression, in isolation, in drab and gray. But Jesus came in order that we could have an abundant, feeling, Technicolor life!
But has it gotten safe for us to sit in sadness? Has it become what we are used to, to let anger reign in our personalities? Are we comfortable with being isolated because it is what we know and we have now made it a way of life? Do we want to get well? Do you believe God cares about your emotional well-being just as He cares about your soul and your physical body?
I preached in NC this past week for their state campmeeting and God really came near in special ways. Every night the altars were filled with people making decisions for the Lord and surrendering to Him. I didn’t even preach on this topic per say, but I preached the message about being “Hard-headed and Hard-hearted,” a message I preached here last spring.
One gentleman stayed at the altar for a long time being counseled by one of the pastors in the state. I was watching and praying for him. After they finished the pastor went back with him to his seat. I couldn’t see where they sat, but after the service the pastor told me that this man who was probably in his mid-sixties realized he had hardened his heart over the years, and that even though he was saved, he had lived angry and had taken his anger out on his wife and children. He acknowledged his anger problem. He confessed it. He asked God to forgive him and to heal him from his anger. Then, accompanied by the pastor, he went to his wife and asked her to forgive him for the years of taking his anger out on her. It was an unbelievable and life-changing moment. He decided that night that he wanted to get well.
In the church we often talk about spiritual healing by having our sin forgiven. We also emphasize physical healing as we pray for people to recover and become well when they are diagnosed with a problem in their physical bodies. But how often do talk about the need for emotional healing? It would seem to me that the abundant life discussed in John 10:10 includes our emotional well-being. It would seem to me that the future hope that God wants to prosper us for in Jeremiah 29:11 includes that we would be well in our emotional selves. It would seem to me that if all things are to work together for our good according to Romans 8:28 that would include how we process our feelings. As we face our feelings, as we admit we need help are we giving God the permission He needs to do the “all things working together for our good” in the deepest part of who we are? But do we want to get better?
Those lies of the enemy I listed earlier, are we willing to admit we have bought them? Are we willing to confess they are flawed? Are we willing to obliterate them with the truth of God’s Word? Are we open to a new way of thinking? What does God have to say about those lies? Do you recognize this morning that Satan wants to make you an emotional slave? This is a spiritual battle! What does Paul say in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5? 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Emotional healing in our lives isn’t an act of our will, but it is a work of the Holy Spirit. It dawned on me as I was preparing for this message that the Fruit of the Spirit is heavily focused our emotions. Look at this from Galatians 5, the famous “Fruit of the Spirit” passage: Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
How does a person experience love? Through our emotional selves, right? We have the capacity to feel love and we have the capacity to feel rejection. We have the capacity as has been demonstrated in the movie for this week that we can feel joy as well as sadness. The third part of this Fruit of the Spirit passage lists peace. What are the opposites of peace and patience? Stress and anxiety? Or perhaps fear and worry? Perhaps goodness and faithfulness are harder to classify as emotions, but gentleness is a settled feeling and self-control is a calm, relaxed and accomplished feeling. I think we could be on to something this morning with the idea that the Fruit of the Spirit is tied to bringing healing to our emotional souls.
Could it be that the work of Christ was to deal with the redemption of our souls and the work of the Spirit is to deal with the redemption of our emotional selves? When the Fall happened in the Garden, all of who we are got damaged, including our emotions. All of who we are needs redemption; not just our spiritual selves, but our emotional selves as well.
Sin disrupts our relationship with God, but it also has an emotional consequence. What emotion did Adam and Eve feel when they sinned against God in the Garden of Eden? They felt shame. I wonder when King David sinned by having an affair with Bathsheba and she got pregnant and after he killed her husband to try cover things up how his sin impacted him emotionally? We know the Psalms are filled with emotional words and that David penned a lot of the Psalms so we know he experienced a lot of tough emotions, many ups and downs. The Psalms are filled with depression, grief, loneliness, despair, fear, hopelessness, revenge, and abandonment just to name a few of the tough ones. 150 Psalms and most of them are riddled with uncertainty, anxiety, and emotional struggle. I love that God’s Word just keeps it real for all of us, right? Men, you are included in this emotional complexity that I am trying to describe. How are we doing with all of our stuff?
Did you know that there are actually emotions that could lead us to sin against God? Ephesians 4:26 tells us, “In your anger do not sin.” When our emotions lead our thoughts and when one emotion goes unchecked a whole lot of trouble can get started. You’ve been there. I know I have. Do we want to get well? How do we know if we are in that place where our emotions have become a stronghold in our lives or if our emotions are leading us astray or if our emotions have followed some lie of the enemy or if emotions have caused us to live wounded instead of enjoying the abundant life Jesus died for? How do we know if we have need of the Holy Spirit’s help in the area of emotional healing? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, perhaps you need the Holy Spirit to bring healing to your life.
Do you react when the subject of your pain is brought up?
Do you avoid things that remind you of your hurt?
Are you depressed at certain times of the year?
Are you still resentful and unforgiving?
Is your lifestyle one that could lead to hurt again?
Have your relationships become less healthy?
Are you using food, alcohol or drugs to cover pain?
Do you often have flashback memories?
Do you feel empty, angry, guilty or shamed?
Have you stopped growing emotionally since your pain started?
Do you look at life as before or after your hurt?
Are you still keeping your emotional pain a secret?
Has God felt distant since your pain started?
(From a website on healing.)
So, Thursday was a tough day for me. I learned that my mother-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer. I learned that my uncle, my mom’s only brother, had had a heart attack and had 3 blockages at 100 percent and was in ICU. There was also something I was wrestling with that was just something we all deal with as part of life, a disappointment that stinks but is just one of those things you deal with. But you know how your mind can get stuck on stuff. As I tried to go to sleep I started talking to myself. I told myself, “What you are experiencing are feelings. They are part of your self. They aren’t your whole self, but they are an important part of who you are. What you do with these feelings will set the course for tomorrow. You can let them dominate you, or you can let your faith inform your feelings. You can pray about how you are feeling. You can ask God to give you perspective on those feelings. You CAN overcome being overcome by your feelings. And I started to pray, “Holy Spirit, help me manage what I am feeling, and help me feel about these circumstances in a way that will move me towards faith and not fear or fretting.
Panic attacks, they are real. Loneliness, it isn’t just in your head. Depression, it debilitating. Rejection isn’t a respector of persons. Anger, it is a natural reaction, but it can become very possessive of us. Do we want to be healed? Psalm 147:3 tells us that God will bind up the brokenhearted and heal our wounds.
Let me end with a quick thought about these verses from Psalm 103:2-3 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.
The Psalmist here lists a progression a multi-faceted list of things for which to praise God. Forgiveness from sin is received. Healing of diseases is received. And third in the lineup is redemption from some pit. Could we let our pit represent our emotional selves? If so, what is the name of your pit this morning? Anger, fear, panic, depression, rejection, bitterness, loneliness, jealousy, low self-esteem? From what pit do you need to be lifted? As you think about God’s offer to redeem your entire life, including your inner being, your emotional self, answer this question, “Do you want to be healed?”and if so, will you let God heal you from the inside out?