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The Limits of Unbelief

Have you ever had one of those days when you wanted to figure everything all out? I had one of those days recently. With too many things to do, goals seemingly unreachable, the comforting hands of compromise and apathy patted me on the back to let me know it was OK to be overwhelmed and OK to give up.

Fortunately, I was praying through all these emotions. In the midst of unburdening the cares of my heart God used the Scriptures to point something out to me. The degree to which I was willing to let my emotions control me would determine my capacity to trust Him. Simply put, trusting my emotions over God and his Word was leading me into a state of unbelief. I wanted to deepen my understanding of the connection between emotions and unbelief, and this is what I learned.

Unchecked Emotions Can Produce Unbelief

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. 54 He went to his hometown and began teaching the people in their synagogue in such a way that they were amazed and asked, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miracles? 55 This is the builder’s son, isn’t it? His mother is named Mary, isn’t she? His brothers are James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, aren’t they? 56 And his sisters are all with us, aren’t they? So where did this man get all these things?” 57 And they were offended by him. But Jesus told them, “A prophet is without honor only in his hometown and in his own home.” 58 He did not perform many miracles there because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:53-58 ISV

God and his ability to do miracles is limited by our unbelief. Whenever we feel frustrated by what seems to be God’s silence or inaction, we should always examine the limits our unbelief is placing on Him.

While the stifling limitations placed on Jesus by people’s unbelief in his hometown might be the attention-grabbing part of this passage, there is a deeper lesson here.

When Jesus came to his hometown they began to question his legitimacy. In their eyes, Jesus couldn’t be the amazing teacher and miracle worker. After all, he was just a “builder’s son,” and they knew his family members. There seemed nothing special about these folks, so how could Jesus be special?

Rather than focusing on what Jesus taught and did, they focused on how they felt about the status of his family. Their inability to believe in Jesus was based on their emotions – how they felt about him. They were not able to divorce their feelings about Jesus from the truth about him. The fact is, his teaching was amazing, and he was doing miracles! Yet the people’s inability to separate truth from emotion produced unbelief.

What I learn is unchecked emotions take our focus off God. Once we stop focusing on God to focus on our emotions instead, unbelief begins to grow. Therefore, controlling our emotions is a critical step toward breaking free from the limits of our unbelief. Below are 10 tips or steps to help us become emotionally prepared, so we are never caught off guard or deceived into unbelief by our emotions.

1. Become Emotionally Prepared

[18] David: The Eternal One your God is with you. Now that He has provided the land for Israel, He has given you peace with your enemies on every border. [19] Now prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to follow the Eternal One your God. Go and build the temple of the Eternal God, so you may bring the covenant chest of the Eternal to rest there and take the holy vessels of God into His house for us to use in sacrifice.

1 Chronicles 22:18-19 Voice

We prepare for school, work, and a whole host of things in a variety of ways, but it is rare for us to prepare emotionally. For us to manage the powerful emotions we experience in day-to- day life, let alone in times of crisis, we need to prepare emotionally. Keep reading below to learn how to prepare emotionally by becoming more spiritual.

2. Rely On God To Understand Your Emotions

The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 MSG

Human beings have mastered many things but emotions are not one of them. No matter how sophisticated or advanced we might become, our emotions reveal a hauntingly primitive set of instincts. Without God’s help, we are likely to be deceived by the deceitful and dark emotions of the heart.

If we want to be victorious in our struggle to understand and manage our powerful emotions, then we must seek God’s help to understand them. He is our Creator, and this has significance not because of the 6 days of creation, but because he understands the puzzle of our hearts.

The closer we get to God by reading Scripture and praying the better we understand ourselves. It is the Scriptures that unlock the depth of our feelings and what they truly mean. Through prayer alone can we understand, manage, and become emotionally intelligent enough to thrive.

3. Become Emotionally Disciplined

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.

Proverbs 12:15 NIV

Emotional discipline is about doing what is right, not what feels or seems right.

4. Stop Being Emotionally Naïve

In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.

Proverbs 18:17 NIV

We are emotionally naïve when we believe someone who may seem right, instead of gathering the facts to make sure they are right.

5. Stop Being Emotionally Simplistic

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12 NIV

Our emotions are usually too captivated or lazy to look below the surface of things. This makes us emotionally simplistic, which leads us to seek the path of least resistance – the easy way instead of the right way.

6. Become Emotionally Aware

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Proverbs 16:2-3 NIV

One of the best ways to become emotionally aware is to regularly examine your motives. This means we don’t merely look at what we do, but we question why we do it.

7. Become Emotionally Humble

[29] The wicked put up a bold front, but the upright give thought to their ways. [30] There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. [31] The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.

Proverbs 21:29-31 NIV

Emotional humility is honesty. It’s the willingness to tell the truth about ourselves rather than put up a bold front. We do this, because we recognize the path to success is through God not ourselves.

8. Become Emotionally Resilient

Why am I so overwrought? Why am I so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life.

Psalm 42:5 Voice

There will be moments when our emotions tell us to give up on God and quit. Emotional resilience is the capacity to withstand the assault of deceitful emotions and to keep believing in God.

9. Become Emotionally Devoted

O my soul, come, praise the Eternal with all that is in me-body, emotions, mind, and will-every part of who I am- praise His holy name.

Psalm 103:1 Voice

One of the reasons we can become consumed by what people think and say about us is because we have no other source of emotional strength. God gives us the emotional strength – the internal grit to be able to handle the ups and downs of human relationships without anger and bitterness. This inner capacity to love is the result of being emotionally devoted to God, whose intimate impact on us is a security that makes us capable of loving anyone.

10. Become Emotionally Focused

[4] Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. [5] Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. [6] Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another- or maybe both.

Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 NLT

When we are unspiritual in the way we handle our emotions we become unbelieving, but when we manage our emotions spiritually, we gain faith. After you have applied the truths of these Scriptures we have studied, it will become easier to avoid the emotional unbelief of “waiting for perfect weather” or “watching the clouds”. This will make it easier to trust God, rely on Him, and believe in his capacity to produce amazing miracles in your life.

This study is part four in a study series called “Believe.” View the others in the series:

  1. Believe: A Fascinating Journey
  2. Ya Gotta See Him Move
  3. What’s So Hard About Faith?
  4. The Limits of Unbelief
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