“Do the right actions and the feelings will follow!”
Such a wonderful gem of wisdom! An unquestioned maxim! A favorite rule of life of Christian preachers and counselors! Surely, it must be in the Bible somewhere! Christians must live by will over emotion, mind over heart. Just obey. Just do it.
Why did it never work for me? I could rarely force myself to do the right action when my emotions resisted. When I did overcome the feelings and make myself obey, the feelings that followed were rarely the expected nice ones. I would feel used, or resentful, or just plain weary. Sometimes the emotion I was suppressing would explode and shatter my pleasant false image. After decades of struggling to live this way, with no perceptible growth, I was miserable.
Thank God, he knows us better than this! What does Jesus say?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” Heart comes first; mind, soul and strength follow.
“You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me!” Good deeds that do not flow from a good heart are no good at all.
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” You can’t keep up the facade. The junk in your hearts will eventually make itself known.
Jesus did not just confront the darkness of our hearts; he brought the solution promised by the ancient prophets…
“I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19)
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
Writing the law on our hearts does not mean memorizing the ten commandments! It is not something we do; it is the mysterious and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus himself, moving in and transforming our hearts, making them soft and tender and responsive to his heart.
Then we can begin to feel what he feels for someone, to desire what he desires, to love what he loves. Only then can we live in integrity, where the person others see matches the part only God can see. We can live as whole people, without internal struggle, without facades; people of peace and joy.
This is how we come to truly know and love God. When we are moved with compassion as Jesus was, the actions will follow happily. We can be drawn to the need of total strangers as though they were our own children, for they are not strangers to our Father. His love for them bubbling up inside us will make us feel for them as our own. Feeling his love within, we also begin to know his love for us, no longer as doctrine, no mere words, but sweet feelings.