STEP TWO: Spot the Signs (positive emotions)
What we affectionately call ‘craziness’ is actually just the symptoms of insecurity rising to the surface. In our culture, insecurity means self-doubt; insecurity is what happens when you don’t have enough self-esteem or you don’t believe in yourself.
I am holding out for a different definition. I want to define insecurity as the state of being not secure. Insecurity is essentially what happens when you put your worth in something that is not secure; it’s finding your value in a place that is not secure. Biblically speaking – if you put worth in any person, place or thing apart from Christ you are not secure; you are insecure.
If we listen to our culture, then we will associate insecurity with negative emotions. We will begin to identify insecurity with a negative view of self – eg. you are insecure when you aren’t confident. But that’s not the definition of insecurity. You could be the most confident positive person in the world and still be placing all your worth in things that are not eternally secure and therefore still be desperately insecure.
Negative emotions flare up when the places we’ve placed our worth reveal that they aren’t secure. Our sources of ‘security’ are shaken or threatened and so we have emotional outburst triggered by fear or panic. If we push past our defensiveness and don’t justify or blame, we can exploit those feelings to discover where we might be placing our worth and value apart from Christ. However, just because we don’t experience the negative emotions, it doesn’t mean that we’re not still putting our worth in things that aren’t secure.
Here’s the thing. Any place outside of Jesus is not secure. Any person or role or place you are putting your security is failing you, whether you can see that or not. They may not appear to be. They may appear to be coming through for you and they may be filling you with joy in every other moment, but one thing I am certain of: they are failing. The joy they offer is fleeting and temporal and shallow. The hope they offer is a lie. The promises they hold that lure you in with whispers of acceptance and value and worth are only deepening the gaping hole of insecurity in the center of your being.
We may have just as lethal an infection of insecurity, that’s deeper and wider than we ever know, that’s killing us, consuming us from the inside out, but the symptoms might never show up in negative emotions.
It’s sneaky. I think, for example, that I’m someone who doesn’t find my worth in my work. I think I’m someone who doesn’t struggle with insecurity in the work place. I don’t think I’ve put my worth or value in my abilities. I’ve convinced myself that I’m secure in Christ because I don’t see those negative symptoms flare up. I don’t see a lot of fear or anxiety or frustration or doubt or visible insecurity when it comes to my work.
But it’s just started to occur to me that it’s possible that might be the case because I get a lot of good results at work. I get a lot of positive affirmation. I don’t get a ton of negative feedback and when I do it’s always bookended with encouragement.
In the same way that negative emotions aren’t universally ‘bad’, positive emotions aren’t universally ‘good’. I feel a lot of positive emotions associated with work. And I don’t think that’s bad or wrong, but I have to acknowledge that it’s possible that I AM finding my worth in my work. It’s just that instead of that revealing negative emotions as my source of security gets starved and shaken, it’s actually producing positive emotions as it gets fed and fattened. If I place my worth in my abilities at work, then by definition I am insecure; I am putting worth in a place that is not secure. And the deadly thing is – if I do well at work – that place may appear to be more and more secure, convincing me to put more and more of the weight of my worth into it, despite the fact that it is ultimately going to fail me.
Sometimes, negative emotions are a greater blessing than positive ones. Negative emotions occur when we are reminded of what’s real: that there is nothing secure outside of Christ. Some of our positive emotions might actually convince us to trust even deeper into the lies that approval or power or earthly love or pleasure can offer us security. There is a very real Enemy who will be pleased to increase and affirm you through the approval of your peers or the deepest love of a spouse if that causes you to put your trust in a place other than the blood of Christ. There will be many who spend this life feeling secure and do not realize their desperate condition until they stand before God.
In the same way that our negative emotions can point us to the places we are placing our trust other than Jesus, our positive emotions can serve us as the same indicators. We can track those emotions to the places of insecurity in our lives. In this season you may not get the gift of negative emotions that offer you evidence of insecurity lurking under the surface. But there are always signs; there are always indicators that will help us discover our sources of insecurity. For some of us in certain seasons, watching our positive emotions will reveal our insecurities.
What makes us happiest?
Ask yourself this question and answer honestly. It’s so sneaky because there are so many good and beautiful things in this world around us that offer us so much joy. And we are creatures who are designed to enjoy life and one another and the blessings that we see this side of Heaven.
But the Bible is clear about the difference between the happiness we enjoy in God and the happiness we enjoy in even the sweetest places and people this side of Heaven: they do not compare.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
I love that story. That’s what it means to be a Christian. It’s not a calculated exchange – this world for the next. It’s an act of joy; an overflow of a heart that values Jesus beyond any treasure in this world.
It’s good to enjoy your spouse and your family and your job and your community, but Jesus says some absolutely crazy things about the way we should feel for all this in comparison to Him. He says that when we look at the way we feel about the greatest earthly treasure we have, it should look like hate compared to the way we feel about Him.
Jesus says crazy things.
Jonathan Edwards says that to be a Christian is not just to be happier in God than anyone or anything. To be a Christian is to get an entirely new sense of happiness. It’s the incredibly bold and offensive claim that for those who are in Christ there is a joy being experienced that cannot be grasped by those who do not know Him.
Paul speaks of dying as gain because Jesus makes him happiest. He speaks of things in this world as trash in comparison to knowing God. Could you call death gain? Could you say that and mean it? Could you, would you, sell everything you own out of joy of Him? Could you look your family and friends in the face and say with the psalmist: whom have I in Heaven but Jesus? And earth has nothing I desire besides Him?
It’s a simple but tragically revealing question: what makes us happiest?
Of course, none of us are fully there. So, exploit the painful answer to that question to help you find the root of your insecurity.
- Does the thought of a spouse or the love of your spouse make you happiest? Maybe you are putting your worth in being wanted by a human. That is not a secure resting place.
- Does the approval of your boss fill you with unspeakable joy? Maybe the joy of their approval or the promise of being seen as valuable is a place you’re finding your value. It’s not a secure resting place.
- Does the thought of the joy of seeing your children graduate cause you to desire Jesus to delay His return? Maybe you are putting your security in your children; finding your identity in your children. It’s not a secure resting place.
Please hear this: God designed you to find joy in the love of a spouse and the encouragement of others and the fruit of your labor. The things above are not bad things. But, it’s not generally bad things that convince us to trust in them for security, it’s usually good things; it’s usually things that look pretty stable and safe.
It may be that you really do find your joy in the treasures in your life purely out of an overflow of love for God, but you’ve got to admit – sometimes it’s hard to tell. If we want to know if our joy is truly an overflow of security in Him there are some really helpful indicators. We can just look at our joy and see if it lines up with what the Bible says about those who find their security in Christ.
Does your joy ebb and flow? The Bible is filled with impossible sounding commands; commands like rejoice constantly. In Philippians, Paul says ‘rejoice in the Lord always’. How could that be possible?
A joy that doesn’t ebb and flow is a sign that you are finding your deepest worth in Christ, because Christ doesn’t ebb and flow. A constant rejoicing in your heart is evidence that your joy is in Him. He is your source of security and He is not failing or coming through more based on the day of the week. God’s affection for you is as great today as it will always be. If your hope is truly and deeply in Him, the overflow would be a steadfast joy. (By His grace alone, right?!)
Is your joy circumstantial? While writing that same letter to the Philippians, Paul’s sitting in prison. He’s having a rough time of it but he says that he’s rejoicing and that he will continue to rejoice because he knows that Christ will be honored. He goes on to tell them the key to this rejoicing – put no confidence in the flesh. The kind of joy that Paul speaks of is only possible if we will remove any weight of worth that we are trusting into places that are not secure and trust fully in the security that comes in Christ.
Can a shift in circumstance sabotage your joy? Can a shift in circumstance produce more joy? The joy that we have access to in God is not threatened by circumstance. It’s a joy that rejoices in suffering. It’s a joy that doesn’t abandon you when your marriage falls apart or your dreams collapse. It’s a joy that is sourced so deeply in Christ alone that it will be a safe and secure refuge in all circumstance.
Does your joy revolve around you or around God? Look for the common denominators in your joy. Even if your joy is in good and great and Godly things, does it also include your own exaltation? Does it always include you being made much of?
As Paul writes to the Philippians from prison, he’s watching a bunch of people take over his ministry. Their motives are jacked up. They are literally sharing the gospel out of a heart that wants to take advantage of the fact that Paul’s in prison to get ahead and to hurt him. Paul’ response:
“Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
How could Paul say that? He could say it because his security was found in Christ alone. Therefore, His joy wasn’t contingent on his own exaltation, but Christ’s. Are you happy when Christ is exalted through another ministry? Another church? Another Christian? When God ordains circumstance that exalts His name at the expense of yours is your joy still as secure?
When I first became a Christian it was so much easier to discern this line. The things that I did in the world were so clearly enjoyed for my sake alone and not for Christ’s sake. But the life of a Christian is a little more confusing. I spend my days working for a church. When I have success at work it’s usually because Christ’s name was lifted higher. How can I tell if the source of my joy is His exaltation or my own?
When I sing worship songs on Sunday I am filled with joy. But how can I tell if the joy I feel is a result of the glory of God that I see rising up in front of me or if it’s a result of seeing my own worth lifted up – being the object of His affection.
In Religious Affections, Edwards quotes this:
“There are such things in [our faith] which, when a carnal, unhallowed mind takes the chair and gets the expounding of them, may seem very delicious to the fleshy appetites of men.”
Gosh. That makes my heart skip a beat. There are great doctrines and truths written in the pages of the Bible that even if I cared nothing for God I might feel my heart quicken at the sound of them. Someone who doesn’t love God at all could be filled with joy at the sound of the wonders of all He has done if they were at the center of those things. I cannot imagine any more devastating realization than the thought that all of my ‘worship’ for God and all of the affections I experience for Him are ultimately worship of self.
This isn’t designed to make you panic, it’s just designed to make you test your heart. There is only one person I know who finds their security fully in the greatness of God. And the great news is that His righteousness is wrapped around me. He is my refuge in the moments when the darkness of my heart causes me to tremble.
The goal of tracing our joy back to its source isn’t to make us feel bad about ourselves. And if it results in that kind of discouragement it’s probable that we’re finding our confidence in the flesh. The goal of pressing into these things is so that we can fight to put our worth and value in Christ alone. The heart that is found in Him experiences more joy than the heart that runs after any offer of temporal security tossed its way.
Make no mistake – God made you to feel joy. It’s not the shallow joy that creation offers, but the infinite joy only a creator can hold out. Clive Staples says it better:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The life of a Christian is a life of unspeakable and unshakeable joy. It’s joy that is fixed in Christ and therefore doesn’t ebb and flow, it’s not circumstantial and it isn’t centered on us. If we watch the peaks of our joy sometimes it will help us see the root of the things that provide us solace from insecurity.