What if I Don’t Feel Like It?

There’s probably not a parent in the world who hasn’t heard that one. There’s probably not a person in the world who hasn’t personally asked it. And although it is used in every situation imaginable, I would dare say that it is used more often regarding religion than any other. On the surface of it, the question is an honest admission regarding difficult demands and expectations of the Lord; but beyond the surface, it is mostly seeking a “pass” to be disobedient and to do what we “feel”. 

We usually intuitively know what this question is trying to accomplish, but we often don’t know what to do or say—to others or ourselves. So, we work hard at making those who “don’t feel like it” change their feelings. We offer rewards, highlight the positives, ask them “What’s wrong?”, and work at making things more pleasant for them. Sometimes it works; but more often, it just “enables” indolence and irresponsibility.

May I suggest another approach? Strongly encourage—perhaps even insist on—doing what should be done anyway. There are good reasons why. Let me list a few.

First, the Bible (God word) has many examples and commands about overcoming feelings and acting righteously. Moses, for example, resisted going to Pharaoh and saying, “Let My people go.” Gideon, Deborah, Saul, Jeremiah all were given “work orders” they didn’t feel like carrying out—but did. Jesus’ own teachings call on us to both love our enemies and forgive 70 times 7! And Jesus didn’t just teach acting better than you feel, He lived it. He washed feet of His betrayer on the night of His betrayal. And later, Gethsemane’s prayer makes it pretty clear that Jesus didn’t really feel like going to the cross: “Yet not as I will, but Thy will be done.” Sometimes things we don’t feel like doing simply need to be done anyway.

Feelings, you see, are fleeting and are usually the worst of advisors on the subject of what the right thing to do is. On the other hand: truth, duty, and faithfulness are constant and permanent and are among the best of advisors on the right thing to do. Who doesn’t have serious regrets about things done as we followed feelings? Conversely, I have never regretted doing anything because of truth, duty, or faithfulness—even when I didn’t really want to do it.

When students decide that they don’t feel like going to school, no teacher would say, “OK;” the school department definitely wouldn’t. When the kids don’t feel like doing their chores, good parents don’t give them a “pass”, do they? When the baby’s crying out of hunger or “diaper discomfort”, few responsible parents would say, “I just don’t feel like it.” No smart husband attempts to excuse himself from remembering or making a big deal about a first (or any) anniversary, because he just didn’t feel like it. Should matters of Christian obedience, service, or duty to the Lord really be different?

And here’s an interesting thing, once we start doing things, our feelings tend to change. There’s a psychological principle called cognitive dissonance that is at play under such circumstances; and while some duties are just plain unpleasant, the way to change how you feel about something is to act better than you feel. More than a 100 years ago, philosopher and psychologist William James talked about this phenomenon: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.” In other words, by acting as if you feel a certain way, you induce that emotion in yourself. Act like you love someone, and before long you’ll feel love. Act like you’ve forgiven someone and before long you’ll feel more like you’ve forgiven them. It’s surprisingly effective.

According to the inspired apostle Paul, discipleship to Jesus is about a transformation Rom. 12:1,2), a renewing of the mind , a renewal of the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:23,24)—a new self (Col. 3:23). Do we really suppose that the old self, who must be laid aside and crucified (Rom. 6:6), is going to just go quietly? Of course the flesh will feel differently, will rebel, will make war with the Spirit. To expect anything else is to have missed or forgotten the warning of Romans 7’s passage about the war between the flesh and the spirit.

Loving and following Jesus often means choosing duty over ease, speaking up over silence, silence over speaking up, giving rather than taking, activity over leisure, and what we should instead of what we feel. Of course, He never asks us to do what we cannot do; but what we can do—even when hard—we should at least try to do.

Let us listen closely to and obey the Lord’s words, even when we don’t feel like doing them. Let us look around us at things that should be done in service to the church, the Lord, and others—and wash whatever feet we find at hand, whether we feel like it or not. And let us commit ourselves to have the same spirit as our Lord: “Yet not as I will, but Thy will be done.”

Park Linscomb

About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the Rock Hill church of Christ in Frisco TX where I've worked since 2020. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, and the Lord's church.
This entry was posted in Christian Leadership, Christianity, Church Growth, New Testament, Parenting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What if I Don’t Feel Like It?

  1. H. David Carter says:

    Thanks Park! Take care and stay warm (80+ in Orlando…just sayin ;-))

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