The peace or lack of peace one feels after praying about a decision can be highly subjective, unless it is specifically rooted in objective truths. Some people feel good about doing wrong things and others feel bad about doing right things. I have seen people make unwise and even catastrophic decisions who told me they prayed and felt good about it.
I know of a woman who walked away from her marriage—without biblical grounds—because in her words, “The Holy Spirit gave me peace about it.” When I tried to point to the truth in Scripture, she said she wasn’t going to be “legalistic.” She’s still going to church, claiming the spiritual high ground, while failing to live by the standards of the same Bible she professes to believe, often reads, and hears taught every Sunday.
She told me, “I’ve never been so close to God.” But is being close to God merely a feeling? Or does it mean trusting in and living by faith in the truth God has revealed to us not subjectively but objectively in His Word? Men guilty of murdering their wives have insisted “I loved her.” Their actions disprove their words.
Often the reason we “feel peace” may be because we are doing what is most comfortable, convenient, natural, or widely accepted. None of these is a good reason to believe we are doing right. We need to search the Scriptures to see what is true, and subject ourselves to the authority and guidance of the revealed will of God (Acts 17:11). Then when we call upon God’s indwelling Spirit to teach and direct us, He can guide us in light of what he has objectively said to us, not merely what we subjectively feel.
We should seek the Lord’s will through the reading and study of His Word, prayer, and the wise counsel of others. I emphasize “wise” to discourage counsel only from those who automatically agree with us and are not committed to speaking God’s truth. Scripture says in an abundance of counselors, there is wisdom and victory.
Some people say, “I just feel that…” as if having a feeling were somehow a good reason to believe something. “I feel” statements are sincere but subjective; they are not always based on reality. This is not to say that feelings are categorically sinful; God made us to feel emotions. We should let our feelings—real as they are—point to our need for the truth of God’s words to guide our thinking. Recognizing the reality of objective truth, “true truth,” God’s truth, is key. Why? Because what we believe about truth will inevitably affect our moral values and how we live.
Since Jesus said the truth will set us free, failing to believe and live by it will enslave us to error, sin, and self-destruction. It’s vital that we join David in saying, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me” (Psalm 25:4-5).
John Piper writes in Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again?:
My feelings are not God. God is God. My feelings do not define truth. God’s word defines truth. My feelings are echoes and responses to what my mind perceives. And sometimes—many times—my feelings are out of sync with the truth. When that happens—and it happens every day in some measure—I try not to bend the truth to justify my imperfect feelings, but rather, I plead with God: Purify my perceptions of your truth and transform my feelings so that they are in sync with the truth.
As long as we trust our own subjective judgment that ebbs and flows with the current of our culture, we divorce ourselves from God’s eternal and unchanging truth. Once our eyes are opened to the transcendent beauty and freedom of God’s truth, we’ll never be content with anything less.
Jerry Bridges wisely counseled, “We must not allow our emotions to hold sway over our minds. Rather, we must seek to let the truth of God rule our minds. Our emotions must become subservient to the truth.”
More than we can imagine hangs in the balance concerning what is true and whether or not we believe it instead of our own subjective feelings. May we look to Jesus who is the Truth. And may God in His mercy help us to embrace and live according to the life-giving truth He has given us—both for His glory and for our good.