"Were not our hearts burning within us?” are the seven memorable words of the two disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:32). The narrative begins with their hearts aching with grief and gloom. It ends with their hearts burning with gladness and glory. A complete change in a few hours. What happened?
We have to be conscious of whatever causes us to have burning hearts. We have to note what causes us to churn with intense feelings and emotions. Pay attention to whatever causes us to react, be it a person, place, thought, event, or circumstance. Don’t let it slip by, because it is a valuable learning moment. Trace the where, what, and why of that burning sensation.
A constant danger to our spiritual progress is to be unaware of our emotions and what triggers them.
A constant danger to our spiritual progress is to be unaware of our emotions and what triggers them. This is further complicated by being ignorant of our unawareness—being unaware of our unawareness. The antidote? Be self-aware, pay attention, manage our emotions. But it takes humility and hard work.
Consider, in four steps, how the Emmaus-bound disciples teach us this practical truth.
1. Emotions Examination (Luke 24:13-18). First, the disciples were morose and melancholic. This was the time for them, and for us, to do an emotion check. Why are we so emotional (Ps. 42:5; 43:5)? Discover the origins and motivations by asking yourself questions about these emergent emotions.
2. Alacrity Acceleration (Luke 24:18-24). The disciples’ emotions were creating havoc, taking them to dangerous destinations. They forgot the previous words of Jesus because of their overpowering emotions. When emotions intensify, use emotional alacrity and bring them under control. We need to quickly ask ourselves three questions: (a) Where do these emotions come from (fear, anger, defense, lust, etc.)? (b) What attitudes and actions are they causing right now (faith, nobility, fight, flight, etc.)? (c) If we give in to these emotions, where will they lead (a better place, a worse place, a place where God would want me, etc.)?
3. Spiritual Submission (verses 25-29). A transformation of the disciples’ emotional state took place between verses 25 and 29, when Christ, through the Holy Spirit, reasoned with them through Scriptures. That caused them to do an emotion check. They calmed down, collected themselves, and tamed their emotions. By the time they reached Emmaus they were in control. Instead of hopelessness they exhibited hope, hospitality, and a hunger for more truth.
4. Valuation of Engagement (verses 30-34). With emotions under control, the disciples were able to evaluate and replace their irrationality with reason. A new emotional burning took over; they cast off their blindness, and with joy they recognized Christ right in their midst. In that state of spiritual rationality they redirected their burning hearts from doom to delight and were able to rightly evaluate their situation in God’s presence.
Next time our hearts burn, let’s be intelligent about our emotions. Let’s recognize, understand, and manage them. Let’s resolve to do it for God’s glory, for our own good, and for the good of all with whom we interact.
Delbert W. Baker is vice chancellor of Adventist University of Africa, near Nairobi, Kenya.