the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

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what is good? dwell on that

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Paul wrote with what has been pointed out to be Hellenistic terms here. In other words the whatever means whatever. And the terms need to be taken all together: what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. Something might be good, but not praiseworthy, for example a person might be quite good at something which in itself is not morally good. That of course is excluded from what we’re to dwell on, according to Paul.

Unfortunately not everything is comfortable or easy. Christians are concerned for the common good through common grace, as well as the gospel. It would be nice if everything could be black and white, but reality requires discernment. We have to sort out the good from the bad in our judgments. And we need to do so humbly, even shaking a bit in our boots, so to speak, knowing that it begins with us.

I have to be in the word every day, regularly throughout the day. And in prayer. And I don’t want to dwell on what doesn’t fit Paul’s list above. Such as media on any side which is riddled with attitudes and words which sadly are anything but good. Maybe one can spend a bit of time in that (I don’t), but one has to be careful. It reminds me of a group of people who had to consider pornography by actually observing it. I remember one person saying how difficult that was. Not!

I personally love to listen to classical music, my favorite being Bach (right now, violin concertos). Anything good, we’re to fill our minds and hearts with. Then we’ll be able to see readily through what is not good, and address that in an appropriate manner, even as we remain committed to keeping our focus on what is good, ultimately our focus on the Lord himself, and the good news in him.

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

reprogramming our minds

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Neurologists and psychologists tell us that our minds are not reliable guides. That they are both good and bad (see a TED talk, well worth the short time needed). We condition ourselves to think and then continue to think in certain ways according to patterns set. And what often ends up amounting to an obsession to us just deepens the groove which is set, so that like on a vinyl record, the needle can be stuck on a certain part. And the groove can get much deeper over time.

That should help us both be more realistic as well as knowledgeable over what needs to be done. It will take time, and not without setbacks. But what is needed is a new pattern to be set.

Two friends shared with me, one the passage above from the Amplified Bible (hit the above link) and the other, the TED talk. Although I don’t entirely trust the Amplified Bible, I think the point in there of whatever brings peace is one important, even crucial side in telling whether or not something is of God. We need discernment. Of course being at peace by itself is not enough. We need to be committed to the gospel, and to the teaching of scripture. It’s not simply how we feel, nor is it a matter of how we think. Neither our emotions, nor our mind by themselves are reliable guides. We need them both along with help from others, particularly from God.

I am much better at handling troubling thoughts and emotions over a day or more than I used to be. What I’m not doing well yet, at least for the most part is how I handle the problem at the beginning. That is my goal, to change the groove so that in both the thought process and the corresponding emotion, I will reflect what is actually from and of God, and not of myself or any other.

Again, I realize that this will take time along with effort. What I hope for is a marked change so that perhaps one year from now I will be able to see needed growth and change.

 

 

not dividing the head and the heart

Michael Minkhoff’s post, How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psychopath, or A Biblical Defense of Feelings is well worth the read. Even if there is only some truth in what he’s saying, and I think there’s plenty, it is enough to help one understand why either emotions are suppressed resulting in a cold, hard hearted rationalism, or why they’re given full sway resulting in a disparaging of the intellect and good, clear, coherent thought. What is needed of course is everything which makes up our humanity made in the image of the one who is moved not only with truth but in an emotional sense, with pity, compassion, anger, etc., in love.

I come to this myself, hardly knowing what to make of it, except to acknowledge that I too am a victim of the lie that we simply need to put aside our emotions for a clear understanding. When actually we need to grow both in our “emotional quotient” as well as our “intelligent quotient.” How in real life mind and emotions, the heart and the head we’re never meant to be separated.

What is often left is an emotional immaturity which actually affects the mind for ill, since good thinking was never meant to be separated from feelings. We can’t do well in one without the other. We need the full healing of our total humanity in and through Christ, a life-long process until the redemption to come, when that work will be finished into something new and dynamic and growing. Something we may be able to find in ourselves now, only with some work and imagination, but which will then be obvious and flourishing in and through Jesus.

 

 

our head is where our heart is (and the rest follows)

What are we thinking about? And from that, what are we doing? One can be sure that where our heart is, there our head is as well. And the rest of us follows.

That is intimated or made clear in both Jesus’ words as well as in the New Testament letters. Here are a couple places:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

It doesn’t take long in reading the Bible and specifically the New Testament and Jesus’ call to realize that this life takes all of us. Not part, not just a bit here and there, not even the best part or parts of us. Everything, period. We get into trouble when we think we can work through or attempt to do the hard stuff when our minds have been elsewhere. Why? Because our hearts were taken up with something else.

This can be so subtle. I’m not even thinking about what is clearly and overtly sinful. But this becomes sinful, even in things that in themselves are well and good and have their place. If we are entirely occupied with them.

Where is our head? Well, we have to ask the question, where is our heart? Then confession of our sin should follow. So that we can get our hearts and heads back on track. And follow.