How to Understand and Use This Book
This is a Christian handbook on emotional transformation. Biblical EQ is about emotional competence, about being able to handle and discern emotions and express them wisely. The emphasis of the book is ongoing growth rather than healing. The book does not assume that the reader has emotional “problems” that need to be “fixed”. This is not a book for people with high levels of emotional pain to read to get better – though it may achieve that. Biblical EQ is fitness manual rather than a diagnostic manual. Its focus is strength, health and maturity.
Commencing the Journey
(Proverbs 4:23) Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
Good emotional management is a highly needed commodity in Christian work. Without it we can unintentionally make a complete mess out of our service for God.
What is EQ?
Emotional intelligence is the term we use to describe a complex set of human abilities related to emotional management. The four key aspects of emotional intelligence are:
1. Emotional identification, perception and expression
2. Emotional facilitation of thought
3. Emotional understanding
4. Emotional management
What Is Biblical EQ?
This is the biblical perspective on the above four key skill areas. It doesn't neglect the findings of neuroscience but it adds in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of Proverbs. It has as its model the emotional life of Jesus Christ with His personal presence, self-control, emotional expressiveness and discernment of situations. Thus it has a clear pattern, a master plan that can be used to analyze theories and to determine what is true and false, wise and unwise. Secular theories have no "ideal person" to point to - they merely assemble ideals from their own theories and worldview. In Jesus we have a model, a guide, a point to aim our teaching towards and this is invaluable.
The Failure of the Secular Models of EQ
• Firstly they have a philosophical underpinning that has no definite direction.
• Secondly in alteration of responses is through medication, education and behavior modification. After a while people start to feel depersonalized by this approach, after some initial enthusiasm people are repelled.
• Thirdly prayer and spiritual disciplines are marginalized in the literature despite their utility.
To get answers that genuinely help people we need two things, a clear destination, and the power to get there in a reasonable amount of time. Our destination is the image of Christ Jesus, our power to get there is the infilling with and transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
This involves renewing seven key aspects which will be discussed in detail as we move along:
1. Renewing our basic perceptions of reality and our perspective on life.
2. Renewing our individual belief system.
3. Renewing the purposes and intents of our heart.
4. Renewing our physical bodies and their influence on our emotions.
5. Renewing our ability to be aware of and to understand our own emotions.
6. Renewing our ability to understand the emotions of other people.
7. Renewing our ability to appropriately express emotion according to the desire of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus as Our Model
1. Common Questions about Emotions
What Kind Of Emotions Should Christians Have?
While God is emotional there are some emotions that God never has. God is never envious, lustful, greedy, bitter with selfish ambition, small-minded, or petty. Neither is he anxious or fretful but dwells in perfect peace. His emotions are positive, holy, noble and appropriate.
Thus godliness means forsaking some emotions and embracing others. We should be utterly free from unholy and fleshly emotions and moving toward mature and holy emotional responses. The mature saint of God is filled with love and utterly free from bitter envy and selfish ambition. Petty covetous worldly longings are replaced by the love of the Father and perfect love casts our fear so that we dwell in quietness, peace and confidence. Holy people do not easily fly into rages or engage in back-biting and quarrelling rather they are centered people full of love, joy and peace. There is thus a grand and holy emotional authenticity that accompanies maturity in Christ.
As a rough guide our emotions can be broken down into three classes:
Holy emotions – those experienced by God such as compassion, joy, and holy indignation and those that accompany life in the Spirit such as praise, worship and adoration.
Human emotions – based in our human situation and the created order and shared by Jesus during His time on earth. This includes emotions such as grief, pain, fear, abandonment, sadness and sorrow, anxiety, stress, anguish and vulnerability.
Fleshly emotions – are poisonous and destructive and include toxic emotions such as malice, envy, selfish ambition, sensuality, bitterness, overpowering lusts and murderous hatred. They are closely tied up with the works of the flesh and with evil deeds. Their outcome is spiritual death.
All emotions are not equal. Some are of much higher value than others and some emotions and impulses are positively wrong. This classification also goes a bit beyond the black and white classification of emotions as ‘spiritual” or “unspiritual” that causes so much pain in traditional missionary circles. When pain and disappointment are seen as “unspiritual” we simply add to the burden the person is carrying. Hurt, disappointment, pain and frustration are valid human emotions stemming from our creatureliness encountering a fallen world. Human beings were created good but mortal and it is as we explore this mortality that we find out many useful things about ourselves.
We are thus called to participate in the holy emotions so that they transcend the human emotions and overcome the fleshly emotions. By this I mean that we must choose our emotional level and which emotions we will be gripped by. When disappointment strikes we can choose to respond with holy emotions and pray through until we trust God and can praise Him as the Psalmist did or we can respond at the human level and sit down disconsolate in human misery and gradually see
it through or we can respond from fleshly emotions and lash out in anger, bitterness, distrust and revenge.
The human emotions are not denied or seen as wrong rather they are acknowledged but not focused on. They are transcended. The saint focuses on and deliberately chooses to move toward the holy emotions. Prayer, fasting, praise and worship, reading Scripture, meditating on good teaching and doing good works are all helpful in this process. However above and beyond these things we need the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit responds differently to each of theses three categories of emotion. The Holy
Spirit rejoices and assists us when we engage in holy responses. He produces them within us so they can justly be called “the fruit of the Spirit”. On the other hand the Holy Spirit comforts us when the human emotions such as grief overwhelm us Finally He is determined to break the grip of fleshly emotions such as hatred, lust and revenge. In fact the Spirit wars against such impulses so that we cannot fully give way to our worst desires
As we will see in other chapters, the Spirit renews the mind with its personal perspective and belief structure. The renewed mind becomes centered on God and can be validly called “the mind of Christ”. Thus as the mind is redeemed and renewed and set on the Spirit life and peace result.
How Come Christians Seem To Stop Changing Emotionally After A Few Years?
Yet I believe one of the greatest obstacles to emotional health in Christian circles is that we simply don't understand our emotions or we lack proper mechanisms for dealing with them. Many
Christians are ignorant of Scriptural teaching on emotional life and so are left stranded with a few basic techniques that barely scratch the surface of the problem.
When we feel holy and good and positive we judge ourselves as being "up" spiritually and when we are feeling distant or depressed we judge ourselves as being "down" spiritually. In fact the connection between emotions and spirituality is fairly loose. Yet there is indeed a deep connection between our emotions and our character.
Are Emotions Important? Do They Build Christian Character And Ethics?
Ethics is not a purely intellectual exercise. From antiquity it has involved feeling, thinking and acting rightly. Our emotional valuation of life should be in agreement with our ethical stance. In biblical terms the person who is right emotionally loves good and hates evil. In their emotions they value what God values. Their emotions agree with their ethics which agree with the Scriptures which agree with God. What we like and dislike gradually shapes the course of our life and character. This simple act of emotional management is a key to later success in life.
Finally the presence of strong lustful and evil emotions can drive us to sin and blind us to truth. Thus sorting ourselves out emotionally is much more than just getting our act together. It is getting our heart in line with our faith and with our God.
2. Can Jesus Be Our Model For Biblical EQ?
God's plan for our lives is that we become conformed to the image of His Son. Now to "grow up in all aspects into Him" includes the emotional aspects of the nature of Jesus Christ. Becoming emotionally mature and skilled is part of our sanctification
Is Jesus Christ An Appropriate Model For Emotional Maturity?
Objection 1: The Standard Is Too High
Solution: Jumping Off Jacob's Ladder - Getting Rid Of Legalism Over Emotions Aspiring to be like Jesus is not a matter of status or spiritual ascent. It’s a journey, a destination, a joyous arriving. It was what we were made to be like from all eternity. If we view our emotional life as an indicator of spiritual status then it will be utterly terrifying to think of Jesus as our model. Every emotional insecurity will seem a "sin" and every lustful thought a pathway to Hell. If we judge ourselves and rate our spiritual life by the difference between our emotional life and the emotional life of Christ, by how far we have yet to go on our imaginary Jacob's ladder, then all we will feel is endless guilt and insecurity. By trying to go up, you will go under.
When I am saying "lets consider Jesus as our model for the emotional life of the
Christian" I am NOT setting a new standard to be "lived up to" by discipline and self-control.
Your discipline and self-control will run out long before you reach that standard!
Being like Jesus is our vision and our destination. We fix our eyes on Jesus, we seek to grow up into Him, we pattern ourselves after Him. It becomes an exploration and an adventure, a time of growing and learning, a receiving of grace upon grace as we learn to be like Him. It is a gracious growing - not a terrifying ascent.
Objection 2 - He was God and that's cheating!
Solution: He was also fully human. Jesus was the prototype of the perfect Christian, the elder brother among many brethren. We are of the same kind as Him.
He was made like us in our experiences of hunger, thirst, tiredness, frustration, misunderstanding, betrayal and even of unjust treatment by others. In fact the reason we can be like Jesus is because became very much like us.
Objection 3: There isn't enough information about His emotional life to base an EQ theory on.
Solution: There is enough to give us key reference points so we can gain a reasonable impression of what it means to have a redeemed and Christ-like emotional life.
Objection 4: Jesus is not a culturally relevant or gender relevant model for the emotional life I lead. To ask me to model my emotional life on His is inappropriate.
Solution: The cultural details of Jesus life are scant. God seems to have mainly preserved only those details about Jesus that are relevant for all places and times.
Objection 5: Jesus had a totally different spiritual gifting. I could never be as assertive, confident or confrontational as He comes across as in the gospel narratives.
Solution: Becoming like Jesus is not about becoming a clone of a prophet but is a unique journey of self-discovery.
God does make us each very different and He certainly does not ask us all to be evangelists or prophets. In fact it is quite clear that there is no one "right" Christian personality.
Objection 6: Jesus was tactless and His "high EQ" just got Him crucified. That is not something ordinary people should imitate. They should be tactful and careful.
Solution: Jesus was not tactless; He was an effective agent of change and a brilliant communicator who was steadfastly opposed. His EQ skills made Him effective and powerful and thus are worth imitating.
The ministry of Jesus and His EQ skills seem to have gone through three stages:
Favor: First Jesus grew in favor with God and man. Secondly His early ministry was characterized by people being astonished at the gracious words that fell from His lips. At this stage His EQ skills make Him perceptive, gracious and tactful.
Effectiveness: Where He taught with authority and challenged the teachings of the scribes and the Pharisees. Some opposed, many listened, His following grew. His opponents were infuriated by Him, but at this stage they were not yet afraid of him. At this stage His EQ skills make Him authoritative and effective as a public speaker and prophetic teacher
Power: Jesus eventually became a national political and religious figure that many people wanted to see become King. He was able to challenge the highest authorities in the land and to create genuine fear in His opponents. His enemies were now truly afraid of Him and plotted His death like that of any political enemy. At this stage His EQ skills make Him a skillful leader of a mass movement and also someone able to withstand enormous pressure and persecution.
3. The Holy Spirit, the Emotional Life of Jesus, and the Emotional Life of the Spirit-Filled Believer.
The Baptism of Jesus and His EQ
The highest level EQ skills such as boldness and courage and skill in healing and proclamation are Holy Spirit endowed.
The Body of Jesus and the Holy Spirit
As we all know our physical state and our emotional state are closely connected. We are more disposed to get angry when we are tired or hungry. We also seem to inherit certain emotional dispositions from our parents.
The Holy Spirit can give life to our mortal bodies. His renewing life can pulse through us and cleanse us from sins and addictions just as he can heal a person from illness or disease.
The biological basis of sin is not separate from the spiritual basis of sin. When God delivers you from sin He can deliver you from sin in your spirit, sin in your soul and eventually from the power of sin in your members. He can fix the physical and medical basis of rage, lust, addictions and anti-social behavior.
The Soul and Spirit of Jesus
Three things especially stand out:
- That Jesus perceived life's situations with His Spirit.
- That Jesus was moved on the basis of those perceptions.
- That Jesus candidly expressed His emotions to those closest to Him.
Note the power and depth of Jesus reactions. He cries out with a loud voice, is troubled unto death, or rejoices greatly. His Spirit-filled emotions were powerful and present.
Jesus and Perception
The presence of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus gave Him extraordinary knowledge and wisdom so that He judged situations righteously and truthfully and inwardly. He did not judge situations as they appeared to the eyes and ears and to sense perception. Rather He judged life's situations with a spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and knowledge that saw into the heart of things.
This then gives us a process for our own emotionality:
1. Perceive life spiritually, righteously, truthfully and with a Kingdom perspective.
2. React in our soul and spirit. Be moved by life. Not aloof and detached or cold and hard.
3. Express those reactions with dignity, power and poise. Be full-hearted emotionally but also be wise in expression.
Bringing our emotions under the control and empowerment of the Spirit of God, so we react to things no longer from a merely human perspective with its five senses and self-interest but from a divine perspective with spiritual perception and true Kingdom interests. This is what makes a good Christian biography so compelling - we sense a different way of looking at the world - a heart controlled by God and seeing His interests in all things.
The Beliefs of Jesus Christ
Emotions flow from beliefs. How we believe has a direct affect on how we feel. This applies even in spiritual things.
People of great faith have a tremendous poise in crisis situations. We shall learn how to handle situations we dread from a position of faith and a sense of mastery.
So we see that belief structures react to one another and evaluate one another. When we find another who is astonishingly full of faith we rejoice. When we find someone hard and cynical and unbelieving we are discouraged or angered. The way we interact with others will depend in large measure on what we believe about what they believe. Much inter-denominational misunderstanding revolves around "what we believe about what they believe" and the strong emotional reactions that result.
Putting It All Together
Earlier we saw that perceptions led to internal emotions which were then expressed appropriately.
Later we have seen that our perceptions work in with our beliefs to produce astonishing emotional reactions that are unique to the Christ-like Spirit-filled believer. On top of this we have
a physical predisposition to certain types of emotional reactions and behaviors - covered in the first part of this chapter. Thus we can say that for Jesus and the Spirit-filled believer the steps are:
1. Perception of person or situation - ideally in the Spirit. 2. Interaction of perception with belief system. 3. Internal emotion generated. 4. Interaction of internal emotion with physical predisposition. 5. Expression of emotion outwardly.
Interaction with physical predisposition
Outward expression of the emotional reaction
You may be wondering about the title of this chapter "The Holy Spirit and The Emotional Life of
Jesus" where is the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ beliefs, perceptions etc. Lets see!
•Perception: Jesus perceives by both His Spirit and the Holy Spirit who brings these realities to Him.
•Beliefs: The Holy Spirit writes the law of God on our minds and hearts and forms our beliefs within us as our teacher and the One who shows us the things that God has prepared for those who believe and reveals to us the deep things of God. Here are just a few direct references to His teaching ministry.
•Internal Emotions: Emotions can proceed directly from our spirit under the influence of the Holy Spirit "and Jesus rejoiced in His spirit.." and emotions such as love, joy and peace are called the fruit of the Spirit
•Interaction With Physical Disposition: The indwelling Holy Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies that we may be renewed and cry out "Abba Father!" to our gracious Heavenly Father. See also the first section in this chapter on how His powerful work can break the domination of our lives by sin and addictions.
•Outward Expression Of The Emotional Reaction: The spiritual basis for revelation that culminates in teaching is shown in 1 Corinthians.
The Language of the Spirit and the Emotional Realm - Symbols, Metaphors and Archetypes.
There is something called "the mind of Christ" which enables the believer to make sense of symbolic language. The Holy Spirit enables us to perceive and believe correctly thus renewing our mind into the mind of Christ. The more we think of the power of our own intellect the less we think of God's Word and the more we think of God's Word the less we think of the power of our own intellect!
For Jesus and ideally for the Christ-like Spirit-filled believer the model of the process for the development of the emotional life is as follows:
1. Things are perceived in and by the spirit by believers with the mind of Christ and a lucid grasp of symbol and metaphor. These believers see life as being in a Kingdom framework.
2. This perception is then passed through a grid of beliefs taught to the believer by God.
3. This results in a godly internal emotional state in the believer - of rejoicing, awe, wonder, repentance, burdens for the lost etc.
4. This is then mediated through the renewed life-filled temple of the Holy Spirit that is the believers body and translated through his or her natural God-given temperament.
5. Finally the emotional response is expressed in words taught by the Spirit bringing edification to the body of Christ and reflecting the mind of Christ on the matter.
Holy Spirit produced emotional life should weep for the lost, ache for the poor and celebrate the repentance of a single sinner. Like Jesus we should have a Holy Spirit given courage that enables us to speak God’s truth in God’s words at God’s moment. Like Jesus the Holy Spirit in us should make us radiant with a healing and gracious personality so that people sense the love and peace that is in us and know that in our earthen vessels dwells a priceless treasure.
4. The Emotional Life of the Apostles, Prophets and
Great Christian Leaders
In this chapter will check if the theory of biblical EQ has predictive validity when applied to the lives of the great Christian leaders and in the next chapter we will check to see if it also predicts the emotional lives of carnal Christians.
According to our model the following twelve things should be true of the apostles and prophets and great Christian leaders.
1. They should see the world differently from the rest of us. For them the Kingdom perspective will be the only true perspective.
2. They should be able from time to time to see into the hearts of men and women and to speak accurately to their condition.
3. They should be conversant with dreams, visions and symbolic language. They should readily grasp the prophetic and be excited by the Scriptures.
4. They should have beliefs that the surrounding culture has not taught them or which it opposes vehemently, beliefs that only God can have taught them.
5. Those beliefs should give them a sense of what is righteous and what is unrighteous like
Jesus had when He cleansed the temple and create an unusual zeal within them that consumes them.
6. Those beliefs should give them unusual poise and power in crisis situations like Jesus in the storm.
7. As a result of those beliefs they should resonate with and be emotionally drawn to others who are of great faith, like Jesus resonated with the Roman centurion.
8. They should have deep and vivid emotions like those of Jesus Christ.
9. They should have a sense of their emotions being God's emotions and be aware of what they are feeling and able to name it clearly as Jesus did with His emotions. They should be people of authentic and powerful emotional expression - groans, tears, crying, and rejoicing.
10. They should demonstrate victory over addictions and sexual temptations and have a renewed physical nature whereby they were able to express their emotions in godly ways through their physical bodies.
11. These righteous emotions should lead to righteous actions such as when Jesus' compassion moved Him to act. Their emotionality should be an integral part of being a righteous person. Not detached from life like the emotions of an actor or a hypocrite.
12. The course of their lives should demonstrate an ever-increasing wisdom in emotional expression as if they were being taught by God in how to say things.
What’s The Difference between Overly-Emotional People and the Vivid Emotions of
Jesus and the Prophets?
The emotions of the saints have God at the center. The emotions of neurotics have self at the center.
What about the Different Temperaments?
Different temperaments have different uses within the Kingdom of God. Barnabas was a great encourager of the brethren, Peter's high emotionality made him a master preacher and evangelist,
Paul's razor sharp mind made him a great one for attending to the operational details and theology of church life, John's mystical temperament pointed to the deep abiding spiritual realities and resulted in wonderful teaching on prayer. Titus seems to have been a born trouble-shooter while
Timothy was the sensitive and caring pastor par excellence.
God will use your basic temperament that He has built into you - and even some of your weaknesses for when you are weak then you are strong! Your basic God-created and renewed self is OK! God can and will use it and has accepted it in Christ Jesus
Being accepted does not mean being unchanged. The Holy Spirit will take certain parts of your basic emotional temperament and refine them into the image of Christ Jesus. Paul matured in tolerance and love, Peter became stable and reliable, Timothy had to overcome his timidity and learn to suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. As the Holy Spirit convicts you and teaches you and ministers to you a slow but sure transformation will take place that will increase your maturity in Christ and your usefulness to the Master.
Emotions In Times of Revival
Firstly emotions DO run high when God moves mightily in times of genuine revival. A revival in which there is no great emotion would be like a wedding without joy. However when the emphasis is on the manifestations - the tears, the laughter, the falling etc then it has gone off track. The wedding should focus on the bride and groom and the revival on Christ and on the believer's transformation.
Christian Maturity and Emotion
Christian emotional maturity does involve emotional stability - we are not "tossed to and fro…by every wind of doctrine". It also involves "growing up" in all things and becoming a person participating in the stature and fullness of Christ. While it involves the stability of Christ it also involves the passion and zeal of Christ and His ability to bless and to care. In fact part of the purpose of our redemption is to become a people “zealous for good deeds”.
Maturity is not the loss of emotions but the educating of emotions so they are like those of Jesus
Christ and the mature person is both stable and zealous.
5. The Emotional Life of the Carnal Christian
The carnal Christian is characterized by an astonishing lack of spiritual maturity to the point where they cannot be addressed as spiritual people. Carnal Christians behave like "mere men" and are indistinguishable from the surrounding culture with their actions and reactions. Using our model we can again make certain predictions about the emotional life of those who do not give the Holy Spirit full lordship of their lives.
1. They will see the world in much the same terms as the surrounding culture. For them the
Kingdom perspective will be rare and they will be mainly self-centered.
2. They will be unable to see into the hearts of men and women and even empathy will be rare.
They will not speak accurately to the human condition.
3. They will be baffled by dreams, visions and symbolic language. They will be bored by the prophetic and struggle with the Scriptures.
4. They will mainly have beliefs that the surrounding culture has taught them. They will not hold beliefs that the culture opposes vehemently, and will have few beliefs that only God could have taught them.
5. They will have a very weak sense of what is righteous and what is unrighteous and rarely react to social evil. They would tolerate the selling of doves in the Temple. Zeal will be unusual for them and even undesirable. They will not be consumed by kingdom interests.
6. They will not have unusual poise and power in crisis situations like Jesus in the storm but rather will be prone to anxiety.
7. They will not resonate with and be emotionally drawn to those who are of great faith. Rather they will feel more at home with the world and with other carnal Christians.
8. They will not have deep, vivid and stable emotions like those of Jesus Christ. They will instead be characterized by shallow sentimental spiritual feelings that vary with every wind of doctrine.
9. They will have little sense of their emotions being God's emotions. They will often be unaware of what they are feeling and will be unable to name their emotions clearly. They will not be people of authentic emotional expression.
10. They will not demonstrate victory over addictions and sexual temptations They will fail to express their emotions in godly ways through their physical bodies.
11. Their spiritual emotions will rarely lead to righteous actions. Compassion for the lost or the poor will rarely be felt and will not move them to action. Their emotionality will be detached from real life and be like the emotions of an actor or a hypocrite.
12. The course of their lives will not demonstrate an ever-increasing wisdom in emotional expression. They will go from bad to worse and become increasingly discordant like " a clanging gong and a clashing cymbal" if they should continue as carnal Christians.
Carnal Christians are so close to being unbelievers that they are almost indistinguishable from them. Such Christians are characterized by apathy, division, ongoing strife and a very low EQ! Carnal Christians "bite and devour one another"
Where Then Is the Holy Spirit?
All truly born-again Christians receive the Holy Spirit as part of the dynamics of conversion and the formation of the new man in them, which is Christ in them the hope of glory. So all these
Christians presumably had the Holy Spirit. Yet they were a mess. Something was dreadfully wrong. There seems to be a breakdown along the way. Their sanctification was falling to bits; it just wasn’t working. The Holy Spirit in them was not producing maturity, the fruit of the Spirit were not evident. Was this God’s fault? Had God given up on them? Surely not! These people were doing something that was stopping the Holy Spirit from having His way in their lives. They were sinning against the Spirit’s presence in their lives.
We will very briefly look at
Each of these terms to gain some understanding of the spiritual dynamics of sinning against the Holy Spirit and its effects on the emotional life.
Grieved - by unnecessary and immature interpersonal conflict such as bitterness, wrath, slander and malice. The Spirit is a Spirit of love and is grieved by that which is opposed to love. Carnal behavior such as divisiveness and quarreling is anti-love, and causes grief to the Holy Spirit who is constantly trying to mature us in love.
Quenched by despising the gifts of the Spirit especially prophesy. It implies that his fire - His inspirational activity in prophecy and revival is resisted - perhaps in the name of order, and "cold water" is thrown on attempts to minister in spiritual power.
Lied To Ananias and Sapphira conspired in an act of financial deception of the apostles. This was seen as not deceiving men but God and lying to the Holy Spirit and resulted in them being carried out dead.
Put To The Test: Again refers to Ananias and Sapphira and refers to their testing the omniscience of the Holy Spirit by thinking they could deceive those He had filled with power and anointed.
Made Jealous: A difficult verse to translate. Refers to friendship with the world, which is seen as spiritual adultery and makes the Spirit jealous. The world system and the Kingdom are opposites. To love one is to make the other jealous and if we love the world we enrage the Holy Spirit. Worldliness is often characteristic of carnal Christians and does great damage to their relationship with God.
Insulted/Outraged/Do Despite Unto: Refers to someone who turns back from
Christianity to Judaism (or to any other religion) and thus says that the work of the Spirit of grace in his or her life was of no value to them. These are apostates.
Devoid Of the Spirit: Refers to false teachers who joined into Christian groups and created division leading people away to their own groups. These are probably not even believers to start with.
Resisted Refers to the unbelieving Jews who were stoning Stephen and resisting the clear testimony of the Holy Spirit. Later God said to one of those resistant Jews "Saul, Saul, it must be hard for you to kick against the goads..". This term is not used of believers.
Blasphemed: Is used of those unbelieving Jews who so deeply resisted the Holy
Spirit that they saw the miraculous ministry of Jesus Christ as the work of the Devil and attributed His power to Satan. Again it is never used of Christians.
How does this come about? A love of worldly things, a growing resentment, anger and malice, a dislike of prophecy and revivals, a little dishonesty with finances here and there and after a while the activity of the Holy Spirit in the believers life is reduced to a whisper and as they head out the back door of the faith they deliver the final insult by rejecting the value of Jesus whom the Spirit bears witness to.
The Low Biblical EQ Of Carnal Christians
The poor control carnal Christians have over their emotional life is due to their lack of cooperation with the Holy Spirit and can be seen in:
Poor Impulse Control: Giving in to sexual immorality, drunkenness and even in the disorder of their worship.
Poor Anger Management: Most notably the congregation that James wrote to which were murdering each other and the Galatians which were "biting and devouring" each other. (Disintegrating Relationships: Envying, factions, strife and contentions.
Low Levels of Personal Motivation: They are variously described as evil beasts and lazy gluttons, neglectful, dull of hearing, and in danger of drifting.
Instability: Following after "the latest" false teachers particularly if they were good talkers and emotionally persuasive and being tossed around by every wind of doctrine.
Lack Of Basic Empathy and Compassion: Such as saying to a person who was without food or shelter "be warm and filled" and not doing anything! Or dishonoring the poor by making them sit in lowly places in church.
A Toxic Tongue: Gossip, slander, and the like that proceeds from out of control emotions.
A Poisonous Personality: Such people are described as a "root of bitterness that defiles many" or like the emotionally rigid Diotrephes who "like to put himself first" and controlled the church
The Obvious Conclusion
Firstly, that our model seems to fit the biblical data and probably does describe the process of emotional development and expression. More importantly it leads to the conclusion that the single most important factor in a high biblical EQ is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the cooperating and Spirit-filled believer. Those most full of the Spirit are grand beings of deep emotional authenticity; Christians that grieve the Spirit are emotional wrecks.
However believers do not neatly fall into two camps, one with wonderful emotions and the other with sharp, brittle and unstable emotions. That is because we start at different points. Some Spirit-filled believers from emotionally difficult backgrounds may have a lot of learning and growing to do with respect to their emotions, but they are going in the right direction. In time, providing they remain close to God, they will learn and grow and become more Christ-like in their emotions. On the other hand some very worldly and carnal Christians are squandering a wonderful emotional inheritance from a loving Christian family. They seem emotionally together but in time, slowly but surely, emotional disintegration sets in and generally becomes obvious by late middle age
What About Non-Believers?
Generally non-believers are neither cooperating with nor resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus the emotional life of non-believers should be normally distributed (that is “on a bell curve”) around a central mean that is less than the emotional mean of Spirit-filled Christians but perhaps not as low as that of truly carnal Christians. Since the Spirit does not indwell unbelievers, the great inner work of the Spirit is not there and the upper reaches of the Christian life are unavailable to them. For instance they are generally not able to love their enemies. While they may be very decent and loving people they will generally not have the tremendous power and life
It needs to be also said that God has His prevenient and common grace and the Holy Spirit will give some external aid to anyone who seeks to live a good, decent and loving life and encourages Jews, Buddhists, humanists and existentialists alike to be decent human beings. In such people many Christian values will be found in the belief system that undergirds their emotional life. Such people who are seeking good, but have not yet found Christ may well be emotionally together as they are cooperating with God in a stumbling sort of way. However the deep transformational power of the Holy Spirit may well be lacking.
The Conclusion So Far
1. The five step model accurately predicts the emotional state of both saintly Christians and carnal Christians.
2. Emotional authenticity is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit. However it can occur to some extent in non-believers who seek it as a work of common grace. More commonly it is found in Spirit-filled believers who are walking in holiness.
3. Emotional functionality and authenticity come about through the person co-operating with the Holy Spirit as He forms spiritual perspectives and a Christ-like belief system in the person.
4. Resisting this work of the Holy Spirit results in emotional catastrophe.
5. Emotionally undeveloped Christians who remain close to God can grow into emotionally adept people just as it seems Paul did.
6. Co-operating with God means not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit and being careful to avoid worldliness.
Is There A Fast Track To A High Biblical EQ?
Obviously being Spirit-filled and obedient is a great place to start for emotional growth. However
Christians can also directly work on their emotions. Information on how to do this has been provided in three ways; firstly God has given His Son to show us what holy and true emotions look like, secondly He has given us the special revelation in the Scriptures and their precise description of the emotional life and the inner man, thirdly He has given His natural revelation to scientists who so assiduously seek the truth about emotional growth. Combining these together we will find out how to directly achieve emotional growth and a high biblical EQ.
Our Inner Self
And Our Emotional World
Perception is the first of the five stages of Biblical EQ and by far the most complex. In this chapter we will look at perception as it flows from our stance toward life, our life perspective, how we see things and how we explain the world to ourselves. These perceptions and explanations later become the things out of which we form our beliefs, and out of those beliefs will flow our emotions. In the next chapter we will look at perception at its deepest level, in the human spirit, and how it forms the foundations of and framework for our personality. In logical order that chapter should precede this chapter but I have chosen to put the simple material first and move you to the more difficult as a better teaching strategy.
Spiritual people see life differently. Spiritual people have deep abiding spiritual perspectives. The perceive reality through an entirely different set of glasses. They see the world “right side up”.
When our perceptions about life are wrong soon all else goes wrong. If we perceive life to be utterly random - we will be without hope. If we perceive ourselves to be unlovable - we will live alone in the land. If we perceive others to be hostile when in fact they are friendly - we will needlessly create enemies. In this chapter we shall first look at secular material that explains how our perspective on life is formed. We will also look at some proven secular techniques for fixing common errors and becoming optimistic and functional. Then once we have achieved that we shall then look at how to gain a biblical heavenly perspective and know life and peace.
The correct perspective on life can calm fears, break us out of depression, give us peace and stability, bring joy and hope, give us empathy and compassion and give us the ability to plan wisely and well for our future. First we have to understand how our perspective is created, then we can look at how it can be fully redeemed.
Explaining Reality to Ourselves
A key element in the creation of our perspective is how we explain reality to ourselves. Bit by bit these explanations become our story about the world and how it came to be and why it is the way
it is. Soon we start seeing the world the way we have imagined it to be, through the story we have constructed from our explanations of the world. The psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman has done much research on people’s "explanatory style" and his book "Learned Optimism" is excellent. Here is my twelve point summary of its basic teachings:
1. Optimism and Powerfulness are the opposites of Pessimism and Helplessness.
2. Optimism and pessimism are learned by experiences in life.
3. Experiences form beliefs. These beliefs then combine to produce outlooks on life.
4. The beliefs which we draw from experiences can be well-founded or poorly founded depending on how we explained the experience to ourselves.
5. We can explain things Personally (its always our fault) or Externally (its something outside)
6. We can explain things Pervasively (its in everything, everywhere) or Specifically (this is just one instance).
7. We can explain things Permanently (it will always be this way) or Temporarily (its just a glitch).
8. Personal, Pervasive and Permanent explanatory styles produce self-defeating beliefs and a negative outlook.
9. The negative outlook is reflected in negative self-talk.
10. The self-defeating beliefs we have formed can be reasoned with and our thoughts (negative self-talk) can be disputed with or distracted.
11. Marshalling evidence against self-defeating beliefs and attacking them logically can slowly but surely lead to a more optimistic outlook.
12. Sometimes you can “externalize” the belief by writing the thought down on paper or talking it over with a friend.
Martin Seligman then goes on to show how we can dispute our wrong perspective and learn to be optimistic by writing down our thoughts and looking at them logically and in the light of the three P's - Personal, Pervasive and Permanent. According to Seligman’s research optimists are healthier and have better lives than pessimists. But oddly enough pessimists tend to be more accurate!
Pessimists are right in their conclusions but wrong in their living. They are unhappy, unsuccessful and unhealthy. The three key ways pessimists defeat themselves is through their explanatory style
- see points 5-8 above. For instance the way we explain things to ourselves will determine how quickly we recover from minor incidents. If I have an argument with a friend and then think "I am terrible at relationships, I will always have arguments with everyone I meet, I'm just a total loser" then I will be unhappy and I may stay unhappy for a while. On the other hand if after the argument I say "I think I was overtired, I'll get over this and have a better day tomorrow, I don't always blow up at people" then I will be much happier and recover more quickly.
Christians have explanatory styles too - that determine their faith level, their happiness and their joy. Explanations can vary from "God is punishing me and will always punish me because I am so wicked" -to "The Devil made me do it...” We have a habitual faith perspective on life - and just like the pessimists in Seligman's research we can be re-educated to a more functional and liberating explanatory style and faith perspective. This is a three stage process.
Stage One is acknowledging that our spiritual explanatory style is in need of major repair.
Stage Two is finding out exactly where it needs to be fixed and
Stage Three is the job of repairing it.
A Dose of Perspective Restorer
A dose of perspective restorer was often a provocative question or statement that got us to rethink our miseries. In a similar vein here are a few provocative statements and questions that can help you to challenge the dysfunctional perspectives that you have identified as having some influence in your life. I am sure you will quickly get the idea.
Challenging Ideas of Permanence
•Are your negative circumstances really permanent or do they just feel permanent?
•How impossible is impossible? Is anything impossible with God?
•Haven't you gotten out of difficult situations before? Can't you do it again?
•Haven't you changed and learned before? Can't you do it again?
•Hopelessness is never from God. It is a lie and a deception. He is the God of hope.
Challenging Ideas of Low Locus of Control
•Is there one single thing you CAN do to change things? .
•Who is in charge? You, other people, the Devil or God?
•Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Make your luck by preparing your skills and seeking opportunities.
•The Devil is not in control. Resist the Devil and He will flee. (James 4:7)
•You are not God - so you don't have to be responsible for everything. However you are you and you do have some responsibilities. Fulfill those and let God handle the rest of the Universe.
Challenging Ideas of Pervasive Evil
•You are not totally sinful if you are worried about sinning. Totally sinful people are unconcerned about sinning.
•Are all politicians corrupt? Was Ghandi corrupt? Was Abraham Lincoln corrupt? Are there really no good churches? Not even one? Is absolutely everyone wrong in their theology?
•Has the redeeming work of Christ accomplished nothing in 2000 years? Has he not created some good in some corner of the world?
•Is the Devil so powerful that he can ruin everything? Cannot God preserve some things that are good and beautiful? Cannot one wildflower be excellent in beauty?
•Cannot God make all things beautiful in their time? Can He not make you a wonder and a glory?
Challenging Ideas That Everything That Goes Wrong Is Your Personal Fault
•Have you noticed that sometimes you think people are rejecting you when in fact they are just busy or having a bad day? Might you be exaggerating the degree of rejection? Maybe it’s not that bad.
•Is it really you at fault? Could it just be the circumstances or the other people?
•When thinking about yourself stop using "absolute" terminology including words such as: must, have to, always, never, and totally. They are rarely true. One mistake does not make you a "total failure".
•When there is a problem list those factors you can control and also list those factors that you cannot control. Leave those outside your control to other people or even to God. Do not feel personally responsible for things you cannot control. Then feel free to responsibly and wisely tackle those things you can do.
•Cease seeing yourself as being at the center of the Universe with so many things spinning around you. Be content to just be one of God's creatures, a son or daughter with a few assigned tasks to do.
Renewing Transcendent Spiritual Focus
•We walk by faith not by sight. Do not let visible things such as bills and criticism be the only reality.
•Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.
•Faith is often "more caught than taught" so hang around people who are full of faith.
•Have you drifted away from faith? Have you been deeply disappointed with God? Would it help to talk to a good pastor or Christian counselor?
•Are there genuine concerns about the canon of Scripture, miracles, evolution etc? Get some material and investigate your doubts and find answers to your genuine intellectual questions.
Believing In the Goodness of God
•Look at the goodness of God and how He provides for the birds. As a friend of mine says she has "never seen a skinny sparrow". If God is good to sparrows - then how much more good will He do for you!
•Remember all the Lord has done for you. Make a list of His goodness and remind yourself of the things He has done. Bring to mind His past love of you and remember He never changes!
He is faithful!
•Spend some time in Psalm 23 and Romans 8. Sing hymns, put on Christian music.
•Examine your background for things like deprivation, cruelty and disappointment. Are you projecting your experiences - particularly of your father/parents onto God? Try and separate the two so that you can see God for all He truly is in His constant loving-kindness and faithfulness. Stand against those lurking feelings from your past and rebuke them in the name of Jesus. Maybe even seek counseling.
•Move self off center stage. Sometimes we doubt God's goodness because we are demanding a certain thing - a partner, wealth, the return of a divorced spouse etc. and He has not answered us yet and we are furious that God is not meeting our agenda in our time. The goodness of
God is bigger than His meeting a single important demand of yours. Your focus is too narrow. While you wait for your answer to prayer notice how He sends you beautiful days and good friends and daily bread. Cultivate thankfulness for what you do have instead of focusing on what you do not have.
Coming Up With Your Own Bottle of Perspective Restorer
Cognitive therapists have come up with a general process for giving yourself a dose of perspective restorer. Cognitive therapists believe that underneath our difficult emotions are thoughts that fuel those emotions. With every painful incident there is a thought that makes it painful and which keeps the pain ongoing such as “I’ll never get over this, my life is ruined forever”. When those thoughts are corrected the emotions lose their power and can be brought under control. People vary greatly in their underlying thoughts. That is why one person can just laugh something off and another takes it to heart. Underneath person A is the thought 'Oh that was nothing…", underneath person B is the thought "that's so unjust, unfair and horrible..". . Our thoughts are under our control and as we change them we can also change the emotions that they produce. For instance if you change your thoughts from “I’ll never get over this” to “One day I’ll be able to look back on this and laugh” then you create optimism and give power to your life.
Most of the statements that hurt us most are simply not true. In fact if we take a hard look at them they are nearly always illogical. Self-talk such as “Everybody hates me” is generally not true at all. Its painful, its untrue and it needs to be challenged. Your perspective is your thought on the situation and like any thought you can change it. As you change it you change the emotions that result. So you can heal yourself of many painful emotions just by working out a more truthful, balanced and biblical perspective on life. How can we do this? The five step process below is summarized from "Feeling Good- A New Mood Therapy" by David. M. Burns.
1. Find a recent incident that caused you some emotional discomfort.
2. Look at the feeling - name and write down the feeling.
3. Try to find the underlying thought that produced that feeling e.g. "I am always stupid".
4. Dispute the thought with facts, Scripture, logic and common sense until you come up with a more functional perspective on the event.
5. Write down the new feeling that comes with the new explanation.
Well that's about as far as the best secular approaches can take us. Cognitive psychotherapy like the work of Beck, Seligman, Burns, Ellis and many others is very good and is generally quite compatible with a biblical approach. It offers real relief from emotional pain however it only "goes so far". It cannot open our eyes to spiritual realities nor can it produce the sudden whole-of
-person perspective changes that the Holy Spirit and Scripture can. To go deeper still in changing our perspective we must turn to that which is uniquely spiritual and biblical.
The Perspective of Your Soul
There are three “places” in the inner man that can have a perspective on life. Firstly there is the mind, the rational part of us, that we have just discussed and which can be addressed logically.
Secondly there is the perspective of the spirit, how we perceive life in and with the spirit and how prophets see the world. That will be discussed in the next chapter. Thirdly there is the soul. The soul is the place of life and joy and personhood and subjective judgments and valuations. Our soul quickened by the spirit is what makes us a living being. The soul is also a place of unruly and temporary emotions of daily frustrations, of falling in love, of the joy of a good meal or a wonderful sunset, the smile at a catchy tune, the sentiments at a movie. It can be a place of tempestuous emotional storms that need to be stilled. The soul can be up one minute and down the next. [In contrast the spirit is a place of grand and timeless emotions, of great joys and piercing sorrows.]
Bringing the stormy world of the soul under control is one of the great tasks of the Christian life and results in what the Bible calls peace. Peace is when the soul is in the state that God wants it to be in. Peace can be brought to the soul, which is subjective, through things such as a sunset or music of. However such methods are morally neutral and do not form character or do anything much for us in the long run. We need something better. Pure logic does not quite work with the soul to the extent that it does with the mind, “For the heart has reasons that the mind never knows”.
The law of the soul is the law of likeness. Our souls become like the souls of people we love, admire or emulate or people we respect, see as authoritative, and obey. That is why children become like parents, disciples like their masters and dogs like their owners. Adoration and authority mold the soul. We become like Jesus through loving and obeying Jesus. Thus I have found four methods to work in bringing peace to the soul and giving it a dose of perspective restorer. Christo-Centric Worship, Self-Exhortation, Positive Confession Of Scripture (in its proper context) - and Scripture Memory.
Worship, praise and adoration of Jesus mould the soul into a Christ-like shape. Worship can also help get our soul’s perspective on life back into line.
With all that is available today it is quite possible to have true worship at home with reading the Bible, a good cassette and a few friends. Prayer and worship do not need to be in a certain building on a certain day but they do need to be in Spirit and in truth.
A two-stage process is used of a) questioning the value of the emotion b) then commanding it to change. So we see that here the soul/self is being commanded to: be strong, be lifted up to God, hope in God, wait silently for God, be comforted, bless God and lastly (by the rich fool) to take it easy. We are all familiar with talking to ourselves and even with telling ourselves to cheer up. However Scripture based self-exhortation is a bit more sophisticated and a lot more powerful.
With Scripture-based self-exhortation you empower yourself to take charge of your emotional state and to command it to change by divine authority. You use authority to mold your soul. Underneath these exhortations lies a deep relationship of God.
So here is the process for changing your perspective by biblically-based self-exhortation:
1. Awareness: Become aware of the state of your soul "why are you downcast".
2. Questioning: Decide whether it is godly and functional. If it is not godly or functional then don't accept it. Decide it must be firmly corrected and brought into alignment with the Kingdom..
3. Go Upstairs: Take your soul before the throne of God either directly or in prayer and worship.
4. Firmly Command the Change: Command your soul to change to a more biblical perspective within the background of God's will and covenant purposes.
5. Repeat as necessary
It’s not just a mental exercise it’s an almost physical taking hold of one’s self and changing one’s orientation to life. The person stands outside themselves and their pain and their circumstances and makes a faith decision about what they will believe and how they will feel. They then decide to enforce their faith decision by referring to God’s Word and applying the full strength of their will. Thus the above process moves the person from pain to peace by almost forcing their soul to accept the truth of God’s Word.
Positive Confession of Scripture In Its Proper Context
With this method we correct an out of balance perspective by again using the authority of the Scriptures.
So here is how to engage in bible based positive confession:
•Acknowledge the problem.
•Search the Bible and find appropriate and in context Scriptures.
•Repeat them out loud declaring them to be true.
Scripture memory is a way we can fix our minds on the truths of God’s Word until it “sticks” and is memorized. In the process it develops personal discipline! Scripture memory can make a very useful contribution to having a renewed mind, an informed soul and a more stable emotional life.
It is also a valuable perspective restorer and well-memorized verses can be helpful all through one's lifetime. Navigators and other organizations produce Scripture memory flash cards that are quite helpful.
7. Perception - In and By the Spirit
The spirit is the place of intuition, dreams, visions and revelation and of the deepest intimacy and the most direct kind of knowledge. It is the deepest part of our humanity and it is the place where we "know that we know...”. The primary functions of the spirit are wisdom and perception and knowledge.
The Bible often talks about our spiritual eyes and ears and of people's ability or inability to perceive spiritual things. In a few places the NT makes the seemingly strange assertion that it would be a good idea if all Christians were prophets. What it most probably means is that all Christians are to become people of accurate spiritual perception and have a deep intuition of spiritual reality.
What is clear is that Christians are to move from a place of very obscure spiritual perception prior to conversion to a place of abundant and accurate spiritual perception.
This is truly a vast transition in our nature. We go from being spiritually blind and without understanding, to being able to sense spiritual realities and both understand and enjoy them. We may even sense them so keenly that we are able to edify the Church. A whole new way of seeing things is opened up. This is variously called "being quickened in spirit", "having the eyes of your heart enlightened." or having one's spiritual eyes and ears “opened” to spiritual reality. This work of the Holy Spirit that is quite independent of human intellect. Some very intelligent people are spiritually blind while some simple folk grasp the things of the Kingdom. Jesus rejoiced in seeing simple people grasping great spiritual realities by faith alone and being obviously taught by God.
Thus true spiritual perception which gives poise and balance to life and underlies true emotional stability is a gift of God. While spiritual perception is a sovereign work of God it can also be gained through prayer
Spiritual Sensitivity and EQ
Well what has spiritual sensitivity got to do with our emotions and our biblical EQ?:
1. Spiritual sensitivity opens our eyes to God’s love and thus allows us to be solidly grounded as persons. To be so able to perceive the love of Christ that we are rooted and grounded in love and even filled up to all the fullness of God must be the ultimate in emotional stability.
2. Spiritual perception gives us the right spiritual passions. With right spiritual perception we see the lost, our church and our city and our nation through the eyes of Jesus Christ. We will experience the vast range of spiritual emotions from weeping over the lost to indignation over cruelty and hardness of heart. Whatever our emotion - it will be the Spirit's emotion based on the Spirit's perception of that situation.
3. Spiritual sensitivity allows us to be grounded in faith and in the spiritual realm not on sight and human reason and sentiment alone.
4. Occasionally people of high spiritual sensitivity will be granted a revelation that turns the whole situation around and has an effect not just on their emotions but the emotions of all involved.
Errors in Spiritual Perception And Their Effect On A Christian's Emotional Life
For instance errors in spiritual perception include blindness - but the resultant beliefs of such blindness are varied. If you are blind to God and His salvation through Christ, then false beliefs of all shapes and sizes, can arise in the darkness within you. Thus the disorder of perception lays the foundation for the disorder in belief
Inability To Perceive The Obvious: This is called " a spirit of stupor" and implies that the hearers are dull to the point of senselessness to spiritual thing. People in the "spirit of stupor" fail to "get it". They live life with practically no true spiritual awareness though they may be outwardly religious. If they are religious they tend to be stubborn and quite rejecting of anyone who has genuine spiritual experience. Emotionally they are at ground zero with a purely human perspective on life.
Paying Attention To Deceptive Spirits: Just as the Holy Spirit is our Teacher, Satan is our deceiver! Spirits can and do tell lies and Christians who pay attention to them can become unstable both spiritually and emotionally and be drawn away from the faith. The deceived person does not love the truth and does not really seek it. Rather they pursue signs and wonders and good feelings. The promises of wealth and freedom mean more to them than finding out the truth about God and His Son Jesus Christ. The cure for spiritual deception is to know and love God's Word, pursue truth, check basic doctrine and character and to test the spirits
Spiritual Inflation It describes the overpowering effect of suddenly encountering the spiritual realm on certain individuals who had generally not encountered much of the spiritual realm previously. Lacking a proper grounding in their inner being for spiritual things they become totally carried away with notions of spirituality. They almost seem to blow up like balloon, becoming overly obsessed with "being spiritual", and are often grandiose, clamorous, and frequently pompous. Their utterances, which they esteem as being of great value, are generally of dubious worth.
Being Spiritually Enslaved To Rules And Regulations: This is known as a spirit of bondage and slavery: The spirit of bondage is characterized by a desire to observe "days and months and seasons and years" to take on aspects of the Law such as circumcision and to be much concerned with dietary regulations and minor laws. This produces a sanctimonious rigidity. It also produces fear and a terror of trespassing in even quite minor matters.
A Spirit That Lacks Courage And Assertiveness: Paul calls this is "spirit of fear". It seems to be most common when there is real danger and persecution and the temptation is to go easy on preaching the gospel. Emotionally it produces the desire to back out of God's clear calling on one's life and is a perspective of 'safety first".
Other Spiritual Errors
Below are 22 references to the human spirit going "out of true" .In each of them the person's perspective on life is deeply affected by their spiritual affliction. Some references seem to be what we would call "moods" and some would hesitate to attribute them to a spiritual cause. The point I want you to get is that our emotions can flow from our human spirit which can go out of balance due to a wide variety of factors.
1. A spirit of jealousy
2. A hardened and obstinate spirit
3. A spirit of Ill will
4. A sorrowful spirit
5. A distressing spirit
6. A sullen spirit
7. A poisoned spirit
8. An anguished spirit
9. A spirit turned against God
10. A broken spirit
11. A hasty and compelling spirit
12. An unfaithful spirit
13. A spirit that is overwhelmed by troubles
14. A failing spirit
15. A haughty spirit
16. An uncontrolled spirit
17. A perverse spirit
18. A spirit of deep sleep
19. An errant spirit
20. A spirit of heaviness
21. A grieved spirit
22. A merely human spirit
This biblical data may be uncomfortable for many from overly rational backgrounds. However the realm of the human spirit needs to be explored if we are to understand the human person.
After all our spirit is the deepest part of us. Without getting lost in all the details lets see if we can draw out a handful of general principles:
•The human spirit has a vast emotional range. It is not a cool, analytical, emotionless part of the human person. In fact the spirit generates the deepest and most powerful emotions we know.
•A person's fundamental outlook on life flows from their spirit and when the spirit is affected this affects the actions of the whole person.
•The spirit is vulnerable and can be damaged. Traumatic life circumstances and intense suffering can break the spirit or cause it to be overwhelmed.
•The person has some degree of control over their spirit, and this is a good and desirable thing.
A person who lacks control over their spirit has trouble with maintaining proper boundaries.
•The human spiritual realm is subject to change. Moods seem to be linked to a temporary state of the human spirit.
•God can cause both positive and negative changes in the human spirit. In Isaiah from a spirit of heaviness is changed into a garment of praise. In the case of King Saul he moves from being anointed with the Holy Spirit to being tormented by a distressing spirit.
The Four Causes Of Problems With The Human Spirit
The above list of spiritual problems can be put into four fundamental categories based on what causes them. The four main causes of problems with the human spirit are – sin, folly, trauma and spiritual attack. Each of these can affect our most basic perceptions of ourselves, life, others and God and lead to emotional discordance. By understanding these four causes we will be able to frame a wise and appropriate response as we minister the grace of God.
1. Problems Caused By Sin
All of us sin but this is different. This is much deeper. Here the sin has got right down to the deepest level of the personality and gained a stronghold. In these cases the human spirit itself has been captured or defiled by a particular sin.
Indications Of When Sin Has Deeply Affected The Human Spirit:
•Where there is a deep love of, or blindness to, clearly and obviously sinful behavior
•Celebration of lawlessness, defiance of rules and authority. Rebellion.
•Glorying in unrighteous scheming.
•A deep spiritual obstinacy. Consistently knowing the right thing to do and refusing to do it.
•A faithless and violated conscience. Habitually doing things contrary to one's faith.
The course here is fairly well known. Awaken the person to their sin, then ask them to repent from their sin and to confess it to God and to make restoration where practical. Repentance involves a turning around from the wrong behavior or attitude to the right behavior or attitude
2. Problems Caused By Folly
Secondly there are those spiritual problems based on folly in the human spirit. This is an abiding disposition of foolishness rather than just a one-off mistake. People characterized by folly in their human spirit demonstrate a nature lacking in personal insight and basic wisdom. They are unbalanced and unwise and unable to rightly judge themselves or others. A foolish person lacks wisdom in one or more key areas of their life and makes the same mistakes over and over again.
They are frequently stubborn and unteachable and education is of little avail until the errant spirit is fixed.
Indications of when folly has overtaken the human spirit:
•When the person consistently makes unwise choices that are not so much "bad" as "just real dumb". They are characterized by an almost total lack of insight about themselves, their lifestyle and other people..
•Where they are naïve, credulous, gullible or always falling in love.
•A deeply derisive attitude to education, knowledge and learning and wisdom.
•They constantly show off their knowledge but do not listen to others and are quite unteachable.
•Foolish habits, erratic behavior, impulsiveness, wild schemes, dreaming, loud inappropriate and boorish behavior, lack of insight, poor decisions.
•The person does not set out to be immoral but finds themselves being easily caught up in immoral relationships or they seem unable to avoid bad company.
•Where a person is chronically lazy, slack and disorganized and their life drifts from job to job and failure to failure, when there is a great sense of wasted potential.
•Poor and very inappropriate communication such as boastfulness, an inability to listen or be corrected, hasty speech, quick displays of anger and provocation and little idea of how to be socially appropriate.
Wisdom is closely associated with the presence and teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom can be prayed for. God is thus concerned with our work as well as with our religion. It is His will for us to have wisdom in all aspects of our lives. This confidence that God loves to instruct His people should give us great hope when dealing with foolish Christians. It gives us a solid basis for prayer when we ask Him to give wisdom to those who lack it. He delights to do this.
However awakening a person to the fact that their behavior is foolish is not easy. Pain is the great awakener as well as honest and true Christian friends who speak the truth in love.
If you want to lead someone from folly to wisdom be prepared to provide careful, detailed step by step instruction and modeling. Going from folly to wisdom involves learning and learning requires a good and patient teacher. Do not dump a whole heap of demands and ideas on people. Give them bite-sized bits of counseling homework and encourage every step of improvement. As I mentioned earlier sometimes wisdom can arrive from God in answer to godly believing prayer. When it does it sometimes comes in a rush, in a huge "Aha" moment the person sees what they should have seen all along and suddenly changes. This is good, but a good structure of discipleship and the careful systematic teaching of biblical truth can help those moments to occur with greater frequency.
Problems Caused By Trauma
Thirdly there are those spiritual problems based on the effects of suffering or trauma. For such people the trauma of life has been so deep and so overwhelming that it has affected their human spirit. These people literally have a damaged spirit, which is in need of healing or comfort. The spirit of such people can be described as broken, failing, poisoned, overwhelmed, grieved or anguished.
This damage to the human spirit is far beyond the normal upsets of life and is a deep and personal wound such as those inflicted by rape, violent crime, death, divorce, deep injustice, cult involvement and torture.
For these people there needs to be prayer ministry and an atmosphere of gentle encouragement. In some cases the damage may be so profound that the person has an "uncontrolled spirit" and is like a city with broken down walls - easily exploited, and easily manipulated. Such people will need much rebuilding of the walls and instructions in setting appropriate personal boundaries. For many damaged people the biblical truths that give hope and grace may need to be repeated often in an atmosphere of love, encouragement and healing prayer.
Counselors operating in this area have to be especially gentle and caring and able to spend hours
in healing prayer with a single client. Christian and Christian-compatible approaches that have proved helpful here include: Healing of the memories, inner healing, Theophostic counseling, many retreat centers and prayer ministries, Bradshaws’s championing the inner child, etc.
Indications of trauma having affected the human spirit:
•A distinct event that precipitated the problem.
•Painful emotions such as grief, bitterness and sorrow.
•Flashbacks, problems with memory.
•The person is overwhelmed by life, fearful, or consumed with anxiety.
•The person indicates they feel they are emotionally crippled and "lame".
•The person communicates that they are broken or damaged inside.
•The person pulls away from life and indicates a deep need for comfort and healing, space and privacy, gentleness and restoration.
•As you talk to someone you get the sense that you are dealing with both an adult and a damaged child in the same person.
•Unusual reactions to normal stimuli. A sense that the person is reacting inappropriately because some wound is being touched.
Dealing with People Whose Spirit Has Been Affected By Trauma
Go slowly and go gently. Traumatized people need care and comfort and support because life has already overwhelmed them. Dealing with severely traumatized people should be left to trained professionals. However many people can be helped and many ordinary Christians restored by appropriate and gentle prayer ministry and healing of the memories.
What can we do then?
1. Be supportive, understanding, loving and caring. Give the person lots of freedom. Let them be angry but don’t let them dwell too long on it.
2. Be extremely patient, do not condemn, do not censure. They are bruised and hurting.
Remember "a bruised reed He will not break and a sputtering wick He will not extinguish."
3. Avoid strong emotion. A gentle quite retreat atmosphere is generally far more healing for trauma than a hyped up evangelistic meeting. There is so much strong emotion inside them that they are already overloaded emotionally. Part of healing is to decrease this overloaded emotional level.
4. Above all do not suggest to them how they may have been abused or attempt to recover memories. False memory syndrome induced by zealous counselors is very real and very damaging.
5. Where necessary help them seek justice. Empower them to go to the police and through the court system. Many Christians are uncomfortable with this but people need to feel supported and protected and that there is justice in the world. If the offender is hardened and unrepentant and a continuing risk to the community then that offender should not be protected by "gracious" Christians. I faced this dilemma when I knew that a schoolteacher was a serial pedophile, lacked insight into his condition and was still around young children. He went to jail for eight years. The victims agreed with this course of action and were benefited by it.
6. If they are agreeable pray for them and soak them in loving prayer. Do not expect or demand immediate miraculous outcomes. Just soak them in prayer and let them slowly come face to face with Jesus who heals them. Repeat as necessary.
7. Encourage them to seek God's Presence in prayer and worship. Do not censure them for seeking God in ways that are outside your personal religious tradition. Many evangelicals are disturbed when a recovering person spends time reading the mystical writers or sets up a chapel at home with a cross and a candle. Remember that the spirit is a world of symbols and they are trying to reconstruct their symbolic realm.
This is a complex task - let them be.
8. Encourage them to express their feelings via art, acting, music, poetry, writing, pottery, crafts, gardening, keeping pets and other non-destructive outlets.
9. Don't argue but do gently correct false perspectives on life. Much of the continuing damage comes from believing untruths about God, self or others. These need to be gently shown to be false and the person shown who they are in Christ and in the loving eyes of God.
10. Give them lots and lots of time to heal and realize that recovery from trauma may happen in bits and pieces over many years. Don't feel it has to be fixed right now. Let God heal them in God's time.
If you are someone that feels that you may have a broken and damaged spirit do not sit alone and try to heal yourself. You need grace and you need special people and places that have a healing effect on the emotionally damaged. Ask the Lord to lead you to the right people and places where you can find the grace you need.
Problems Caused By Spiritual Attack
Fourthly there are those spiritual problems which are the outcome of a spiritual attack that has affected the human spirit. For mostly Christians this is just harassment of the believer by an evil spirit external to them. For some people particularly those involved in the occult or grave sexual sin, exorcism may be necessary. For simplicity I will break spiritual attacks into two categories: minor attacks which are generally attacks on our mood, and major attacks that go deep into the spirit and involve a major change in consciousness observable to others.
These moods have the following characteristics:
•They come over the person without warning.
•They then control their thinking and emotions for a while and take it in a negative direction.
•They leave suddenly when rebuked in the name of Jesus
•They sometimes can be assuaged by Christian music such as when David played his psalms on the harp for Saul.
Other indications of spiritual attack on the human spirit include:
•The sudden desire to give up the ministry or the faith.
•Dislike to the point of hostility regarding the bible, prayer or communion.
•Sharp painful feelings, doubts from nowhere, accusations of God, self or others. Fiery darts.
•A floating seductive feeling that takes over the consciousness and blots out prayer.
•Altered states of consciousness in which sinful acts are performed.
•The evident presence of an evil spirit. Manifestations, voices etc.
•A preoccupation with strange doctrines or bizarre dietary practices.
•Involvement in the occult, death metal music, pornography, drugs, or Eastern religion.
Dealing with Spiritual Attacks
Here is a general formula for dealing with minor spiritual attacks on the Christians emotional life:
•Become aware that it may be an attack of the Devil.
•Try and give it a name if you can e.g. "a mood of deep discouragement".
•Resist its effects on you and say a firm "No' to its lies and suggestions.
•If necessary counter its lies with the truth of Scripture or just plain facts. When Elijah was deeply discouraged and said "I alone am left" God just said "I have 7000 that have not bowed the knee to Baal" (1 Kings 19).
•Rebuke the harassing spirit sternly in the name of Jesus with the spiritual authority you have as a believer.
•It should leave virtually instantly. If it tries another bout later on - then rebuke it again.
•If it returns you may have given ground to it by nurturing resentment or hatred, or actually liking the vivid temptations or believing there might be some truth in the accusations if this is the case then remove the ground the Devil is using to afflict you by repenting of your wrong attitude and then exercising forgiveness towards others.
8. The Thoughts and Intentions of the Heart
Beliefs, Vows, Desires, Wishes, Games, Life Scripts and Inner Goals
The second step in our five-step model is when perspectives give rise to beliefs, which gave rise to emotions. The “thoughts and intentions of the heart" are our internalized beliefs, both formal (such as theological beliefs) and informal and more personal beliefs such as "No-one could possibly love me". These beliefs or thoughts of your heart are often reflected in what psychologists call your “self-talk” which is the “chatter” that goes on inside you as you are doing things “I wish Susan would call, I bet she won’t, no-one loves me much etc”.
These beliefs are our idea about what is true or untrue, possible or impossible, plausible or implausible. They contain our conclusions about life and beliefs about God, others, and ourselves.
Unlike perspectives, beliefs can generally be compressed into a single sentence such as “I believe that Jesus is God” or “I think I am totally unlovable”. The Bible has two categories here; “thoughts’ which is fairly much all-embracing and “intentions” which deals with the movements of the will as we plan, vow and scheme our way through life. The picture we see in Scripture is that these thoughts and beliefs, desires, vows, and inner goals are generally verbal. When the prophets cry out “I know what you are thinking in your hearts it is such-and-so” its always a statement, a sentence that encapsulates the heart attitude.
The Unrenewed Beliefs of the Natural Man
Over time we weave these sentences into a sort of a bird’s nest of a structure inside us that we call our world-view. For most people it is a horrific jumble of things they learned at school, life lessons, Grandma’s sayings, the latest media opinions and a book they once read. This internal belief structure is more or less functional and gets people by for the seventy or so years they are on this earth. However for some people it can go horribly wrong and cause them a great deal of confusion and emotional pain. It is quite possible to hold conflicting beliefs or inconsistent beliefs or even two entirely different frameworks of belief. Sunday Christians are a prime example. At
Church they seem to truly believe the Bible. At work they operate under an entirely different belief system and operate largely without reference to God. Both are real belief systems for them. They choose which one to operate under depending on where they are and who they are with.
In addition to having multiple belief systems people can decide to hold evil and wicked beliefs or beliefs that are illogical and insane. Some people honestly and truly believe that the entire world should be organized around their happiness. Others truly believe that they can take what they like and do what they like. A few believe that flying jet planes into buildings will give glory to God and bring them eternal life in Paradise. Yet others believe that worshipping an idol will give them spiritual power and good fortune. The birds nest of human beliefs inside us can become toxic.
The heart of the natural man can go badly and seriously wrong through adoption of a self-centered and toxic world-view which incorporates ungodly and illogical beliefs. This is not the total picture though. Even in the OT we find people described as being penitent in heart and having hearts set on the Lord. Yet even here the heart can be mixed up.
The Learning Heart
To complicate matters still further Christians do not necessarily believe what they think they believe. Christians are generally still learning to believe that which they think they believe. This is the difference between believing something as a notion or as a doctrine and really believing it so that it is operational for you under stress and pressure. A test of this is "How much pressure does it take before you start to doubt that which you are sure you believe? Ask yourself the following two questions:
1."If I was out in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee and the waves were high and the boat was about to sink would I be calm or would I be afraid?" Would Jesus say to me "I have not seen such great faith in all Israel" or would He say to me "Why are you afraid O ye of little faith?"
2."How low can the bank account go before I start getting anxious and doubting that God will provide? Where is the point at which I choose to panic?" The difference between the answers we put in the bible study booklet and the answer we give to the actual pressures of life can be startling. Our notional beliefs and our operational beliefs under pressure are different. This may not be due to double-mindedness but just to the need to mature, learn and grow. As committed Christians we are continually learning to truly believe that which we think we already believe.
So we can see that the goal is to have a consistent and fully Christian belief system that is the sole one we operate from, and which is operating at the level of the thoughts and intentions of our heart and guiding our daily conduct and informing all our emotional responses. This belief system will fill us with joy and give us poise and calm in the middle of life's trials. It will be heart level, practical, biblical, strong and singular. Our lives will ring with faith and authenticity.
The Pure Heart of Jesus
If we are to be like Jesus in all aspects then we must head towards purity of heart. At first this seems to be a long and impossible journey. Purity of thoughts and intentions seems both unsafe in a wicked world (unless we lock ourselves away in a monastery) and impractical to achieve in one lifetime. Yet the promise of Jesus in the Beatitudes is that “The pure in heart will see God”. And He seems to be calling us to the impossible journey of sorting out and cleaning up our birds nest, changing our beliefs and coming into fellowship with Him.
From the above references we see that the human heart is purified by love that obeys the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit and fixes its hope on becoming like Jesus as this renewal takes place the person assists the process by fleeing youthful lusts, all that defiles the conscience and all insincerity so they are purified in order to love the brethren with a deep and sincere love. Finally all things will become pure for us and we shall see Him as He is.
So we see that purity of heart involves two main aspects. Firstly we hope in God and obey the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit. This establishes the connection with God so He can work in us and renew us. It also activates the law of likeness – that we become like that which we love and adore and respect and obey and this also purifies us. Secondly we do things to purify ourselves. We flee youthful lusts, we avoid the love of money, we avoid insincerity and flattery and we take hold of that which is wrong inside us. We need both aspects. Without the love and adoration all the human techniques will be just futile legalism. Yet without the human techniques the purity we receive through prayer will be constantly sullied, by the mess we leave inside us, or get ourselves into.
Firstly - Why Should We Change Our Beliefs?
Here are six reasons why you should work on your inner, personal beliefs:
1. God cares about your beliefs and weighs them up. He judges the thoughts and intentions of your heart.
2. Jesus expects us to be increasing in our faith and in fact is quite demanding about it! The expectations He had of his disciples included being calm in storms, walking on water, believing in miraculous provision, being able to understand parables, and being able to cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead. When they failed to do any of the above they were rebuked. The phrase "O ye of little faith" (see the references in Matthew above) shows that the disciples were expected to learn to believe Jesus with ever-increasing faith.
Jesus does not call us to have a static level of faith. Rather we are called to develop a growing "mountain-moving faith" that starts from small "mustard-seed" beginnings.
3. Theology interpenetrates reality. Every belief is theological. Carl Jung used to say that every human problem after the age of 35 was spiritual in nature. In a similar vein even the small voices, the dark mutterings of the human heart and the wretched small-minded beliefs that people have are a form of rebellion against God and a dwelling in darkness. For believe in your heart that the world stinks is to malign the Creator. To vow that you will always play it safe and that you will never love again is to retreat into darkness and flee the love of God that He puts into people to reach you. Thus all your beliefs have a theological component and need to brought into the light of the Word of God.
4. How we believe determines what we receive. "According to your faith be it unto you". Conversely having an unstable, worldly or double-minded faith means we will receive nothing from God. Faith can bring healing. It is a prerequisite for receiving wisdom from God, for daily provision and reduction of anxiety and makes all things possible.
5. Creedal faith is insufficient. Even the demons have correct theology in the sense that they believe that God is one - and tremble. Thus merely creedal belief is insufficient for salvation. Belief must be authentic, loyal to God, of the heart and worked out in real life. The great men and women of God all had extraordinary personal belief systems that set them apart from their generation.
6. Letting unbiblical and dysfunctional beliefs linger can cause them to become stronger, more dysfunctional and more painful. Working on them now may take work, but leaving them will make it much worse later on.
Praxis - A Weird Word for A Great Way of Changing Yourself
Lets look how praxis can help us to change our belief structure and consequent emotions. Here are the 7 steps:
1. We enter into a situation where we do not function as well as we would like emotionally.
2. We reflect and ask: "What beliefs are underlying these undesirable emotions"
3. We probe further and ask: Are these beliefs true and biblical and in accord with the facts?
4. We construct new better, more factual and more biblical beliefs about that situation.
5. We reinforce those beliefs to ourselves.
6. We then re-enter the situation and test our new beliefs to see if they help us function better.
7. We look at the results scientifically and objectively and decide whether to keep the new beliefs, modify the new beliefs or to stick with the old beliefs.
This seven step process is very similar to how we unconsciously revise our beliefs from day to day. As life situations confirm or disconfirm our beliefs we continually learn and adjust and retest the beliefs. However in "real life" we do it unconsciously, partially and are subject to denial and distortion in the process. By making our formation of beliefs conscious, objective, logical, factual and Scriptural we are more likely to come up with beliefs that work in healthy and constructive ways.
So we see that the praxis method can help us to adjust our real life operational beliefs until they line up with Scripture, logic and the will of God. It may seem a little long-winded at first but once you become conscious of your belief system and aware of your weak areas then you will find correcting one area opens up others, and soon the new good beliefs reinforce one another, and then you feel much stronger inside. This active cooperation with the renewing work of the Holy Spirit can be of great assistance to your practical sanctification.
Faith and Works, Beliefs and Action
Incorrect beliefs can give rise to strong negative emotions such as fear, doubt and hesitancy.
These emotions can hinder or even paralyze our ability to obey God. Faith and obedience seem to be connected to some extent via the emotions. Remember what we said earlier – God connects to us through faith, which works through love, which applies specific and focused wisdom and knowledge to do good works. The good works need the motivating power of the master emotion called love. The word emotion comes from the same Latin root as motive, motor etc. It means to "move toward". Emotions are feelings that move us to action or in some cases block us from action. When the thoughts and intentions of our heart are not aligned correctly, our emotions will not help us obey God, and may even hinder our service for Him. As we correct these beliefs, then our emotions will tend to follow suit and we will be more able to enact the commands of
Scripture and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Moving From Paralysis to Power
The connection between what we believe and how we put it into action is through our inner motive power - our emotions. Our emotions can paralyze our ability to be obedient. When this happens we need to do what Bill did and examine the thoughts and intents of our heart to see if there are some that are contrary to what we are trying to do. As we correct the beliefs in our heart we will find new liberty to obey God and a freedom from anxiety and inner conflicts.
To do this you will have to give up the belief that you are a being of perfect consistency, that all the thoughts and intentions of your heart are consistent with each other. As an example of conflicting beliefs, take someone who vowed early in life "I will never be poor". Later in life this person feels a strong call to be a faith missionary. It can be predicted that the old vow and the new resolution will be in conflict and that he or she may experience some reluctance, confusion and hesitancy. This attack of hesitancy may be first attributed to a lack of faith or commitment.
However if the early vow is remembered and renounced then the conflict will be resolved. It was not so much a lack of faith, as a hindered faith.
How the Mind Works
To understand the power of these conflicting thoughts, intentions vows and desires you have to understand a bit about how the mind handles its data and in particular how it handles time. The mind has no actual awareness of clock time such as hours, days, months and years. The mind uses event time where actual events are the indicator of when things should happen.
Events and instructions continue in the mind until the event time is reached for them to terminate.
Where there is no termination date included in the instruction it continues indefinitely. The over-use of such instructions, without a "switch-off date" can lead to a person feeling very stressed as the programmed subconscious keeps popping up reminders "you must do
X now, and Y and Z and P and Q and R…"
The same thing happens if the terminating event does not occur, or is not noted. Sometimes the subconscious mind needs to be told that a particular event has taken place in order for some emotion to be properly resolved.
Secondly the mind stores things in binary states" such as "on" or "off", "resolved" or
"unresolved", " accomplished" or "still to be completed", "satisfied" or "unsatisfied", "guilty" or "forgiven". It may also store things as "a cause" or "an effect". (Incidentally these binary states are elegantly reflected in the time-free verb tenses of the Hebrew language used in the Old Testament.) Memories, thoughts, intentions, vows and inner promises exist in these binary states.
The only way to deal with them is to dispute them or resolve them or somehow move them from one state to the other. Thus an old vow using words such as "I will never" or "I must always" can live as an ever-present subconscious reality all through a person's life unless it is resolved.
Thirdly the mind works by rather loose associations. Some of these associations (especially with great pleasure or great pain) are very rough and quick while others, processed at higher levels of the neo-cortex are much more sophisticated. It is not uncommon to experience chains of associations where one thought leads to the next which then leads to something else. When something "looks like", "feels like" "smells like" or "sounds like" something else then a whole cascade of thoughts, memories and emotional reactions can be produced. The emotion is often transferred from the original to the copy. Someone may react to their boss like their father or to their new spouse like their ex-wife. These associations and the reactions and consequent emotions that follow can produce tragic misunderstandings. "It looks like, therefore it is, therefore I must, because once...”
Games and Life-Scripts
The intents of our heart can be very complex like a play or novel and work out over many years with a few central motivations driving the plot forward relentlessly. The person may be completely unaware of the game or life-script. Complex intentions can successfully dwell below the level of awareness - especially if they are somewhat dishonorable!
Thus to move from paralysis to power we need to be able to work with the thoughts and intentions of our heart and to bring them into conformity with God's will. Here are some techniques in addition to the seven steps of praxis that I outlined earlier in this chapter:
•Face Up To and Become Aware Of The Intentions Of Your Heart: It can be difficult for some people to admit that they are complex and full of conflicting motivations. To admit to sneaky, dishonest, crafty or manipulative intentions is not easy for Christians. Many people are completely blind to this darker side of their character. Pray and ask God to reveal the thoughts and intentions of your heart to you so that you can bring them into the light and deal with them.
•List The Various Conflicting Intentions: This is sometimes all that is needed. For instance a teenager may find that he has two intentions 1. To be on fire for God and a powerful witness for Jesus and 2. To still be popular with the cool, tough, non-Christians he knows.
Once he realizes that he is trying to do two things at once and that he is asking the impossible then common sense and Christian maturity will help him choose to suffer a little for the Lord.
Simply listing the various intentions of our heart then judging them biblically may be enough
to resolve the dilemma.
•Confess them to God: Confess your wrong motives and intentions to God and ask His forgiveness and cleansing.
•Make No Provision For Evil Intentions: Do not give yourself the means of carrying out your wrong intentions. Deny them what they need if they are to be implemented. If your wrong intention in your heart is murder - don't buy a gun. If the wrong intention in your heart is adultery - don't rent a hotel room. If the wrong intention is stealing from the church offering, make sure someone is with you when you count the money.
•Put It On Paper: By externalizing our beliefs and intentions we sometimes can get a handle on them and deal with them. This is often the real benefit of those management exercises such as setting priorities and doing mission statements. On a personal level if you start setting goals and priorities and coming up with a personal mission statement you will often run into awkward uncomfortable feelings of resistance. When you do get them try and identify them, and write the feelings of resistance beside the goal or priority. Bring the conflict to the surface and into the open. So put your thoughts, priorities, goals and intentions on paper paying attention to internal resistance as you do so. Identify and resolve the conflicts that emerge. This way you can end up with goals that meet your needs and all major conflicts satisfied so you can move on in
•Prioritize and Schedule Good Intentions Using Event Time: Sometimes the paralysis comes from a whole host of good intentions all wanting urgent attention at once. All having their "ON" lights flashing so to speak. . The resulting overload, confusion and stress can be stop us getting much done at all. Use the event time of the subconscious to prioritize them.
First I will do A, then, after that's done I'll pay attention to B, then when that's completed to C and D. This is the most peaceful and relaxing way to do things. So when you are clogged up mentally with a whole lot of competing good intentions in your heart write them all down on a sheet of paper and then group them first these, then after those then these here etc. Though the tasks are not done yet the issue of their urgency is resolved in terms your sub-conscious mind can understand and you will feel more at peace. Try it!
•Revoke Personal Vows: Revoke old vows that are now contrary to the will of God. Your promises to yourself are not as important as Christian obedience. Even do something as formal as writing the old vow on a piece of paper and writing "revoked" across it and then burning the piece of paper. Sometimes you may have to revoke a foolish vow you made to God in which case you should tell Him the reason you are revoking it and ask His forgiveness.
•Change Absolute Language: If you say to yourself "I have always got to.." then its like fixing a mental switch in the "always on" position. You have told your mind that you have always got to do X and it will receive and record that instruction as a permanent injunction, a law of the Medes and Persians. The mind is fairly literal. It will take always to mean always and never to mean never. Words like "always", "never" "have to", "go to", "perfect" and
"100%" jam our mental switches in the "on" position. With enough of them we feel stuck, anxious and stressed as we receive multiple simultaneous urgent instructions that we have programmed into ourselves. . It is much better to give yourself an "out" by using language like "generally I should" and reserving the absolute language for situations that are truly absolute.
•Avoid Psychosomatic Language: The repeated and emphatic-use of the language and metaphors of illness can sometimes make us ill. For instance men who often tell themselves that their wife is a "pain in the neck" tend to suffer from - you guessed it - a pain in the neck - and people who "can't stand it any more" get knee trouble! This is termed psychosomatic language, somatic metaphors or "conversion"
The terminology needs to be well embedded in the psyche first, only then does it attain any psycho-physiological power. Even then, research findings show, psychosomatic illness is only at its most damaging where there is some physical weakness in that area already. But still predisposing oneself to it by the inappropriate use of language is to be avoided.
•Frame Thoughts and Intentions Concretely and Positively: When you rework your thoughts and intentions it helps if they develop into a concrete picture of a positive desirable future. I do not know precisely why but when we state our goals and beliefs in concrete, positive, picture terms we seem to lay hold of them much more effectively.
•Constantly Review Your “Plausibility Structures”: We have limits to what we believe is possible and impossible, probable and improbable, plausible and implausible. The limits we place on our life are often really limits we have placed on God through having plausibility structures inherited from the world rather than from the Scriptures.
9. The Learning Organization – Christians In Community Undergoing
Radical Transformation of Their Belief Structure
Mystery Quote: “No-one was ever matured in a theatre.”
Lets just pause a moment and think about how the communities we have been part of have shaped our beliefs. Our family formed our first beliefs and our school and social context many of our other beliefs and the church community then added yet more. On top of this networks you have belonged to and groups of friends that you have talked things over with have probably shaped you. Being involved in community placed an enormous amount of what we believe there.
Communities have formed both our formal and informal beliefs, our doctrines, our prejudices our hopes and our paranoias. If beliefs are critical to our emotional health and beliefs are formed in community then fairly logically having the right kind of community will be a big help in emotional transformation. A dysfunctional family is an emotionally destructive community that places wrong beliefs and perceptions in people. The early church was a highly functional community that was emotionally transformational, full of joy and a peace-making, gospel-proclaiming, and miracle-working place to be. It certainly made sure the right beliefs; perceptions and practices were instilled in people. Thus the transforming power of an authentic loving Spiritfilled Christian community that is rightly grounded in the Scriptures cannot be underestimated.
Trying to transform ourselves while neglecting the importance of true community is unfortunately rather common. If we forget about community what are the alternatives? I see only two, a) learning alone by suffering, introspection and “bootstrap” self-help books and b) learning in a classroom. Now God does use suffering to teach us and he does use classroom instruction and sermons – however in my opinion these are His “fall-back” alternatives to adventurous discipleship in loving community. Let’s look at the fall-back alternatives first and see why they are less than optimal ways of learning. We tend to do what we have always done and get the results that we have always got.
The Hard Way to Change….
Bootstrap learning, on our own through suffering and discipline and the use of self-help books is the hard way to change. Some devotional writers glorify suffering as the true path to spiritual transformation that is intended to show us what we are like and to get us to trust God in all things.
Their basis for this has some validity and is more or less as follows:
1. Even theologically correct Christians may have dysfunctional beliefs at the level of the "thoughts and intentions of the heart".
2. Generally we are blinded to what we truly believe in our hearts. We like to think we believe
X when in fact we believe Y. Our real beliefs shame us so we hide them from ourselves.
3. Generally only trials and tribulations can expose our true beliefs and allow us to perfect our faith. In trials we find out what makes us anxious and fearful and we can then learn to trust God more fully in these areas.
4. Being perfected in obedience means allowing trials, tribulations and temptations to show us who we are and what we believe. We are then to adjust to a more biblical set of beliefs which we then live by with a single mind.
5. We can do this on our own through bible study, prayer, discipline, self-control, reflection on our sins, and the use of self-help books.
The problem is that suffering is a very slow teacher. For instance how many years of financial struggle does a person have to endure before they learn to trust God for provision? Also how do we distinguish suffering that is God's teaching and suffering that is Satan hindering? Though suffering has an honored place in the Christian life it is the hardest and slowest teacher of all.
There must be an easier way.
The Slightly Easier But Fairly Powerless way To Change
Church, Bible College and Christian education is not as transformational as we would all like it to be. I might see some change, some growth but rarely the transformational change that I hope for. The classroom can give you helpful information once you have realized that you need to change in a particular area and are truly searching for answers. If you are desperate to fix your marriage a Christian marriage seminar may well prove transformational. Books and classes and sermons can only take you so far.
So most Christians end up with classroom teaching where they are teachable and suffering where they are not teachable. Classroom teaching plus years of suffering – are they the only two ways we can be made to change? What about the transformational power of love? What about the challenge of adventure? Can we learn from powerful life-changing experiences? Might these move us along the track a bit faster than teaching and suffering alone? There must be a better way - and there is! It’s the method Jesus used to change His disciples and greatly enlarge and transform their belief structures. It’s the process of discipleship and of being a disciplined learner in a learning community. Lets see what led the disciples to be so transformed.
Having Our Beliefs Changed The Jesus Way - How Did The Disciples Learn?
How did the disciples get to increase in faith? How did they learn? How did they go from astonishing incomprehension at the start of His ministry to men of God and founders of the faith at Pentecost? These were the most successful spiritual learners in history so lets look at how they learned and maybe we can learn the same way.
1. The disciples made themselves teachable apprentices of Jesus. The decided to be learners not know-it-alls. They were prepared to give up significant comfort in order to learn. They broke with their usual patterns of living that reinforced their current belief systems. They left their fishing nets or tax offices and followed Him.
2. They planted Jesus’ teaching in their hearts. They probably learned the same lessons over and over again because years later they could reproduce them word for word to their hearers.
3. They had a strong desire to inherit the Kingdom of God. In fact it dominated their personal ambitions.
4. They expressed a strong desire for specific personal growth e.g. "Lord, teach us to pray".
5. They accepted Jesus' authority over them and simply went where He went, ate what He ate and did whatever He commanded. Even when Jesus rebuked them they did not sulk.
6. They believed that what Jesus said was true, absolutely true and sought to align their beliefs with His.
7. They watched what Jesus was doing. They saw miracles and had their view of reality enlarged.
8. They asked lots of questions and sought to understand.
9. They discussed among themselves what Jesus said and did.
10. They accepted Jesus' high view of the authority of the Scriptures.
11. They took risks in order to learn such as Peter trying to walk on water or their various attempts at healing.
12. They lived with high levels of ambiguity, confusion and mystery. They seemed to accept mind-stretching confusion as the price of learning anything worthwhile.
13. They very gradually moved away from being competitive to co-operative. They stopped trying to outdo each other and instead, by the time of the resurrection appearances were trying to encourage and edify each other. They became an encouraging, learning community.
14. They tried to do what Jesus was doing. They started with baptizing people in large numbers and continued to exercise their faith in healing and deliverance ministries and did so with some success.
15. They increasingly accepted responsibility for ministry. At the beginning they were fairly passive followers by the end they seem to have roles assigned to them. Eventually Jesus was able to deliver the Great Commission to them without incongruity.
The reason we see so little change is that instead of being adventurous we try to stay in our physical and emotional and intellectual comfort zones. Instead of accepting legitimate spiritual authority and accountability (though it can be abused) we are independent and unteachable. Instead of tolerating ambiguity and confusion we demand simplified, watered-down paradox free theology. Instead of letting God set the learning agenda we try to decide what we will learn and how and when. We want to be in control of our learning, our lives and ourselves.
We do not want storms as teaching aids. We value the Kingdom a little and the world a lot and consequently we don't take the risks and make the sacrifices to find the "pearls of great price"
Deep and revolutionary change of our belief structures and the emotional authenticity and joy that follows requires a very costly commitment to learning and personal transformation. While the Holy Spirit can work through a course or a book or a set of tapes and produce some personal change this is not the sort of deep change you get with adventurous discipleship over a number of years. Revising our beliefs starts with becoming an active learner about life, about God and about people and plunging into experiences and relationships yet always being guided by the Scriptures rightly interpreted. To create the right belief structures in our lives we have to try to approximate the conditions the disciples lived under as much as is reasonably possible.
The Importance Of A Learning Community
Jesus and the disciples formed a learning organization, a community filled with disciplined learners in which beliefs were transformed and spiritual greatness produced. It is almost impossible to be deeply transformed outside of community or as part of a community that is antithetical to one's new beliefs and growth. It is a place where individual personalities are developed - not squashed into clones of each other. Unlike a cult a learning community is a place where difference is permitted and where accountability is mutual and constructive not hierarchical and destructive. A true transformational learning community is a place of great freedom and love and adventure.
How do we find or create such a learning community?
The Eight Creative Tensions of a Learning Community
It seems to me that learning community revolves around two things – leadership and ethos. In reflecting on what makes good community I find that it involves balancing creative tensions. Too much one way and the community becomes dull and bureaucratic, to much the other and it self-destructs in disorganization. I have listed seven tensions (I am sure there are others as well) that my reading of Scripture sees as foundational to good Christian community they are:
1. Emotional safety - Spiritual adventure Its impossible to grow very far in God or go on much of an adventure if the atmosphere is emotionally unsafe and you do not know when you will next be criticized or hurt. Christian communities must be safe for learning to occur. On the other hand they also need to stretch people because it is when we are stretched that we learn best.
2. Clear basic doctrines - Room to experiment and discover new things about God
Clear basic doctrines are needed for spiritual stability. A learning community needs its “times tables” and alphabet so to speak. They try to find out new things for this generation and discover truth about missions, counseling etc.
3. Clear and definite leadership - Being without compulsion, exercising Christian freedom.
Good communities have good leaders. The leaders impart definite vision and set the clear bounds in which the learning community joyfully operates. Such leaders lead in freedom and refuse to compel people to follow them. Leaders of learning communities are not obsessive, compulsive people who fret over every detail and create an air of dread and compulsion in their wake. They do lead and they lead in a clear and definite manner, however it is without any heaviness, without “lording it over” the flock, and without compulsion._
4. Sense of history, common purpose and tradition - Open to new methods & new territory, Adaptable
Learning communities are well-defined. Somehow tradition helps learning.
5. Know they are part of the solution – Humbly dependent on God.
Learning communities know they are part of the solution not part of the problem.. They know they have something to offer their members and even to offer the world. They are positive and they are going places. On the other hand they do not think they ARE the solution. They humbly point beyond themselves and say “Jesus is the answer!”. They combine humble dependence on God with a deep sense of mission and calling and the belief that they can do something for the world – with God’s help.
6. Homogeneous and united leadership - Great diversity in membership
To be a bit controversial it seems that homogeneous, united leadership and diverse membership is a Scriptural pattern for effective community. The leadership needs to be able to deeply understand each other and to get along and have similar objectives and strong loyalties to each other. This requires both cultural and personal affinity. On the other hand no Christian learning community can exclude or demote someone because of gender, race or class. The community is to welcome diversity in membership while it maintains loyalty and unity in leadership. There needs to be a balance even in this.
7. God has brought this community into being - The drive to add more to the community
God forms the community and it is God who allots the members and builds the Church. To be aware that God has brought you into existence is a good and empowering thing. All learning communities should believe that they are God’s people, called out of darkness and commissioned for His transformational purposes on earth. Learning organizations should always be open to new members and believe that there are yet more to be added to the flock, “others not of this fold”.
They should also maintain open linkages of real integrity with the rest of the body of
Christ. To draw the boundaries too tightly is to become a club or even a cult. A learning community sees itself as formed by God and involved in His purposes yet is humble and gracious and open to new people and to fellowship with the rest of the body of Christ.
8. Not focused on money - True abundance, care of the poor.
A learning community has a healthy attitude to its financial needs. On one hand it knows what it means to be dependent on God, excited about His provision and free from the love of money. It is thus free to experience His transforming challenges to material comfort. On the other hand the learning organization truly cares about its members and their financial needs.
The Learning Community, Beliefs and Emotional Health
How can we do this? How can we create a therapeutic, healing, loving, sanctifying community that really works?
Here is my suggested pathway:
•Create a united leadership group that shares the same passion and direction. Pray for 6-8 people (say 3-4 couples) to start things rolling.
•Don‘t decide on any forms or structures at the start. Just meet in a home and spend some time studying the Gospels and Acts together and looking at early Christian community.
Allow the Scriptures to speak to you and the Holy Spirit to lead you into the forms the groups should take.
•Act on what God reveals to you.
•Invite others to join you after a while.
On the other hand you may just want to make your current church more transformational. In that case start by throwing out those things that don’t work for you and doing more of those things that do work for you. Ask God to show you where to start. Generally if you spend more and more time doing things that do work for you they will gradually and naturally push out the dysfunctional elements along the way.
When we do get community right it has tremendous healing power. People are matured in families, groups of friends, marriages and good groups. They are matured in communities that speak the truth to one another in love. People are not matured in a theatre, even by the best performers. When we turn churches into theatres we rob Christians of the chance to mature. So structures and beliefs and emotions and community and maturity are all part of one seamless whole.
10. Emotions and Our Physiology
Intense physical cravings can push us towards sinful responses but that like Jesus we can overcome them and master them. We also see that emotions can affect our bodies and bodies our emotions. Finally our physical bodies are to be consecrated to God s vehicles for ministry expressing His thoughts and doing the good deeds He has prepared for us.
Spirit, Soul and Body
Our emotions are so heavily modified by our diet, fitness level, medications and other aspects of our physiology that it leads researchers to ask questions such as: Do we really have our own emotions or are all our emotions just a product of our biology? If a change of medication or a bump on the head can modify our emotions completely - were they ours to begin with? Do we have a spirit and soul that is “inside us” and relatively stable and the source of many of our emotions – or are we just a bundle of rather well trained biological responses?
Our emotions have an incredibly complex series of physical correlates that include hormones flooding our system, changes in blood supply, the activation of an emotional region near the stomach, neurones firing and neural pathways and various associations in the brain. Damage to these regions can lead to coarse and vulgar expressions of emotion including a distinct lack of impulse control.
The Mind-Brain Problem
To me the Christian position seems to fall out as follows:
1. Mind and brain are separate entities. Mind is eternal but the brain is temporal.
2. Mind is grounded in consciousness, which arises from the soul that is quickened by the spirit.
3. The brain as we know it mainly acts on sense data from the physical world and coordinates the physical functions of our bodies. In maps of the brain complex physical tasks such as the co-ordination of the thumb take up most of the space. Brain maps show very little space devoted to the existential matters of the Mind.
4. Thus while we are in this physical world we need a physical brain. It’s the data link between an immaterial soul and a material universe. The physical brain mediates how our mind communicates with our bodies and receives sense impressions about the external physical world. When the mind expresses itself it does so through our bodies which are co-ordinated by our brains.
5. The spirit is designed to handle communication in the spiritual realm directly and intuitively. So when we are not in this material realm, such as when we with God in heaven, we can have consciousness via the spirit without the presence of a physical brain. A case of this is the souls under the altar, which can speak, feel and communicate with God. (Revelation 6:9,10).
6. Thus, as we saw in the chapters on perception we can receive knowledge directly and intuitively from the spirit in Spirit-to-spirit communication. Such communication goes directly into our Mind. When it occurs it can be very powerful because it is so direct. When Daniel received prophetic messages it left him emotionally drained.
7. We can also receive communication directly through our senses into our brain. This input is filtered before it reaches consciousness and does not necessarily get there. For instance we can come out of a daydream to be suddenly aware that the kettle has been furiously boiling for a few minutes and that our brain knew this at the time but it just was not getting through to our consciousness. Consciousness can ignore sense data. Input to the brain does not necessarily mean input to the Mind.
8. Damage to the brain is mainly damage to our ability to process sensory data and to interact with the physical world.
9. Brain damage does not affect Mind and our ability to have a soul or a spirit or to experience salvation. Christians working with people with mental disabilities have no doubt about the spirituality of their clients.
10. While this is so most people have a strong interaction between Mind and brain, which produces wisdom, intelligence and creativity. While the Mind is ultimately independent of the brain; damage to the brain can reduce our ability to experience our Mind in this life for instance in the case of the deep confusion that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease.
Stress is an interesting area in the mind-brain problem because stress is the emotion we experience when our brain cannot cope with all the processing that is required of it. The physical brain is like you desktop computer and if you have too may programs running it can slow down or “hang”. There is “just so much” your brain can do at once.
Stress breakdown has three stages. Firstly our system fires warning bells about the overload we are experiencing and we feel stressed and anxious and uptight and tense. These uncomfortable feelings are trying to tell us that we are doing too much and it would be a good idea if we slowed down. They are saying “You are driving yourself too fast, back off.” Many people ignore these warning signals, they like “driving fast”, living on adrenalin and they have an image of wanting to do more than others. So they suppress the anxiety by an act of will and keep going. They then become in danger of second stage stress breakdown. In stage two the person loses control of emotions and finds themselves getting angry or upset very easily. They can cry one minute and laugh the next.
These sudden emotional changes are termed “emotional lability”. The person in stage two stress breakdown also lose their ability to adjust to change and to motivate themselves to get started though once they have started they can work as hard as anyone else. The system is beginning to crumble at this point and the person becomes subject to psychosomatic disorders as the body tries to slow the person down. These include migraines, headaches, asthma, dermatitis and hay fever.
The immune system suffers and resistance bacteria and viruses already present in the person’s body may be able to cause disease. These include common infections such as colds and ‘flu, herpes virus infections, mouth ulcers, lobar pneumonia, boils and pimples, tonsillitis and urinary tract infections. Most people get the hint at this point and slow down but for some who do not they can go into severe, third stage stress breakdown commonly called burn-out. This is characterized by three things, and unfortunately they are generally not recognized as being stress related. The three symptoms of third stage stress breakdown are:
1. Avoidance of sensory stimulation
2. Development of intolerance, and
3. Apparent change in personality.
The brain’s circuit breakers have cut in. Everything is being rapidly simplified to reduce the number of issues the person has to deal with.
In order to avoid sensory stimulation the person may retreat to the countryside, separate from their partner, stop having sex, avoid loud music and stop going to shopping centers. Sounds will seem too loud, ice too cold, lights too bright. They will switch off the radio when others turn it on. They will go outside and walk around and just “space out”.
Development of intolerance is a mechanism for making life easy to classify, so the reticular formation can deal with the backlog. If the shades of grey and complex questions can be eliminated life becomes simple and things can be processed again. If everything can be reduced to the binary states the brain is most comfortable processing, then it can whiz through the decisions.
As the decisions are made the clogged up feeling goes and some of the stress can be removed.
Lastly the person in third stage stress breakdown may have an apparent change in personality and change their values. They may be unable to resist cult recruiters, they are easily brainwashed, they have sudden changes in beliefs and ideas and attitudes that required some will or effort to maintain are likely to be abandoned. Some talk of a strange feeling of peace and purity that comes with this process as everything gets radically simplified. There is also a loss of the “law of strength”. Normally a slight tap on the knee elicits a slight movement and a large tap on the knee a large movement. The law that a small stimulus generally elicits a small response and a large stimulus a large response is known as “the law of strength” and is a sign of a normal functioning of the nervous system. In third stage stress breakdown the person ignores the electricity bill and major responsibilities while becoming preoccupied with trivia. When the electricity is cut off nobody in the house can understand why the bill was not paid. All the aspects of the personality change can be attributed to the person avoiding complexity in their life.
“The thing that finally cured me was when I figured out that nobody really cared a great deal about how much I produced. But they did care about who I was and how well I treated them. What they really wanted was to see Christ in me, watch me grow and sense my love and care. You are a fruit tree not a factory and people want to taste the fruit. Fruit trees are quiet and grow best in quiet. Thus endeth the lesson.”
Responsibility for Emotions and Emotional Expression
The drug addict is an extreme case of a familiar problem. We all do things “under the influence”, things that we do not wish to do. Under the influence of anger we explode, under the influence of lust we commit fornication, under the influence of provocation we start an argument that never subsides. Later we wonder how or why we did such things. All of us are under the influence – of “the flesh”. In a similar fashion to the law courts above, God grants us grace as He understands the struggle we have with a fallen body that does not wish to obey His laws.
The Good That I Wish I Do Not Do….
Christians are a mixture of Christ-like emotions and evil lusts. While we cannot stop the evil lusts arising within us (because of our fallen nature) we can prevent their controlling us completely.
Christians are capable of victory because of the Holy Spirit within them. They make get angry but they do not murder, they may feel strong lust but they walk away from the temptation to commit adultery. The Spirit can bring the flesh under control so that it does not do all that it wants to do.
We stop short. God pulls us back from the brink of moral disaster through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Decent but Natural Man
How then can non-Christians lead decent lives as many of then do? God places some restraint on human evil through various checks and balances including government, the human conscience, the Law, religious teachings and examples and even though direct communication through dreams and visions, signs and portents. The natural, not yet converted man has a conscience from God but is not yet born of God. The not-yet-converted can restrain sin to some extent but they cannot be truly holy in the eternal sense as they lack Christ in them.
The Mind, the Spirit and The Flesh
How then can a Christian have victory over the evil passions that arise within them? By setting our inner nature, our Mind, on the Spirit. For the Christian we need to learn we have control of our minds and to forcibly direct them to the ends we desire such as eternal life and peace. If we want a victorious Christian life we must take charge of our minds and they must deliberately be directed on the things of the Spirit.
Don’t Forget the Medical Side and Common Sense
Not all emotional problems based in the body have a “spiritual solution”. Exercise, regular rest, a good diet and some basic disciplines can help alter our moods and emotions so we are happier and more easily spiritual. There is nothing terribly noble about praying for victory over emotions that need not arise in us at all with a bit of common sense. If you feel chronically out of sorts get a good “executive physical”. Maybe there is something wrong and your body is warning you. If a distressing emotion is being produced by a physical factor we can change, then it is up to us to change it.
Other Matters In The Mind-Body-Emotions Interaction
There are many very interesting and even speculative areas of study in the area of the issue of the interaction of our mind, body and emotions. For instance:
•Feats of Strength Emotions can not only make you sick – they can also make you strong. Hormones released by emotions can strengthen the body to perform great feats of strength on desperate occasions. This is the positive side of the emotions-body interaction.
•Dissociation From the Body This is when people experience a separation between their consciousness and their physical body generally as a result of severe trauma. There is also a clinical condition known as Multiple Personality Disorder or Dissociative Disorder where people have multiple consciousnesses in the one body, which seem to “take turns”. This seems to be the result of the person’s consciousness being fragmented by the trauma.
•Amnesia is physical damage that results in a loss of recent memory and in severe cases an inaccurate sense of “self”.
•Emotions and Cognition Emotions release hormones which affect cognition. For instance in the fight or flight response blood flow to the brain is reduced and instead it is sent to the hands or the feet. This prepares us well for a good battle but poorly for an exam (where the blood flow needs to be going to the brain). Thus emotions affect cognition by affecting the physical structures the brain needs to do its clearest thinking. The mind does not seem able to express itself clearly and efficiently through the body if the emotions have hijacked the resources it needs to do so.
•Prayer and Meditation Goleman reports that “prayer works on all emotions”. The physiological effects of a mind focused on God are clear, unequivocal and measurable by modern instrumentation. The mind can bring the body into a calm sate with lowered blood pressure and peaceful emotions.
Finally we reach the practical section where we look at practical techniques of how we experience and master emotions and how we act on and react to our emotions. We will learn how to read and understand the emotions of others and ourselves and how to express them appropriately in love. Theologically this section sees Christ in us trying to express His love for the world through us, and in part, through our emotions. Jesus in us, and speaking through us, has His sense of timing, His right phrasing, His poise and presence and His holy and righteous way of being. In the end we should be radiating love, joy and peace because Jesus radiates these things. We should become people with a presence about them who have the deep authority and majestic emotions of the God who indwells us. To do this we need both the theological and the practical. We need to be aware of Christ in us, but we also need to know what to do in any given situation. “Love one another” is not good enough for most people. We also need to know how to love one another and this involves practical information and techniques. We need to know how to switch off our anger, how to help someone who is grieving, how to get a handle on our emotions and how to figure out what someone else is feeling. We will cover this. We also need to know how to let God’s love flow through us in spiritual power and that is the subject of the last chapter
11. The Masterful Mind
The decisive factor in Biblical EQ is the Mind of the believer. If it is set on the flesh and we are carnally minded the result is death. If it is set on the Spirit and we are spiritually minded the result is life and peace.
Fight, Flight or Mastery
You may have heard of the “fight or flight response” that humans and animals have in response to threat. The fight or flight response is fast, rough, instinctual, and sometimes quite inaccurate. Mostly it is a useful instinctive response with high survival value, but it is not the stuff of wisdom, ethics, or the Spirit. When people combine these two aspects of the fight-or-flight response and quickly perform great feats of strength which are stupid, unthinking and ill-informed we have the groundwork for violence and tragedy.
Why is the fight or flight response so destructive and if so why do we have it? I suppose initially it was not a bad thing. The fight or flight response was meant to operate in a human being who was connected to God. This connection would have moderated and altered the response. But now it isn’t so well connected and its become one part of us that has been most affected by the Fall.
The fight or flight response removes our ability to make wise, free and balanced moral choices and is definitely not the stuff on which Christian character is built.
Lest I be misunderstood it’s not wrong to fight under some circumstances if it is a chosen and wise moral act. At other times it’s Ok to retreat and avoid certain troublesome situations as long as it is thought through, wise and moral to do so.
The alternative to the fight or flight response is to achieve mastery of the situation. When I speak of mastery I am not speaking of sinless perfection. Mastery is more like a combination of faith, courage, decisiveness and balance. It is having spiritual authority, poise and power in all situations. It asks questions such as: How can we tackle every situation in life as if it were the perfect golf shot? How can we master every threat and every frustration with grace, power and poise? How can we move through a grossly unjust trial without losing our cool? How can we forgive those that nail us to the cross? Of course these reactions are the supreme achievements of a Perfect Life.
Mastery is the hardest choice but it is the only choice that goes anywhere.
The mind is that part of us which we
can steer and which we can plot our course with. It’s the only part of us that can do that job.
Therefore it is decisive. We need to love God with our whole being – mind, spirit, soul, and strength, and all these parts of us are vital and important but it is the mind that directs the spirit, or the soul, or our energy and strength onto God and His purposes. The mind is the critical point where the decisions are made and the course committed to.
Thus it is clear from the New Testament that the sort of mind we end up with is entirely our choice. We can focus or mind on God’s interests or man’s interests, the Spirit or the flesh, the things above or earthly things. We can choose to be humble, like-minded, unified and thoughtful of others or we can choose to be puffed up, childish, contentious, worldly and carnal.
Mastery and The Mind
Mastery is a product of the focused and disciplined mind bringing the whole person into submission to an over-riding ethic or ethos. The mind is the only part of our consciousness that we can focus and direct therefore it is the only part of us that can give us mastery.
The money, a strong body, education, willpower, and even religion won’t give you self mastery. Many people are enslaved by cults, caught up in bondage to religious guilt or overtaken by idolatry and superstition. Only the adaptable, flexible, trained, focused and disciplined mind can bring mastery.
The mind does not create the world but it does enable us to move through it with poise and power. The mind is not God. The mind works best when it is set on God. For that kind of mastery we need more than positive thinking. We need a direct connection to God and the mind must be resolutely set on God, on the Spirit, on things above, on the Kingdom, and the righteousness thereof.
Directing the Christian Mind
So we see that we are faced with three universal truths: Firstly that personal mastery is the only wise option. Secondly that such mastery is solely a product of the mind. Thirdly that the mind becomes masterful as it is disciplined and focused on something outside itself.
This directing of the mind is a forceful and decisive activity. It is hard to put into words. It is not concentrating on Christ, neither is it speculating about Christ or studying or daydreaming about
Christ. It is not even thinking about Jesus as such. It is not an internal, reflective or meditative process. It’s similar to standing outside yourself and directing yourself onto Christ. Its like standing at the top of a high-dive tower and looking down and plunging in with total commitment. It’s choosing where your life energies will be focused and your mental processes directed. It’s like going outside yourself but towards Christ at the same time. I suppose you could call it faith, or at least faith is very much involved in it. The whole of the mind is fixed on Christ and directs the total life energies of the believer in that direction. As this focus is attained everything else is entrained, the emotions, the will and the responses.
It may not be immediately obvious but when we direct our mind to a purpose it means that we commit ourselves to the rules and techniques that the particular purpose requires. Mastery of anything means sticking to the rules. Similarly, following Jesus has rules. Submission to the commandments of Jesus Christ is not optional if we are to stay focused on Christ and know life and peace. Obeying these commandments is not the whole of the Christian life but they are part of the discipline of the Christian life. They make it flow and if you are to have mastery in the Christian life you must decide to obey the rules. You cannot just make up the spiritual life as you go along.
Deciding to totally set your mind on Christ and achieve total life mastery is the very hardest thing you will ever do. But what are the alternatives? To potter along lamely is not much of a life. To refuse it totally is to go into eternal darkness. But the effort seems tremendous, the focus too narrow and the rules too hard. The focus must be kept and we are unruly. We are prone to distraction. We are far too easy on ourselves. We don’t want to get up and practice. We want heaven from our armchairs. So we make a commitment to Christ, then that fades, then another one, then a spiritual breakthrough, and then a slack patch. We are all over the place. Our minds are set on ourselves, or on our finances, or on the opinions of the Christian community or on the success of our ministry. We find easier goals and substitute foci. We become anxious, stressed, harried and spiritually weak. We need to come to a point of final decision where we look at the mess, pull ourselves together and decide with all that is within us to focus ourselves totally on Christ alone and pursue single-minded, focused, disciplined mastery.
People are drifting around in ministry without a real and solid connection to God because the cost of staking everything on God is too high. You must come to that decision. The Christian life is unlivable without it. You cannot dabble in the eternal. You must commit totally to it and direct your mind to it.
Prerequisites for Self-Mastery
The absolute prerequisites of spiritual progress are that you are born-again with a new nature from God, that you have the filling of the Holy Spirit and that you are single-mindedly devoted to God in obedience to His word. Without these three things you do not stand a chance.
Unless you are born-again you do not have a new nature. Without the new nature it’s an impossible job. If you are not Spirit-filled and led by the Spirit in your daily life then you will not have power over the flesh and you will struggle continually and lose continually. If you are not single-minded you will be double-minded and double-minded people receive nothing from the Lord. You will be left wallowing in your doubt and indecision. These three things are the basics. Before I go on to talk about techniques I self-mastery you must have these three things in your life or be prepared to have these three things in your life as soon as possible.
Practical Techniques for Emotional Self-Mastery
There are thus two levels to emotional self-mastery. Firstly we must set up the foundations of the new self and the God-focused mind. That renews our connection with God and sets up some spiritual lines of control over the fight or flight response. Then we must learn the practical details of responding to life intelligently and wisely.
•Pay attention to your physical state. If you realize that your fists are clenched and your neck is rigid and you are physically tensed up and alerted for danger then try to undo those physical states. Unclench your fists, rub your neck, relax your posture. The fight or flight response is partly a physical response and as we undo its physical correlates it will lose much of its power. Perhaps try and relax or use deep breathing if you are tense, guarded or explosive.
•Be aware of the magnitude of your emotional responses and the quick “zoom” to anger or anxiety that the fight or flight response produces. Learn to recognize when you are zooming to disaster and practice keeping a lid on it.
•Take time to think. Use your God-given right to choose your response. Do not just respond on auto-pilot. Once you stop and think you are far more likely to choose a good and much more optimal solution.
•Disengage. If you have started to move into attack mode pull back the troops! Go for a walk, cool down. Have a pray about it.
•If you are going into a situation that you know aggravates you (such as dealing with an annoying person) try to make a conscious decision about how you are going to react in that situation. Then rehearse your balanced and biblical reaction over and over in your mind. Perhaps seven times or seventy times seven? Train yourself mentally to react rightly just like professional golfers ‘see the ball going in the hole’ even before they make the shot. Use mental rehearsal to disarm potential conflict situations.
•In the converse of this - don’t mentally rehearse the wrong response. Don’t see in your mind’s eye a picture of yourself strangling the boss of the phone company. It may be very satisfying but it is not helpful. It is educating yourself in the wrong direction.
•Use the ‘what would Jesus do?” question as a quick reference.
•Question your perceptions of threat. Is this really a life or death issue? Am I getting tensed up over nothing? What does it say about me if I am so easily riled? Or on the flight response: Is it really that bad? Is the world going to end over this? Is this fear, anxiety and emotional reactivity helping me? Has running away from things helped or hindered my life?
•Learn to find your emotional center and to live from it and to know when it is in balance and out of balance. This is quite difficult for many people.
•Some people will push you wanting you to explode so they can take advantage of your immature reaction. Be alert to this and deliberately react the opposite way they are pushing you. •Remember that when you react rightly to unjust treatment that “great is your reward in heaven”. So rejoice and give yourself a pat on the back when you keep your cool. Positive reinforcement for good behavior.
•Do not return evil for evil. Keep a lid on your desire to retaliate. Leave retaliation to the Lord. If we return a blessing instead we will inherit blessing.
•If people rip you off and insult you don’t escalate it into a life or death struggle over honor and pride. This is what Jesus means when He says “do not resist him who is evil”.
(He does not mean that the police should not arrest robbers!) Rather it means “don’t let the evil person push you into a full-scale, adrenalin packed, fight or flight response”. Deny the natural man’s urge to strike back. If he slaps you, turn the other cheek, if he takes your cloak, let him, if he makes you walk a mile, go two. If he says “give me money” let him have some. Deny your reactivity and show you are made of different stuff.
•Don’t let unkind, ungrateful, stingy, mean or small-minded people get to you. God is merciful to the unkind and ungrateful and we have a great reward in heaven when we do likewise. Brush their meanness to one side without taking it too personally and treat them as well as you can with reasonable safety (because some are quite toxic).
•Do not get your ego hooked into the game of “Christian comparisons”, my church is bigger than your church etc. This only leads to fuming and fighting.
•Do not let theology push you into fight or flight mode. For instance “I won’t study the
Second Coming its too contentious” (flight response) or “You are a heretic and I will torch you verbally since the law won’t allow me to burn you at the stake” (fight response). The mastery response is to learn about the Second Coming and other aspects of theology and grow in God and only debate under circumstances that are harmless to the hearers (such as with good friends in the ministry) unless of course there is an urgent apologetic reason. Even then your speech should be seasoned with salt.
•Learn correct responses by modeling mature Christians and by studying the heroes of the faith.
•Make a personal commitment to grow in this area.
•Have some friends keep you accountable for your reactions and encourage you to maturity.
•Enjoy the feeling of grace rather than the feeling of explosive emotional power.
Overcoming Paralyzing Fears
Life circumstances cause the person to reach, at some point in their life, a point of nervous exhaustion in which fear that already exists cannot be suppressed or controlled by the will and during which new fears can be easily implanted.
Strange frightening thoughts then appear in a tired mind. The person worries about these thoughts. This further activates the fight or flight response and exhausts the person and so they have even less energy to control their fears with. More fears then surface, the person then worries, and so on in a vicious circle. The strange thoughts in the tired mind eventually reach such an intensity that they lead the person to the threshold of panic. A small incident then triggers a fullscale panic attack, which, if this spiral continues, may become the first of many.
Mastering such fear means moving away from the fight or flight response. Instead of trying to fight the fears or run away from them they are just accepted. The problem with fearful people is they engage life too tightly. When you grab life too tightly it bounces you round and you end up either struggling with it or fleeing from it. A bit of detachment can lead to peace of mind and “floating through”, meaning that the person is slightly detached but not dissociated from reality and is able to do the task that was impossible before.
1. Face, do not run away.
2. Accept, do not fight
3. Float, do not tense.
4. Let time pass – do not be impatient with time.
Hints on working these out in your life are contained in her excellent books which are listed in the reference section. Mastery of fear means setting the mind in the right stable position. We set it into the situation but without fighting it. We are calm. We are like Tiger Woods looking at a golf ball in the rough. Its no big deal, small problem, he can handle it. Neither are we tense. Some people believe that being tense is being responsible; being tense means you are putting the effort in. That is a mistake; being tense ruins the golf shot and also ruins life. Jesus was not a tense person and Jesus was the most responsible and committed person who ever lived. And mastery means letting time pass. Jesus never seemed to care about time, Abraham and Moses took years, seemingly wasted years. By letting time pass we actually use it best. The people who look the most hurried and who have the most time-consciousness with their organizers are generally the junior executives.
Reacting To New and Powerful Spiritual Experiences
New and powerful spiritual experiences often activate the fight or flight response. The result is over-reaction, division, fear and anxiety. I hope you can see that there is no place for angry, reactionary responses or panic stricken flight from strong emotions or unusual spiritual experiences. Flapping around wildly is not the correct response. Rather we need to analyze that emotion or experience in the light of Scripture holding to what is good and rebuking that which is evil. Discernment is a mastery response not a fight or flight response.
Because we are creatures and not the Creator we have a certain inbuilt dread and fear of the numinous. The powerful and the spiritual evoke emotional reactions within us and those reactions are often immature. We become reactive and fearful unable to cope with emotions and experiences that are unfamiliar to us. Instead, when evaluating a new teaching or experience we should say “I’m a mature person with a good brain and I know the Scriptures fairly well, I’ll just sit back and watch, I’ll hold to the good bits I find here and reject the junk, I don’t have to fear what’s going on. I’ll pray for protection and discernment, stay within my boundaries and work it out as I go along.”
Avoiding a black and white stance where its got to be “all of God” or “all of the Devil” is important. People who take black and white stances lump people into one category or the other and thus have very blunted discernment. “All X are Y” is frequently incorrect. Thus black and white stances are poor discernment and lead to damaging evaluations and serious mistakes in judgment.
The person with a good biblical EQ would work out carefully what was incorrect and then talk it over with their pastor and if he or she did not respond would take the matter to other responsible leaders in the church in a peaceful and caring fashion.
The Problem Or The Solution
Fear looks for the problem but faith looks for the solution. Fear generates the fight or flight response but faith generates intelligent thinking and personal mastery.
Their concept is that instead of trying to analyze the problem down to its last detail, we should instead search for the solution. Sometimes in counseling we end up so focused on the problem that we miss really obvious solutions. Instead of getting our clients on the road as soon as possible we end up analyzing the nail to bits. Being solution-focused means looking for the solution, not focusing on the problem; finding the way forward for people and situations, not getting stuck in the “blame game”; stopping doing things that don’t work and continuing to do things that do work. Doing more of what works and succeeds and less of what does not work and just frustrates.
Some of the basic concepts as I understand them are:
•Just find a solution. Don’t ask why the stream is flooding or sit around analyzing the water quality – just find the bridge and walk across.
•Avoid the paralysis of analysis. If you puncture the tire on your car with a nail don’t analyze the nail, change the tire.
•Don’t see problems everywhere. Learn to see solutions everywhere.
•Big problems sometimes have really simple solutions. Scurvy was a huge problem among sailors for centuries and the British Admiralty refused to believe that fresh fruit was the solution saying “such a large problem cannot have such a simple solution”. It took the death of one third of the British navy from scurvy in one year and the urging of Captain
James Cook to get the Admiralty to see that big problems sometimes have easy solutions.
•If you do what you have always done you will get what you have always got.
•Ask what is working and do more of it. Discover the positive and reinforce it.
•If it’s not working stop doing it. If its futile, its futile.
•Don’t fix the blame – fix the problem.
•Forget about reacting to the problem and just start searching for the solution
When we become problem-focused we start finding people to blame and enemies to accuse or we get wound up over the size of the problem. Basically we soon end up in fight or flight mode.
When we start searching for solutions we start thinking, we start using our mind, we start praying, we start digging into the Scriptures, we ask for wisdom, we tally our resources and we move forward step by step in faith believing that God has a solution. In other words we start marshalling our resources towards mastery.
Jesus had an amazingly solution-focused approach to life. There was always a solution. There were no “problems” for God. Jesus never gave a long-winded analysis of things when the disciples asked “Why”.
Obviously a fairly basic level of analysis is needed. You do need to identify if the person is blind or lame or demon-possessed so you can know what to do. But you don’t stop right there with the analysis. You move from the analysis, by faith, to the solution. This is where mastery comes in.
To move through life with mastery is to be able to see the solutions in every situation and to implement them to the glory of God. This requires a changed mindset. Instead of a fearful, helpless, analyzing, quarreling and useless mind we need one that is bold, and confident and faith-filled and solution-seeking and this can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit as the mind is fixed on God.
The conclusion is: The disciplined, focused mind is the only instrument we have to bring us out of our messy emotions and into life and peace. Mastery is the only wise alternative and mastery comes from the mind and the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.
12. Getting a Handle on Our Emotions
Like it or not God has made us to be emotional beings. He wants us to have emotions – His emotions. He wants us to weep over the lost, be moved with compassion for the oppressed, be outraged by injustice, provoked by idolatry and angry at the hard of heart. He wants us to love the sheep in our charge, be caught up in the agony of intercession and have hearts full of hope. The Christian life, properly lived, is awash in emotion. However it is not merely sentimental, trite or unstable. Truly Christian emotions have a majesty about them. They ring of the Kingdom and participate in and agree with the Truth.
People and their emotions are like bells. Some people are like alarm bells going off anxiously and loudly. Some are chipped and cracked and when they “ring” the sound seems painful or like the bells on old-fashioned trams noisy, clanging, rattling. Yet others are like shop bells being rung by everyone that enters their life. Some are like a carillon, gentle, and beautiful and silvery; finally there are those that are deep and resonant and summon the countryside to worship. People whose very emotional presence is a declaration of the Kingdom of God. To do this we must get a handle on our emotions, we must be able to name them and we must start to choose which emotions we will express and which emotions we should deny.
Identifying Our Emotions
Being able to “feel their feelings” and being able to identify and name their emotions is a crucial first step. Mistaken emotional identification can lead to spiritual disaster.
Making spiritual judgments about the emotions we experience is often counter-productive and causes us to express some emotions and repress others to conform to a spiritual standard or model that we have been taught in church. This can confuse us emotionally and spiritually and is the subject of the next section.
Emotional Modeling – Choosing The Emotions We Express and Repress
The following table lists sixteen different models of ideal humanity along with their central premises, the consequences for the expression or repression of emotion and the key weaknesses of the model. Each of them is in some way a human cultural creation, each falls somewhat short of Christ who should be our model.
Model of the ideal person Areas Expressed Areas Repressed Weaknesses & Limitations
The Blessed Believer: The ideal Christian is a person with great faith who prays frequently and receives great blessing from God and lives in abundance and happiness free from anxiety and turmoil. Salvation is easily and joyously and often instantly received. Abraham, Isaac, David, and Solomon are seen as models. Can easily focus on material blessings as a sign of God’s approval Praise, gratitude, joy and contentment. “Rejoice in the Lord always”. Salvation is from misery to happiness. Happiness is a sign that Jesus is in your heart Sorrow, depression, grief, anxiety, genuine doubt, feelings of weakness and inadequacy. Disappointment, any sense that life has treated them in an unfair manner. Negative emotions are construed as indicating a “lack of victory” Model fails when life appears to be far less than blessed such as when life appears to be unjust or unfair when pain is overwhelming or during grief and sorrow. Job is the classical example of a blessed believer being challenged by life
The Patient Pilgrim: The pilgrim is escaping judgment and heading away from the world which is doomed. The Christian life involves separation from sin and worldliness and the serious pursuit of salvation which only relatively few attain and which is a perilous journey. Pilgrim’s Progress. Lot escaping Sodom. James Sorrow for sin, seriousness, self-examination, correction of faults, penitence, intense, prayer, travel, joy over forgiveness, righteous anger, woe, and pessimism over the world Frivolity, laughter, flippancy, playfulness, sensuality, attraction to worldly things, sexuality, pride over achievement, romance. Positive emotions are treated with suspicion. Can become legalistic and joyless. Fails to give proper place to the goodness of creation and creates rebellion in people brought up in this system who learn life is not as grim as portrayed.
The Independent Achiever: Emphasizes being in ministry and achieving things for God. A Christian is measured by the size of his or her ministry and how they achieved it alone as their personal vision. Strategic thinking, business skills and personal success are highly prized. Models include Nehemiah and the apostle Paul Faith, hope, vision, optimism, joy, and the emotions of the will and the mind Tend not to be artistic and may lack compassion at times. They avoid necessary introspection and reflection. Doubt and fear are repressed rather than faced Can Lead to burn-out. Works for some people but can destroy others. Their spouses often suffer
The Sacrificial Servant: it’s what you give up for God that counts. The Christian “has no rights and is there to spend themselves for God” and “burn out for Jesus”. Spiritual indicators include remoteness of where one serves and the poverty of conditions. David Brainerd is a model example Enthusiasm and passion for God and devotion to the cause Most emotions are repressed or sublimated including most natural affections At times is the stuff of cults. Tends to love God alone and sacrifices self, family and neighbor to the cause
The Serene Saint: Like Yoda in Star Wars are the unruffled and wise contemplatives full of peace and deep emotions. Their goal is tranquility of soul and union with God and self-mastery Tranquility and peace, gentle emotions, prayerful devotion, saintly emotions, mercy Anger and most intense emotions including sexuality are repressed Can be weak at critical moments and fail to tackle issues of justice and practical issues of life. Can become very selfish and inward
The Radical revolutionary: Enjoys turning over the tables in the temple. Seeking after justice they identify with the old testament prophets. The ideal Christian is a counter-culture revolutionary who brings transformation to society and justice to the poor Righteous anger, passion for justice, indignation, wrath. Vision, hope and even optimism may also be present Tend to be overly serious and lose natural playfulness and joy. Gentleness and meekness may also be lacking In some contexts this is very much needed in others it is totally inappropriate. Not a whole of life perspective for most people
The Evangelist: The ideal Christian sees many people saved. They are master communicators who are always witnessing. They have strong personalities are enthusiastic and clear sighted Black and white emotions. Enthusiasm, passion for the lost, joy, exuberance Reflective quiet emotions are often seen as impractical. Lacks any understanding of ambiguities and complexity, a very confined and narrow model.
The Aggressive Apologist: Defines the faith from error at every turn and exposes heresy, cults, witchcraft and deception as well as contending with other belief systems. The ideal Christian is knowledgeable, theologically correct, logical and able to debate others so that they convert to Christianity or correct their ways Reason, logic, righteous indignation, anger, forcefulness, suspicion, evaluates and discriminates Playfulness, gentleness, creativity, sympathy, mercy, emotions of the heart Tends to distrust emotional expression and be overly logical and dry. Can make a person very rigid in their later years
The Ecstatic Enthusiast: Led by the spirit they are “on the move for God” and express strong enthusiasm for spiritual things. Spiritual ecstasy is a sign of God’s presence. The day of Pentecost is the ideal Christian moment to be recreated at every opportunity Trance states, ecstasy, passion, enthusiasm, joy, exuberance, praise, thanksgiving Critical faculties, analysis, contemplation, thinking, reflection and negative emotions such as pain, grief and disappointment Tends to spiritual burn-out and can be very unsensible and insufficiently critical. Tends to fall for fads and is too simplistic for many of life’s deeper practical issues.
The Reasonable Man: Wisdom and reason are the voices of the Spirit who leads Christians into a balanced and moderate life that reflects proper priorities and which is well adjusted to the social context the believer lives in. Extremes are interpreted as a sign of a dysfunctional personality. Solomon is a model. Reason, analysis, ethical reflection, conventions and social mores, well tempered emotions, kindness, gentleness, reasonableness, “Moderation in all things” Strong emotion of all kinds is disapproved of as well as any major breach of social standards Unless the Bible is taught clearly and strongly this rapidly tends to an insipid worldliness and spiritual skepticism.
The Perfect Man: Like Confucius’ concept the perfect man is without inappropriate emotion or any visible faults. Emotion is carefully guarded and kept under control. The perfect man is upright, ethical, has perfect manners and social perception, and is extremely humble and meek Proper behavior, loyalty, humility, meekness, convention, submission, restraint, ethics, duty. “Being without fault in one’s conduct in life” Anger, pain, any socially disabling emotion, anything that may cause loss of face. Because how others perceive the Christian is of ultimate importance it can produce harshness and hypocrisy. Very individualistic and tends to ignore larger social issues
The Good Samaritan: Love of neighbor expressed as social action and deeds of mercy mark the true Christian. Kindness, gentleness, mercy and helpfulness are the premier virtues Mercy, gentleness, kindness, hospitality, inclusion, practical deeds of love and compassion Exclusion, rejection, unkindness of any sort, tries to develop a very inclusive and non theological faith. Has much merit but can become just social work without a true saving gospel being proclaimed
The Principled idealist: is characterized by seeking the high and noble and life lived by principles and virtue and self-renunciation for the ideal Good People are valued by their principles, intentions and ideals without reference to actions. There is a pursuit of absolute excellence at the personal level and of a Christian Utopia at the corporate level High ideals and aspirations, concepts, ideas, justice, philosophies, ambition, personal striving for high goals, vision, personal principles, ethics, mission statements, nobility, virtue, the Absolute Good, Utopia The mundane, earthy, concrete details of daily life are scorned. Attention to detail and diligence are often lacking. Earthiness and pragmatism are perceived to be unspiritual. Tends not to allow feedback from results Frequently disorganized. Also godly ambition and personal ambition can easily be mixed. Often so focused on the external goals that they lose personal insight and can become dishonest and treacherous
The Perceptive Pragmatist: is able to sum up life quickly and fix problems on the spot. A Christian is measured by their capacity to be useful and by their skills in judgment, analysis and implementation. Analysis, evaluation, enthusiasm, practical knowledge, authority, wisdom, toughness, shrewdness, energy Empathy, kindness, compassion, mercy. Most emotions are not felt deeply and they tend to be deemed as irrelevant Tend to come unstuck in mid-life and feel deep sense of meaninglessness. May neglect relationships. May see virtue as impractical
The Intelligent Instructor: is a learned Christian who teaches well and can exegete the difficult verses of Scripture. The goal is knowledge of God and wisdom and knowledge are equated with progress in the Christian life. Academic prowess is prized and church is often made into a classroom. Ezra is a model Thoughtfulness, balance, evaluation, discipline, kindness, gentleness, logic, intelligence, knowledge, reasoning, debating, humor, moderate emotions suitable for classroom. Strong passions are suspect and practicality may be lacking. The subjective and non-cognitive areas of the Christian life tend to be deeply distrusted. Lack of celebration and praise. Can become dry, dull and overly rational. Praise and worship tend to be seen as only teaching tools. The central idea that knowledge of theology is progress in God is deeply flawed.
The Child of Nature: Is still living in the Garden of Eden and feels free to express all kinds of emotion. Spontaneity, freedom, expressiveness, artistic skill and creativity are high on the agenda Nearly all emotions are freely expressed. Creativity, joy, freedom. The inner child is given freedom to play. Discernment, wisdom, truth and responsibility. Can be undisciplined and immature emotionally Can become overly sensual and fall into moral disorder. There is a tendency to anarchy and irresponsibility. Lacks power and authority.
So we see that the Christian’s mental model greatly influences which aspects of life they pay attention to and which emotions they express or repress. In fact we probably choose our own model partly because we are naturally more comfortable expressing one set of emotions than another. This may be due to, among other factors, our culture, our denomination, or to our natural temperament.
I find God paying a lot of attention to those areas outside my model. He challenges my preconceptions and stretches my view of what I should be like. The gap between my natural comfortable model of the Christian life and the life of Jesus is a gap He wants closed. He wants me to model myself after His Son and does not allow me to invent my own destiny or a ‘better idea’ of how I should be sanctified. For instance I am naturally rational and cognitively orientated and uncomfortable with high levels of emotion, so God in His desire to make me like Jesus, has made emotions a real area of challenge and of study for me.
God will not be satisfied with you being less than Christ-like. He will work on the difference between the model of faith you have adopted and that displayed in the Scriptures. Your mental model of the ideal Christian undoubtedly has many Scriptures that support it – but here and there it can be improved and in fact needs to be improved if you are to be fully like Jesus. . In my
Christian life I have had to do a major revision of my faith about every seven years or so. I move from a certain model to a more Christ-like one then that in turn is challenged and revised and so the process goes on.
Changing Our Mental Model
How then do we correct our mental model of the Christian faith – particularly one we are quite committed to? For a start read one of the gospels and note the difference between how you act and react to how Jesus acts and reacts.
Thus changing mental models means being honest to God and the Scriptures and tough on one’s personal comfort zone, church culture and traditions. It is honest biblical reflection on where we are at spiritually, in the light of Scripture. You may need to make a calculated decision to move beyond your culture and upbringing, accepting that which is good and rejecting that which is evil and moving to maturity in Christ.
It requires the power of the Holy Spirit if radical change is to occur and if we are to have the courage to be more Christ-like emotionally than our community believes is desirable.
To sum up – we need to get a handle on our emotions by first of all identifying them and secondly making a conscious decision about which emotions to express and which to deny. Our mental model of the Christian faith will greatly affect how we express or repress emotions. Our mental model serves as a sort of Christian master plan that guides our destiny, thoughts, emotions and behavior. It is shaped by culture, conditioning and our community of faith with its traditions as well as our own conclusions about God and Jesus. It needs to be revised now and then when it has outlived its current usefulness. We need to move to ever more Christ-like mental models and these in turn will pattern our thoughts, behavior and biblical EQ. As we become Christ-like we will express and repress the right emotions, in the right way and at the right times for the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom. This leads us to a problem – what about the emotions I have today, right now, before I have changed a bit. How do I handle them? How should I evaluate them? How should I react to them? That is the subject of the following chapters.
13. Acting On and Reacting To Our Strong Emotions
Handling strong emotion is not easy – and life in the Spirit is frequently full of strong emotions.
Love, righteous anger, compassion, ecstasy and joy in worship can be transcendent and powerful emotions that sweep the believer along. In the face of such powerful emotions what should we do? How should we act on our emotions? How should we react to them as they well up inside us?
The strength of Jesus’ emotions flowed from the power of His perceptions and the strength of His beliefs. What we perceive and believe gives force to our convictions and emotions. If you behold little of reality and believe almost nothing, then you will feel small and dull passions at best.
However if you are filled with the Spirit, and see Heaven opened, and know the truth, and believe the Scriptures, and are truly on a mission from the Lord then your emotions will be strong and clear and grow in strength and grandeur. To add the obvious, the reverse is not true, strong emotions do not mean you are spiritual. People can be gripped by all sorts of strong and yet fleshly emotions. So strong emotions can be both godly and fleshly. Jesus was powerfully emotional but was without sin. How did He do it? He exercised self-control.
Self-Control, Repression, Grieving and Quenching
There are two main spiritual errors when it comes to the expression of emotion in the Christian life. The first is giving expression to carnal emotions such as wrath, bitterness and clamor. This is called “grieving the Spirit”. The second error is the repressing of holy emotions that arise within us because of the work of the Spirit. This is called “quenching” the Spirit
Holy emotions frequently have an intensity about them that makes many people fear their presence and clamp down on them. Self-control means managing our emotions so that fleshly and carnal emotions such as wrath and bitterness are kept out of the Christian life and holy emotions such as compassion are given full expression in the best manner possible. However before we can control our emotions and manage them appropriately we must become aware of their existence.
Repression is the opposite of self-control because it denies the existence of the emotion and does not enable us to control it in any way at all. That is why people who use repression of emotion as a main device in their Christian life are often subject to outbursts of rage. They in fact have no real control of their emotions and no insight onto their emotional state.
The aim of biblical EQ is that we move from repression and denial of emotion to proper self-control of emotion. This makes the person of the Holy Spirit absolutely central to the Christian’s true experience of emotion. It is as He is released in His fullness that we move into the emotional life of our Savior.
The people of the Living God are most fully alive. That is what makes Christianity attractive. Many people say of the time they first met Christians “they had something about them, a joy that I really wanted.” The Holy Spirit filled believer is emotionally alive and emotionally substantial.
Self-Control and Other Control
If we are not self-controlled we are other-controlled. In other words if we do not take charge of our emotions then they will be up and down with every change in the weather, every different circumstance, every tiny provocation.
There is a common myth that other people can “press our buttons” and make us explode with anger or burst into tears or react emotionally. “He made me so mad”, “She seduced me, she made me have sex with her” and so on. Most of the time, this is just plain untrue. Generally you were able to master your emotions in that situation but you chose not to.
We have an “off-button” for the fight or flight response. We can switch it off suddenly and completely. Hitting the red button is as easy as saying “Stop” to yourself in a firm and commanding tone of voice (either audibly or inaudibly). The red button can be pressed as soon as you decide to take charge of yourself and your emotions. This involves coming to the realization that you should take command of you emotions, then doing so by switching off the fight-or-flight response and returning to a rational way of being.
The critical point is when you decide to take control of your emotions. Realizing your emotions are inappropriate is not quite enough. You must make a definite inner decision. After that decision is made pressing the button is easy. When you put yourself in control of yourself you achieve mastery. When you decide to put your mind in charge and not your adrenalin you win. You must make the firm and definite decision that even when emotions are powerful you are going to be in charge of them. This is not repression, it self-control. It’s the sane, rational, functional part of you being in control of your emotions. Its deciding to appoint your Spirit-filled mind.
This is very powerful. No-one can make you react emotionally unless they use so much force (such as torture) that they actually break you. If you definitely decide not to laugh (say at a dirty joke), no-one can make you laugh. If you definitely decide not to cry, (say in order to stay together in an emergency) then no-one can make you cry. Your emotions are yours to express or repress. You are in control of them. You can stop them and you can let the go. Your mind can decide how you will or will not react as long as you make the decision to put it clearly and absolutely in charge of your life.
We need to discern our strong emotions. Thus we do not need to run away from strong emotion whether it be positive emotion, negative emotion or even deep spiritual emotion. The presence of strong emotion should not panic us into a fight or flight response or shut us down into repression. Rather we should evaluate the emotion rather than react to the emotion, we should master the emotion and not just flee from it or try to beat it to death. The mastery stance requires discernment and discernment requires understanding of emotions, their sources, their place in our life and their relative values. The following few sections deal with how we can respond to the strongest emotions such as temptations and powerful spiritual experiences with poise, power and wisdom.
Emotions and Discerning The Truth
Before we decide to let an emotional control or direct our behavior we need to know whether or not it is leading us in the right direction. Can we safely follow our hearts? Are emotions a good guide to truth and to right behavior? If the Holy Spirit produces good emotions are all good emotions a sign of God’s Presence? Can we tell the truth of a doctrine or the authenticity of a movement by how it makes us feel? Not at all! “It feels so good it must be right” is a downright lie!
While the Holy Spirit produces joy and peace, the presence of joy and peace does not necessarily indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit. The opposite may also be true, bad feelings are no guide to bad theology. We may experience negative emotions when we are being confronted with the truth.
If this is the case is it “too risky” to cultivate a Christian subjectivity? Not if we place emotions in their right place as a response to truth and a guide to action. Emotions are a valid response to truth but not a valid guide to truth. Jesus reacted emotionally as He perceived the truth but Jesus did not arrive at the truth via His emotions. He arrived at the truth via Scripture. Jesus wept when He saw His friends grieving as Lazarus’s grave. He was moved by compassion when He saw people sick, harassed and lost. His emotions were a response to His perceptions in a framework filled with God’s truth. However Jesus never said “I feel X therefore I will believe Y”. His emotions moved Him to act and His actions were based on truth revealed from the Father. His emotions did not show Him what was true or false – they just moved Him to act on what He already knew (from Scripture) was true or false. We do not follow our emotions, rather we need to follow truth – and express emotion as we do so.
Following our heart can be truly catastrophic. However repression is not the answer. Rather than repressing our emotions and unmet needs we need to be aware of our heart and discipline it according to the truth. By acknowledging the temptation and refusing it you can grow in emotional and spiritual maturity.
There is however an aspect of emotion that can guide us and is meant to guide us. Emotions can act as a “preliminary analysis” of a complex situation prompting us to give it more thought. For instance our emotions can make us uneasy about someone and after we look harder we find out they have a reputation for being dishonest, predatory or cruel. Or our emotions can give us the hunch that there might be real potential in a certain situation. Once our emotions have alerted us we can then examine the situation objectively and see if our emotions have informed us correctly.
There is a place for hunches, gut feelings, emotional signals and awareness of emotional atmosphere. Emotions are able to reduce a very complex situation down to a certain feeling or impulse and they do this very quickly and efficiently. Emotions are thus meant to be initial assessments of complex situations – but only initial assessments. Emotions can make us attracted, suspicious, repelled, guarded, curious or astonished at a given situation. Sometimes this initial impression is validated by further thought at other times it is proved totally wrong.
God has placed them within us. However we need to be careful in relying on them and not mistakenly think that we are always right. If there are significant consequences from following those impressions we should be very careful and check the facts carefully before proceeding. These impressions cannot replace reasoning rather they alert us that reasoning should commence on a particular issue or line of thought. They are a stimulus to thought not an alternative to it.
When emotions are damaged the ability to form accurate impressions of situations also suffers.
Emotionally damaged people tend to be prone to mistakes in judgment. They rush into love, they hold back from friendship, they gamble on foolish ventures, and they run from shadows. The ability to sense what is happening in a situation, then to sit back and analyze it adequately, is out of kilter. People who have been emotionally damaged should not enter into a significant relationship or project until they have healed to the point where they have functional and accurate discernment. They should look at their decision-making and be careful – seeking the advice of friends and family and striving to be as objective as possible. Even if their ability to assess situations was good before it will not be as good now. This loss of judgment can be alarming but it is temporary and will pass in time as emotional healing takes place.
Many of our most powerful emotional experiences are spiritual experiences. The spiritual life and the emotional life are thus very closely connected and our meaningful spiritual experiences are nearly always highly charged with emotion. Truth, for the believer is real and living and meaningful and the discovery of truth – those great “Aha!” moments is frequently deeply emotional.
Thus it is the testimony of men and women of God down the ages is that deep spiritual experiences were also often powerful emotional events. Biography after biography talks about nights in anguished prayer, times of breakthrough and joy, deep sorrow over sin and being astounded by the presence and power of God. Revival in particular is seen as full of emotion.
However this has led to the common error that only deeply emotional experiences are truly genuine spiritual experiences. The true convert is expected to weep or be joyous or have certain feelings. The emotion, which often accompanies spiritual change, has in some cases become required. That is simply not a biblical stance. The biblical sign of true conversion is a life lived so that repentance is demonstrated and the “fruits of repentance” are shown. The life, not the emotions, is the true indicator of piety.
Variance in Emotionality
Thus a highly emotional person is not more or less spiritual than a relatively unemotional person.
The emotional volume level is not terribly important. What is important is that we have the right sorts of emotions. We should feel some sort of contrition when we do wrong. We should feel compassion for the hungry. We should feel indignation when blasphemy occurs. These are proper and holy emotions. Improper and unholy emotions might include rage over a trivial insult or jealousy over a person’s success. The question is not whether the emotion is loud or muted but whether it is holy or fleshly.
Ecstasy, Trance, Dreams and Vision
A vision does not make a saint. Powerful spiritual phenomena are recorded both for genuine prophets, seers and mystics and for false prophets, cult leaders and mischief-makers. Most
Christians seem to have a significant dream or vision at some point in their life. A few have them often. However most dreams, visions and experiences of trance seem to be of fairly limited value. At no point are Christians exhorted to enter into altered states of consciousness. Rather they are at times warned about excesses in this area and placing too much emphasis on dreams and visions
Thus we need to take our dreams and visions seriously and evaluate them wisely and in a balanced and biblical fashion. Writing then down is helpful and then leave them in the notebook while you pray and consult the Scriptures and perhaps a wise Christian or three. Here are a few guidelines for doing the evaluation:
•Chronological date setting is not found in Scripture, so I doubt any dream that uses actual times and dates (e.g. 18th September 2003) to forecast the future. The Scriptures use event time, (e.g. seven years after the appearance of the man of lawlessness) not clock time, when setting the prophetic calendar.
•If after your dream or vision you find yourself convinced of your own spiritual importance then pause, stop think. Spiritual pride is not what God wants. The dream or vision is not Scripture and is very probably not a new chapter in the book of Revelation. Calm down, evaluate it very carefully and then share it with a few others. Humility will help you sort out the truth.
•Dreams and visions and spiritual experiences can come from God, from your own imagination, or from the Devil. Those from God are scriptural and edifying and point to the complete sovereignty of God and glorify His Son Jesus Christ, those from self tend to be filled with daily events or political events and are often self-centred, those from the Devil are tempting or terrifying or accusing.
•I do not think it is presumptuous to say “Lord if that dream was of you please give it to me three nights running and substantiate it with Scripture and other signs.” God allows us to test the spiritual realm (1 John 4:1-3). This is especially so if the dream points to a major change in life direction.
•No dream that contradicts Scripture, invites you to sin, fills you with pride or terrifies you out of your mind, is from God.
•The power of the emotion in the dream does not tell you how important or spiritually valuable the dream is. You can have powerfully emotional dreams following too much pizza but they are of no spiritual value. The spiritual value is determined by carefully weighing the dream against Scripture.
•Many dreams do not carry direct symbols that are easily interpreted (like the fig tree for Israel). Most of the language of dreams and visions comes from within your own subconscious and the metaphors you use to yourself. They are like the cartoons in the paper. So if in your dream your wife has a knife in her neck it may not mean she is going to die. Instead it probably means that you are finding her to be a “pain in the neck” and that the argument over the dishes has made its way into your dreams. After you have written down your dream look for the metaphors you commonly use and see if any have popped into it. This is a good starting point for interpretation.
•Doctrine flows from Scripture in context not dreams and visions. A dream may serve as an illustration of a doctrine (I once had a wonderful dream of Jesus as the Shepherd) but they are not the source of doctrine. A dream or vision can be your subconscious making truth real to you in pictorial form but it does not invent new truth. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the tree n Daniel 4 merely told him he needed to become humble – it illustrated an already existing doctrine and carried God’s warning of the consequences of sin (as many dreams do, see Genesis 20:3-7).
•Some people experience vivid dreams in response to political events in the news.
Hundreds of such dreams and visions have been sent to me over the Internet and at least ninety-seven percent of them have been substantially wrong. They generally predict invasions of America or Australia, gigantic tidal waves, and huge earthquakes. My theory is that such dreams represent a way of dealing with anxiety over the instability and wickedness we see around us. They carry a spirit of fear and anxiety within their structure and seem to lack substance.
•Demonic dreams tend to fall into four categories inflating, accusing, terrifying or seductive. Inflating dreams convince the person of their own importance and generate spiritual pride, accusing dreams “reveal” the supposedly secret sins of another person or convince the dreamer of their own inevitable damnation and judgment, terrifying dreams use fear as their main weapon and often involve demons and masks and sometimes leave the person struggling to breathe, seductive dreams involve very realistic and vivid dreams of sexual acts and are powerfully alluring playing on the deep sensuality in the person to make them wake up with a strong desire to sin.
•Dreams can result in distraction from ministry. Quite a few of my colleagues in the ministry have moved out of flourishing but difficult ministries and gone to a place they saw in a dream to start a “new and exciting ministry”. In every case I think they have ended up disillusioned. My theory is that sometimes the pressures of ministry make us want out and our subconscious manufactures a way out for us in the form of a spiritually acceptable dream or vision. Such callings should be tested over time.
Powerful spiritual experiences and dreams and visions are not to be feared and fled from.
Nether are they to be over-rated. Rather they are to be carefully tested and the truth extracted from them.
The Point Of Balance
Here are some hints that may help you to find a “place to stand” so you can take charge of your own emotional life.
•Make a definite and clear decision to place Jesus in charge of your life with your Spiritfilled mind as His CEO. Your mind, set on the Spirit, has delegated authority from God to bring the rest of you under control and into line with His purposes.
•Realise that you are the boss. You are the master of your emotions. They are not the master of you. You have a right to tell them what to do. They are your emotions after all, your property so to speak.
•Realise that you have the control panel inside you. You can press the “red button” and take control of the fight-or flight response. You can modulate the volumes of emotions and control them.
•Don’t disown your emotions. You have to own them before you can boss them!
•Realise that the apparent authority of strong emotions is largely illusory. They are just part of you, they are not the President of the U.S.A. They may feel compelling but they have no right to compel you at all.
•Think. Use logic. Stop and think hard about where your emotions are taking you. Check the consequences of the actions. Choose to be rational and sensible.
•Evaluate the truth of the propositions the strong emotions are putting to you such as “it would be a good idea to punch X” or more subtly “You should follow your heart and have an affair”. Even if these things feel true and right and authentic and satisfying and fulfilling they may be wrong. See Genesis 3! Choose to stand on God’s Word.
•Apply the principles in the chapter on mastery.
•Be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. Just pray “Lord fill me with the Holy Spirit and grant me wisdom and self-control and fix my mind on You.” That is the sort of prayer
He delights to answer. If you can get hold of the Campus Crusade booklet “How To Be
Filled With The Holy Spirit” you will find it a big help and very practical and easy to use.
•Be aware of your weaknesses. Know that “under such and such circumstances I tend to react in X manner”. Check yourself. Watch yourself carefully. Have friends keep you accountable and have them pray with you and help you find your point of wisdom and balance.
•Get it very clear that the Holy Spirit is wise and intelligent and His leadings are generally wise and intelligent. Don’t destabilize yourself by following many crazy ideas thinking they are leadings from the Holy Spirit. Stand in wisdom and do not move from it.
By practicing the above techniques on a daily basis you will gradually learn how to generate dignity, power and poise. Day by day you will become a stronger person not tossed here and there by every strong emotion that comes your way. You will hop off the roller-coaster of your own emotions and start to take charge of yourself and your destiny. Best of all you will learn to be a Spirit-filled Christian and be able to consistently demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit.
Once we have started mastering ourselves we can more fully engage in profitable relationships with others. To do this, and to minister grace, we need to be able to recognize and understand their emotions, which is the subject of the next chapter.
14. Recognizing And Understanding Emotions In Others
There are about 30 or so common emotions that are reasonably easily recognized. These include, fear, surprise, apprehension, sadness, elation, doubt, anxiety, guilt, contentment, sexual interest, curiosity, anger, frustration, annoyance, and laughter amongst others. A sensitive, discerning person may be able to recognize hundreds of different types of emotions while an abusive person may recognize as few as nine or ten. Criminals frequently have trouble recognizing or identifying with the emotions of their victims. Sociopaths are almost completely unable to recognize emotions in others in any meaningful way.
Jesus’ advice on the topic of discerning other people was generally simply to look at their actions, not their words and especially to look at the fruit of their lives. (Matthew 7:20) Later on we will see why that advice is so valuable. For now we just need to note that Jesus did advocate using one’s eyes ears and intellect when reading other people. Jesus did not recommend a peculiar mystical formula for arriving at conclusions about people but rather He recommended careful and prayerful analysis based on facts taken over time. While this advice was primarily aimed at helping the disciples assess human character it is also good advice when assessing human emotions.
Emotional Recognition and Christian Ministry
Sensitive and caring ministry to others depends on being able to accurately recognize and understand the source of emotion in others. Without this skill pastoral care will be clumsy at best and damaging at worst. Tasks such as counseling and prayer ministry require a fine feeling for personal emotions. If God has called us to ministry He has called us to minister grace to a hurting and damaged world and called us to be able to understand people – including being able to read their emotions.
Interestingly some research suggests that introverts have better skills at recognizing emotions than extraverts. Given that extraverts are more socially active this seems surprising. Perhaps introverts have greater sensitivity which makes them withdraw from numerous interactions through overload. It also gives some truth to the stereotype of the loud, insensitive extravert! Thus quiet sensitive counselors and spiritual directors may indeed be the ones to look for when you want your emotions deeply understood.
In reading another person’s heart the thoughts, intents and feelings need to be surfaced. There are some gender differences in what people conceal and what they are willing to reveal though these are far from absolute. In general I find men are willing to talk about their plans and intentions and tend to conceal their feelings while tend to women conceal their plans and intentions and are more revealing of their feelings. While it is relatively easy to recognize the six basic emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust it is very hard to recognize thoughts and intentions and the more subtle emotions such as apprehension and tentativeness. Reading people deeply takes time and practice and wisdom. Here are a few clues I have found helpful:
1. Start from a neutral position as free as possible from your own baggage. The more emotion you are carrying – and thereby projecting onto others, the more inaccurate you are.
2. If you do have a great deal of pain, do not try counseling others until you have dealt with it. There is generally too much baggage there to be accurate in reading emotions and to be therapeutic in counseling.
3. Do not take the latest bit of psychology you have read and dump its conclusions and observations on everyone. In general look at the objective facts about the person first then, much later, employ your theories.
4. There is no prize for the hastiest judgment. Suspend religious judgments until all the facts are in. Hasty labeling of clients and leaping to spiritual conclusions is unwise and potentially damaging. There is plenty of time to come to conclusions, so use it wisely and well.
5. Listen to understand and not to judge. There is indeed a place for confronting sin – after we have fully understood the situation. If we seek to understand first and listen intently and with intelligence and wisdom our words of admonition will be far fewer, much more on target, and more easily accepted by the parishioner.
6. Expand your own emotional vocabulary. For instance use words like exhilarated instead of “up” and ‘satisfied” instead of “good”. By becoming aware of a wide range of emotional terms as they apply to yourself you will be soon able to pick up these finer emotional tones in others as well. Roget’s Thesaurus is a good starting point.
7. Use the “mirror principle” to work out what the other person is thinking. By the mirror principle I mean the observation that what A thinks of B is generally the mirror opposite of what B thinks of A. For instance if you think someone is very tall then you probably look short to him or her. If you think someone is not too intelligent you probably look like a complicated intellectual to him or her. If you think that certain people are quiet and polite they probably think you are loud and rude. And if you think young people are loud and over the top and energetic they probably think you are staid, quiet and a bit on the slow side. People are often seeing you in an exact mirror image of how you see them.
8. If you can get hold of a “chart of emotions’ do so. These charts have dozens of different facial expressions with the emotions labeled underneath. A counselor should be able to help you get hold of one.
9. Don’t just read one aspect e.g. facial expressions, voice, body language or verbal statements. Survey the whole person and watch for patterns as a whole. Just reading body language alone can lead you astray. For instance a person with their arms crossed may be just cold from the air-conditioning – not rejecting what you are saying at all. You need to look at all the other factors as well.
10. Try and figure out what they are not saying as well as what they are saying. For instance if a client talks freely about everyone in their family with the exception of their father – about whom they are totally silent, then there may be something worth exploring.
11. Study crowds and pick up on social distance, actions and reactions. The location of the person in the room, who they are talking to, how many people they move amongst and the degree of animation they are showing. For instance a person who is feeling timid may be in the corner of the room, the person who is feeling lonely may be on their own, the socially insecure may be glued to just one person and the tragically disconnected person may be near the bar and drinking a bit too much.
12. Assume that even the most seemingly irrational behavior seems intelligent to the person doing it. Then try and work out what that reason is. What thought is behind it? What need are they trying to meet? What emotion is driving it?
False Positives and False Negatives
Most of us have an area that we “get wrong” consistently when reading others. A “false positive” is when you think someone is happy and they are not. It is mistakenly thinking the situation is better than it is. These false attributions can have enormous social consequences. The young man who thinks a girl loves him when she does not and goes away heartbroken, the husband who thinks his wife is flirting with other men when it is not the case and becomes enraged “over nothing”, or the feeling in many offices that “the boss does not care about us’ when that is often far from the truth. Learning to read other people’s emotions accurately can thus save us much pain.
False reading of other people’s emotions leads to mistaken action and reactions on our behalf.
People react to “shadows” instead of realities and defend themselves from perceived emotional threats that simply do not exist. For instance if we believe that the boss hates us and is about to fire us we may start a rumor campaign or even resign our job to avoid the rejection. What a surprise if we get promoted instead! We do not just react to circumstances we react to our interpretation of those circumstances particularly the emotional perception – whether we are liked or disliked, accepted or rejected, valued or despised. Most people will stay at even a lower paying job if they perceive they are liked, accepted and valued. Therefore people who habitually see the world as disliking them, rejecting then and despising them are going to find life tough going.
They, like Cain, will be a wanderer on the earth. This is indeed tragic if their fears are unjustified and their rejection only in their own minds.
To continue this thought for a while we need to look at how “false negatives” can affect us socially and politically. When people constantly misread others intentions towards them and this spreads to an entire group then entire churches, denominations, cities and even nations can become embroiled in it. This group aspect of emotional misunderstanding is often indicated by phrases such as “they hate me” or “they are up to something” where “they” is rather loosely defined. Eventually false negatives can come to include whole classes of people e.g. “all men are lustful rapists” or “all Americans hate Muslims” which of course rapidly leads to prejudice. If this goes far enough the false negative can involve an all-embracing projection of fear and suspicion upon the total environment. This fear and defensiveness produces a harsh defining of boundaries between those who are “in” and those who are “out”, those who are with us and those who are against us. Or even between those who are of God and those who are of Satan. Fear, paranoia, prejudice and hatred can all flow from allowing false negative attributions of others to grow and become believed.
How do these false perceptions come about? They mainly come about through three basic errors in observation and logic:
- The first error is not gathering all the facts, or using a biased source of facts.
(Take the prejudice “All Muslims are terrorists”. If we base our sampling on action movies where all the Muslims are terrorists we may arrive at this conclusion. However if we gather all the facts we will find that there are over 1 billion Muslims and that there are maybe 10,000 terrorists. So if we do our sums we see that only one in one hundred thousand Muslims are terrorists. Thus the complete facts do not bear out the prejudice that all Muslims are terrorists. If truth be told, the facts paint the opposite picture.)
- The second error is choosing to unjustifiably filter the facts so that some aspects are emphasized and some heavily discounted. For instance take the radical feminist rhetoric “all men are rapists”.
This is easily disproved statistically. However someone being shown the statistics on rape might say “Ok not all men have been caught as rapists and maybe not all men have raped someone – but they would if they could” and thus the false negative is maintained by using a “filter” which keeps the prejudice intact.
- Or thirdly we can have no facts at all. The whole thing can be imaginary. We can be so completely inaccurate in our reading of people that we get it completely wrong to begin with.
This is often due to our family background training us to see things a certain way e.g. training us to see rejection where there is none or being unduly suspicious of others motives.
Another source of error that I find is becoming common in Christian circles is “mystical attributions” such as “I sense in my spirit that so and so has a Jezebel spirit”. This often lacks an objective basis in fact. Where I have seen it in operation it has been a power play that makes the speaker look spiritual and perceptive and labels their enemy with a stigma that is difficult to contest or remove. Unless there is substantial good evidence for such a judgment these mystical observations that are plucked out of the ether should be treated as insubstantial and perhaps even as dangerous. At best they come from being misled about the nature of the gift of discernment.
Genuine discernment is both spiritual and intelligent with the Holy Spirit operating through a renewed and quickened intellect not just through impressions.
People who operate through inner impressions alone are liable to serious error. Those who have a genuine gift of discernment are generally characterized by a sharp mind, a habit of continual observation, a deep and quiet graciousness, a listening spirit and the ability to keep their conclusions to themselves. While the spiritual man does indeed judge all things he or she does not do so irrationally and hastily or solely on the basis of an inner intuition. True spiritual judgment is solid and substantiated. The spiritual perception is a new framework that encompasses all known and substantiated facts. First there is observation and fact, then there is interpretation of all the observed facts in the light of Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
At this point take a minute and ask yourself the following questions about the ay you form judgments:
Do others say that you are overly critical or defensive?
How often do you properly gather the data?
How often do you sit down and calculate things out and check the facts?
Do you thoroughly search the Scriptures using a concordance or computer bible or do you just pluck verses from here and there?
Do you “look on the negative side of things”?
Do you filter out positives?
Do you over-emphasize negatives?
Do you anticipate rejection when there is none?
Are you often suspicious of people and then find out that your suspicions were unjustified?
Do you draw sharp boundaries between groups of people, lumping them together as “in” or “out’, good or bad, with you or against you?
Do you fix on the negative and ignore the positive?
Does one bad part make the whole thing wrong for you?
Do you go on inner intuitions and dark emotions separate from objective evidence?
Do you feel that you must play judge, jury and executioner?
Do you imagine terrible things about people and imagine them doing evil deeds? (e.g. “I am sure our neighbors are bank robbers.”)
If this partly describes you then you need to be aware of these tendencies and strive to counteract them. If you have a constant sense of rejection you may need to tell yourself: “I am probably just imagining this, I always see more rejection than there is.” If you are overly suspicious stop and ask “Is this the real picture, are my suspicions based on solid evidence, not just wild fancies? If you are constantly defensive and see criticism in every remark, then try and re-interpret those remarks “Maybe they were just making a constructive suggestion, maybe it wasn’t a personal criticism at all.”
This involves standing outside your own mental processes and evaluating them. Its called “metacognition” or thinking about thinking. You think about the way in which you think and as you do this you correct that which is unhelpful, illogical, irrational or untrue. In the realm of emotions we do this by realizing that our thinking about our emotional environment and other people may be wrong. We than think about our thinking and challenge our negative perceptions with the simple question “Is this really so?” Is it really so that my wife is having an affair? Is it really so that my neighbor is a bank robber? It is really so that everyone is out to get me?
Good emotional recognition means picking up the emotions that truly are present in the situation such as love and acceptance and not projecting into it emotions that may not be truly present in the situation such as criticism and rejection.
False positives are generally not as dangerous as false negatives but can be just as difficult to recognize and deal with. The pastor may build a castle from a compliment and may start to believe that everyone likes him and become oblivious to his weaknesses. The naïve and sheltered may honestly believe that all people are beautiful and have good intentions – and only find out otherwise in one of life’s hard lessons. The missionary may think that the village accepts him because it is polite to him while underneath they are seething with anger at his cultural blunders.
The indication of false positives is constant disappointment. The girl does not love you. The wonderful business opportunity sends you broke. The church does not renew your call. The village eventually tells you what it thinks. There is a balance here, on one hand its good to be positive, optimistic, hopeful and full of faith and its Ok to strive high and fall flat now and then.
That’s part of the journey, an honest mistake. On the other hand it’s lousy to be constantly and continually disappointed, ripped off and hurt. Lets be blunt, its stupid, its folly, its not listening to your warning bells. There is often a fine line between faith and folly and pain is a warning of folly. Blows are made for the backs of fools. If you are constantly disappointed in relationships then perhaps you are just too optimistic about how much people love you. If you are in a constant state of shock and your plans come down with a thud at regular intervals perhaps a reality check is in order.
There are two main sources of false positives which are a) being conned by others and b) being conned by ourselves. Sometimes the two work together so that people who want something from us play on our vanity and then we go home and strut and preen and daydream about how wonderful we are. As we do this we edge closer and closer to catastrophe and disappointment.
The Bible does not paint the picture of a world filled with good, nice people who we can trust and who really love us. Neither does it paint a picture of a world full of terrorists. It paints the picture of a selfish world that has disconnected itself from God. This should be our picture also. If we see everyone as “nice” we probably have a wrong picture, or a very low standard of what being nice is. If we walk into a new group of people and believe we have been instantly accepted and that everyone loves us and is only thinking about our welfare – then perhaps you should double check. Maybe behind their acceptance they have a selfish motive.
It does not hurt to ask the question “Is it really so?” in positive circumstances, especially if they are unusually positive, and very especially if things seem “too good to be true”. I have no intention of plunging you into doubt and cynicism, that’s why I dealt with false negatives first.
But I do not want you to be ripped off by nice salesmen of shonky goods, used cars, cheap real estate and fake watches; or in the spiritual realm by cults and some televangelists. My experience is that perhaps a dozen people, tops, really love us, and act in our interest and care about us.
That’s good and it makes life worthwhile. The rest of the 6 billion people on the planet are only being nice in order to get something. Now that’s Ok if it’s a fair trade. But sometimes its not a fair trade and we are being conned or used. In which case we get disappointed. You cannot trust the 6 billion like you trust the twelve. You need to be careful and cautious and wise.
The questions I find most helpful in digging out reality are:
•What is their track record?
•What is this leading to?
•Why do they want me in particular?
•If I look at their actions alone, separate from their words and stated policies, what picture do I get?
•What are the statistics on this? (business opportunity etc.) Are they showing the stats to me? Are the stats they are showing me reliable and verifiable
•How much extrapolation is going on here? Am I taking a little acceptance to mean total acceptance or a little profit as an indicator of great riches to come? Am I just daydreaming?
•What percentage of people who do this are truly successful? Are the trainers and speakers rich and everyone else poor? Does the business itself generate money or does talking about it generate the money and the business itself is a scam?
•What are the obvious, logical interests of this person/group of people?
•What about the big four areas of self-interest which are money, sex, power and status; are they involved in this, if so, how?
•What do they want from me? Can I deliver those expectations? Should I deliver those expectations?
•Will I get a fair deal at the end of the day?
The above questions may seem at first to have little to do with our emotions. But they do have a lot to do with avoiding disappointment on one hand and not becoming overly cynical on the other. They are questions that will bring you to the truth of the matter and help you get in contact with reality, which is ALWAYS good for us emotionally. These questions do not have to give negative answers. You may indeed find out that you will profit, that it is a fair deal, they do really like you and they are reliable, honest people with a good track record. If so go good! Go for it!
The above questions will help you sort out the wheat from the chaff and the rogues from the rest. They will enable you to lead a less ripped off life and guide you to worthwhile and profitable areas to spend your time, money and life energy.
Other than being conned by others we can be conned by ourselves. We can mistake mere politeness for genuine love or being given a position on a committee for genuine acceptance. We project our own faith and hopefulness into the situation. We extrapolate and we build castles in the air. We build expectations of love and warmth and hope and success that go way beyond the facts, and that this world may not deliver on. Pride and vanity alter our ability to objectively look at ourselves and our plans and others. Pride and vanity puff us up so that it becomes painful to be honest with ourselves and hard to look reality in the face. We need to come to a “sober estimate”, not a wildly projected estimate, of ourselves and of reality. When we have a fair idea of who we are we and who others are we can see past flattery and politeness simply accepting them as normal social nonsense. We can then instead listen to the real heart values and concerns of those around us. We can hear what they are really saying. We can learn to cope with the truth; which well may be that “we are mainly selfish and only love you a little bit”. If we are to perceive the emotions of other people truly and understand and communicate with them well, and attain to a high biblical EQ, then we must be humble and meek to hear what is really there.
What’s Going On Here?
One of the big barriers to correctly reading the emotions of another person is that we cannot understand how on earth they could possibly react that way. We make light of reality of the other person’s emotions. People may react in immature ways but we still need to try and understand the source of their immaturity. Writing someone off as “just unspiritual” without understanding why they are unspiritual does not contribute to the solution. It only contributes to the problem.
•Firstly acknowledge the emotion as real. It may seem bizarre but it is never the less being expressed.
•Next, search for the concept that the person is acting on or reacting to. With the teenager the concept they are reacting to may be “you don’t listen and you don’t understand”.
•Try to put that concept in a single phrase or sentence. Once you have boiled down what they are reacting to in one sentence you have probably got the gist of the matter.
•Then ask “why have they come to that conclusion, is it a mistaken conclusion or a correct conclusion, and what can I do to help the matter?”
With those four simple steps you can go a long way to sorting through emotions. In addition bear in mind the three levels of a difficult conversation I mentioned earlier in this book – Facts, Feelings and Identity:
- What are the facts of the situation?
- How are they interpreting those facts and generating certain feelings?
- What are they sensing about their identity – is their core being under threat in some way?
To sum up this chapter – as Christians we need to be sensitive to the emotions of others so we can minister grace to a fragile and hurting world. This means we need to be able to accurately read other people’s emotions. If our judgments are inaccurate it is often because of false positives or false negatives. We need to review our thinking patterns so they are both faith-filled and positive but also realistic and humble. Much can be gained by distilling the thought behind a person’s emotion into a single sentence. This sentence provides the key thought that they are acting on or reacting to. It can also help to ask about the facts, feelings and identity issues involved.
15. The Appropriate Expression of Emotions
Once we are in touch with our own emotions and the emotions of others we need to put those feelings into words so that they touch minds and hearts and minister the grace of Jesus Christ to the world.
Issues of Timing -There Is A Time
We are not free to just “let fly” with our emotions. According to Scripture there is an appropriate time for each and every form of emotional expression. Generally our emotions should be matched to those around us so we “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Culture, circumstances and social dynamics normally tell us what emotional expression is appropriate in any given situation but this can be modified by the Holy Spirit from time to time.
However God calls us to speak we should remember that it is His interests we are serving with our every word and every expression of emotion. Our communication is to flow from the Spirit and be for the edification of others. It is not our own interests we serve or our own need for expressing ourselves. Ultimately love of God and love of neighbor should govern the expression and timing of our emotions. Let’s look at a few Scriptural guidelines on how we can do this.
Issues of Intensity - Being Strong With The Strong And Weak With The Weak
We need to match our emotional expression with the strength of the person and the depth of the spiritual needs of those around us.
We are to be both priest and prophet. Is the person strong and hard and do they need to be brought to repentance? Then be strong and speak like a prophet. Are they troubled in soul, then minister grace like a priest.
Issues of Place - Private and Public Emotion
In church life we have different levels of sharing, that which we share with God alone, and that which we share without our family and close friends, that which share with a cell group and that which will share with the general public. As a rule of thumb the higher the level of emotion the more private the sharing should be. Emotional sharing is restricted to where it can safely edify the people who hear.
The exception to this is in small groups where intimacy has developed over time and permission for deep sharing is an understood part of the group dynamics. How can we know what is appropriate expression of emotions and spiritual experiences? Firstly we need to ask does it match the emotional tone and volume of the group. Is the sharing much more intense than what other people are sharing? Is it much “deeper” than the group normally copes with? Is it in a tone of voice that is much louder and strident than the other sharing? Is it about matters that other people cannot cope with or have no personal experience of? Are people looking awkward and embarrassed? Are you expecting people who hardly know you to act as family or close friends, or even to be therapeutic for you?
Secondly we need to ask if God meant us to share it in the first place.
Thirdly we need to spiritually evaluate that which we think the Lord has told us to share especially if it has a high emotional content.
Fourthly we need to be careful about the presence of young people and those with more sensitive and impressionable dispositions.
Fifthly ministers need to be extremely careful about sharing intimate or sensational information, especially that of a sexual nature, from the pulpit. There are certain lines we need to draw when dealing with social evils
Finally deep emotions should only be shared when there is genuine trust already present – not to elicit trust or as an act of manipulation. Some clever people share their emotions in a way that gets people in. They use emotional sharing to build trust – which they later violate. Proper emotional sharing is built on pre-existing trust and is not a tool to manipulate others with.
Issues of Balance – Ensuring You Get Both Parts Of Your Message Across
Emotions are often mixed and in order to express them clearly we need to give a picture of all the emotions involved in a particular situation and their relative strengths. This use of the “light and shadow” technique takes a while to master. First of all you have to know the main fears of the other person and then you have to possess the courage to address them directly.
Issues of Emotional Truth – Why Not Fake It Till We Make It?
Christians do not express emotions for mere impression management, or for personal catharsis under the guise of authenticity. Emotions are expressed for the glory of God, for the edification of His people and or the love of one’s neighbor. Contrary to some pop psychology books this is not repression. It is in fact responsible Christian emotional management. It is not pretence; it is self-control.
Christian emotion is to be real, but it is also to be self-controlled. The emotion revealed should fit the circumstances, and it should edify others. If I am boiling mad nothing is gained by “being honest”. I am far better off maintaining self-control. But neither should I fake happiness in order to disguise my anger.
16. Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing
There is a succession of ideas and “spiritual stages” here, each of which leads to the next and forms the foundation for the one to come:
1) We are strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner self.
2) This leads to Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith.
3) We then become rooted and grounded in love
4) We comprehend with all the saints the greatness of the love of Christ
5) That we may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The practice and the experience of love, leads us to the fullness of God. The high reaches of the spiritual life are about perfecting our ability to love God and love one another. Love is the ultimate in biblical EQ. The ultimate use of our emotions is love of God expressed in worship and that is the use they will be put to in Heaven. The ultimate state of our emotions is pure love. The ultimate pitch of our emotions is when we can love our enemies.
The path to spiritual perfection is the path of loving our enemies, overcoming our fight or flight response, exercising our biblical EQ skills and dwelling in a perfect benevolence towards all, free from animosity, hatred, revenge and the spiteful impulses of the flesh. That is high ground indeed.
But first a definition of love:
Love is a lawful and practical way of life, which we live out from Christ within us, in a common benevolent connection with God and with others.
Love is lawful. It rejoices in the truth and takes no pleasure in evil.
Love is practical. Faith working through love should move us to do the good deeds that God has prepared beforehand for us to do
Love is a way of life. To “walk in love” means to make it our lifestyle.
Love is lived out from Christ within us Love is a Jesus thing. Love is what Jesus in us wants to do. Love flows from Christ within us. The natural man cannot attain to this sort of love, the love that cares for enemies, that abides in the commandments of God and makes us into the fullness of God. If the natural man could do that then God would have kept Jesus in heaven. If the natural man was adequate to become like God then there is no need for a cross, a resurrection, an indwelling Holy Spirit and a new nature. So if we need a new nature to love then the old nature is useless and the Law is useless. Law-keeping does not makes us loving it only makes us defeated and condemned because we are weak and the flesh always wins. At best the Law is a holy, and righteous and good tutor that brings conviction of sin and leads us to repentance. The natural man under the tutelage of the holy, righteous and just law just ended up a sordid mess. The flesh ran rampant. God got locked out. So God instituted a new covenant, in Christ, where the law is written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit and the Christian life is lived from the inside out, not from the law book in.
Listen! You can only live the Christian life one way – from Jesus in you, out to others and the world. Love is not a feeling that comes into you. Love is living water that flows out of your inmost being because Christ dwells in your hearts by faith. Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! Christ in you is THE hope of glory. The only hope, the sole hope, He is all you have got in the fight against sin and the quest for a godly character. Your strength, intellect, cleverness, willpower and rule-keeping cannot avail. They are not a ‘hope of glory”. They are certain and agonising defeat. It is God who is at work within you! Let the new man live the new life. Let Jesus in you love others through you.
Love involves a common benevolent connection with God
Many counseling theorists are now exploring the transformational power of love as it flows in direct personal connection to God and to others. Our selfish individuality has led us astray. For too long we have wanted counseling recipes we can work on our own without having to open up to God or man. We are discovering that God has designed His world to be firstly connected to Him and then to one another in a huge inter-connected cascade of love.
“To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled..” (Ephesians 3:19).
The knowing of the love is vital. It’s the connection that is transformational. Its knowing Christ, and the extent of His love, that matures us. It’s the experiencing of that relationship, and being rooted and grounded in love, which stabilizes us. I commenced my Christian life believing that I should be “well grounded in the Scriptures” and that was good and helpful. However it was only much later that I saw the need to be rooted and grounded in love and in Christ. You and I are grounded in a personal relationship with our Savior. Now even if my Bible was confiscated I would still have my rock solid foundation in my relationship with God. The Scriptures have contributed immensely to that relationship of course. However I relate to a Person not a set of Scriptures or even a set of elegant doctrines. Now its God’s Spirit within me, and His personal connection to me, that changes me from glory to glory.
Connection is everything and through it we receive the love that truly changes us. God is our greatest and only real need. We do not need to go on eating, or working or breathing, but we do need to stay in connection with God. We establish that connection at our conversion when we repent from sin and being disconnected and place our faith in Christ. We maintain that connection through setting our minds on the Spirit, on things above, and on Christ and the interests of God.
We need to make a definite clear commitment to fix our minds in the right place. That’s the only thing we can do to keep the connection open. The mind is the only part of our consciousness we can control. Fixing it on God through prayer, meditation and concentrated love in the Spirit is all
I can humanly do to maintain my transforming link with God.
Through the transforming work this connection works in me I gain mastery over the fight or flight response, over the flesh and all the wrong impulses it contains. Through this connection I find the power to be obedient and I obey, in the Spirit, not according to the letter. Over time the Spirit produces His fruit in me and I bear love, joy and peace and become humble, meek, patient, gentle, kind and full of self-control. I begin to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. I have the strength in the inner self not to retaliate. I become rooted and grounded in love and my world moves from being self-centered to God centered and other-serving. I start communicating with grace and ministering effectively and grasping the height and depth and width and length of the love of God until, many years from now, I am filled up with all the fullness of God.
This connection seems horribly fragile at first and the Devil tries his best to break it. He assails it with doubt, confusion, distraction, lust, and every spiritual attack he can manage. The first part of this book addresses those concerns and it is clear that we can damage our connection through sin and carnality. Now lets look at what the Scriptures say about the nature of our connection to God.
As you read the Scriptures below notice: a) What God has done to establish the connection with us, and the nature of that connection. b) What we must do to maintain the connection, c) How our connection with God also means connection with other Christians.
God has done an enormous preparatory work. He has brought us near by the blood of Christ, which cleanses us from sin and allows us to approach the throne of grace in time of need. We have access to the Father through the Spirit and this access is so intimate that Paul says we are joined to the Lord and one spirit with Him. We are at peace with God and the love of God pours into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us. Yet as we saw earlier we can grieve and quench and resist the Spirit by sinning. Maintaining the connection means maintaining a good relationship with the Holy Spirit who is our access to God. To keep that connection wide open and draw near to God we must purify our hearts if we are double-minded and put away sin. We also need to deal with speculative spirituality that can disconnect us from the Head which is Christ. We have to flee greed and worldliness and the love of money and pursue virtue as Timothy did so that we may lay hold of eternal life. Keeping our connection strong may involve some vigorous effort, in the midst of persecution we may have to hold fast and not deny the faith, an injunction that appears man times in the letters to the seven churches
What we are doing in all this is not inventing a new law but maintaining an existing relationship we have with God through faith according to His grace. Our relationship started with a faith connection to God and it is maintained by keeping that faith connection in good shape so that the
Christian life can be said to be “from faith to faith”.
Now the faith connection is kept in good shape by intensely loving God, and having our minds fixed on Him so His Spirit can touch our consciousness, which is absolutely staked on things above. Christ in me wants to focus His entire attention on the Father and the things of the Spirit but for some reason that God has built into things, it requires my mind to be set on things above.
There is an act of my will before Christ can most fully connect. As the Father communicates with
His Son in me, by the Spirit which gives us access to the Father, I experience grace and am transformed.
This grace requires my faith. I must trust God and trust His word and launch out and rest myself on Him. As I draw near to God by faith I will naturally move away from sin. If I want to stay near to sin, it is very hard to draw near to God. Faith means trusting that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Faith is the inner pragmatic calculation that the goodness I will receive through my connection with God far outweighs the goodness I think I will receive through sin. It’s a decision that the word of God is reliable, and that the reward He promised will arrive, and that God is utterly trustworthy. God gives me a hint that this is so through the Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of the inheritance to come. As I make this definite, tough, strong decision to seek my goodness in God and not in sin the Christ life within me is fully released.
This is “holding fast”. I do not mean that you need to hold fast or you will fall away. It’s not that sort of holding fast. You are not in a precarious relationship with an angry Creator. You stand forgiven in the love of God. The problem is “me”, not God, it is I who break the connection not Him. I hold fast in order not to disconnect myself from the Head or grieve the Holy Spirit that pours Himself out into my heart
Lets try it another way. The relationship with God is rock solid on His side. I do not have to do anything to please Him. I am justified by faith alone and not by any works of the law. I am safe in grace. It’s like a marriage here in the Philippines where there is no possibility of divorce. You can sin all your like in that marriage and theoretically and legally it will never rupture. It is rock solid.
But I love my wife and I value our relationship and I have no wish to grieve her so I do not sin against her. Similarly I am safe with God, and legally speaking the relationship is rock solid, I can sin a great deal and still He will be faithful even though I am faithless. But if I did so the transforming relationship of agape love would be in tatters. I have no desire to grieve
Him, and so I choose not to sin, not because I “have to” in order to get into heaven, but because I want to in order to know Him more fully and because I want to be transformed by His love being poured out in my heart through the Holy Spirit. I have decided for the fullness of the Christ-like life. However sin grieves Him. Sin is disruptive to our relationship so it must go. I don’t want it.
As we love, we fulfill the Law, become imitators of God, and perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, we attain to all the fullness of God, and we abide in God and He abides in us, and we become like Him and share key aspects of His nature so the apostle can say “as He is, we are”. This is not heresy it is Scripture. God intends us to be like Jesus, in every aspect and to be full of love. That is, we are to be spiritual, eternal, loving, wise, and mature like Jesus is. We are the redeemed. We are the brands snatched from the fire. We are the ones clothed in white standing before the throne of God, and as we stand there we will realize that we are like Him. Our destiny is to bear his image and we will be eternal, and immortal, and clothed in a spiritual body. We will be so like Him that Jesus will not be ashamed to call us brethren. God has done something magnificent in us by grace, and seated us in heavenly realms with himself that the succeeding ages may marvel. The inheritance I want is to be so transformed by God’s blazing love poured out in my heart that I am made utterly like Jesus Christ. That is something worth focusing on, and it makes leaving sin alone very worthwhile.
Love involves connecting with others
Selfishness comes from people who believe in preserving themselves, at all costs, and being competitive. The selfish person who pushes into the queue at the ATM is self-preserving (of their time) and competitive (with the others in the queue). Selfishness results in envy and selfish ambition and a whole list of rotten behaviors that cause disorder in churches and communities and are very well described in James 3 and Galatians 5. In direct contrast with this, love of others flows from self-giving via the cross.
When God wanted to love the world He did not send a poem. He did not send an email with a nice graphic and a catchy tune. He sent His Son, thus He gave Himself. When we love others we send a bit of ourselves to them. When Christ loves others through us, He sends a bit of Himself to others through us. Thus when I love others I establish a connection and send a bit of myself along that connection to them, at the same time Christ uses that connection to send Himself to them. God is still sending His Son into the world – through you and I.
Christ is in His body. Where His body goes Jesus goes, what His body loves Jesus loves. What
His body forgives, Jesus forgives. What His body binds and looses on earth is bound and loosed in heaven. Thus there is a very intimate relationship between the love of Jesus and the love of His church. Jesus still loves the world in the sense of John 3:16, and Jesus wants to love the world, through His body the church. He wants to release His incredible love into His body that they in turn may release it to the world. The church in the early chapters of Acts was a community filled with the transformational love of
Jesus that then went out and loved people and changed the world. The basic job of the Church is not evangelism, its loving people. Loving them into maturity in Christ.
Ok why are so many churches cold and selfish or only lukewarm in their love? Here are a dozen or so reasons that may apply:
1) They have little idea of the Christ-centered and Spirit-filled life and are struggling along in legalism.
2) They have lost the vision or knowledge that the main task of the church is loving people into maturity in Christ.
3) Their concept of love is weak and little more than “being nice to people” combined with the odd affectionate statement. It lacks reality or practicality.
4) They have descended into fleshly behavior or worldly behavior and grieved the Spirit.
5) They have opted for control and respectability and quenched the Spirit.
6) They focus on the things of this world such as current events or politics or even good counseling theories rather than on Christ.
7) They have no mastery, no focus, no disciplined mental attitude, they are not steadily connected to Christ but are unstable, and are blown here and there by the latest fashions / “winds of doctrine”.
8) They have opted for liberal theology or New Age trends and follow the teachings of men, which have the appearance of wisdom and godliness, but lack any real transforming power.
9) They are riddled with disunity; this robs them of power and love.
10) They are spiritually lazy and hard of hearing or they opt for comfort and avoid the cross.
11) They are financially dishonest like Ananias and Sapphira.
12) There is gross sin or immorality in the leadership.
How then can the church be brought back to a place of burning blazing love where it loves Jesus above all and where we love one another with powerful agape love based in the Spirit so that
Jesus is giving Himself away all day long in our midst? How can we get this “connecting with one another in the power of Christ and the love of the Holy Spirit” thing going?
1) Fix any of the above 12 faults that are wrong.
2) Renew worship so it is absolutely Christ-centered. Teach on the life and ministry of Jesus.
3) Fix their minds on eternity and seek the presence of the Holy Spirit.
4) Give people a vision for real biblical love as described in this chapter and get them thirsty for it.
5) Follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
6) Engage in real, helpful practical one-another ministry (see Gene Getz’s excellent book on the one another commands). Love one another in deed and truth, not just word and tongue.
7) Try and build an adventurous, faith-filled learning community
All I am saying is connect the Church to God, and get them to release Christ in them to one another, then stand back. In a functioning Christian community the whole community is connected upwards to Jesus Christ who is the Head and then horizontally as Christ in us ministers to one another through an amazing network of interpersonal connections that carry the love of God. If each person is Christ-focused and self-giving then enormous power is present as they become one in the Spirit. I am not talking about the cultish Groupthink or group conformity, but a creative Spirit-filled diversity, where people are one in soul and spirit but as different as can be individually.
Those who minister should edify the body of Christ into unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We are back to where we began this chapter taking of the fullness of God. This fullness is achieved in community. Its something the body achieves for its members. We don’t do it to ourselves. We have to love people and be loved by people if the fullness is going to happen for us. How do we get there? By speaking the truth in love, and speaking the truth in love is a pretty good definition of what biblical EQ enables us to do