Scazzero

The Gift of Limits: Emotionally Healthy Church Part 4

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

“Perfect” is ‘complete’ full grown; having reached the end or goal for which it was designed.’ Strong’s Concordance gives the example of an unfolding telescope that opens to its “full strength capacity effectiveness.” How do we, as followers of Christ, live in such as way that we ‘walk in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25s), so that we reach our full strength, capacity effectiveness?

WE NEED TO UNDERSTOOD LIMITS

  • After Jesus said, “I must be about my father’s business,” (Luke 2:49), he drops off the radar for 20 years before his final three years of ministry. Yet God said he was well pleased (Mark 1:11).
  • He went to the desert where Satan tempted him to act outside of God’s plan (Matthew 4). Though he could have done everything Satan suggested, Jesus resisted because it was not in God’s timing.
  • Jesus did not heal everybody (Mark 6:4-6)
  • He didn’t let everyone follow him as part of the group of disciples (John 6:60-70; Mark 10). He winnowed the crowd with his teaching; he required commitment; he handpicked his disciples.
  • He didn’t pursue the crowds who left him, and sometimes he took a break from the crowds who followed him (Mark 6:45-46; Luke 4:42; Matthew 14:22-23; John 6:14-15). 
  • And yet at the end of his life he prayed, “I have completed the work you gave me to do.” (John 6)

Sometimes I hear "present your bodies as a living sacrifice" presented as, “Think nothing of yourself ever.”  But I don’t see Jesus himself modeling that.  Part of the sacrifice is doing the hard work of pulling back, resting, not doing certain things because it’s not what God has called you to do, at least at that moment.

Steward Yourself

 When Jesus had the Last Supper with the disciples and they broke bread and drank wine, Jesus noted that His body would be broken and his blood spilled out for them. He meant this in a very literal sense. When he said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” I think it had two levels of meaning: 1) repeat this ceremony so that you do not forget my sacrifice, and 2) be broken and spilled out for others. You will need times of renewal.

 When we go on mission trips, the people we work with always make sure we rest. We are in a different culture (food, time zones, weather, etc), and it catches up with us. We go out of our way to stay healthy so we can minister; it’s not for selfish reasons. Do you ever find yourself asking these questions:

  • “Why do I always feel as if there is too little time and too much to do? 
  • Why do I always feel chronically pressured and restless in my interior? 
  • Why does my life always have so little margin or flexibility? 
  • Why do I never feel finished meeting needs?”

 It's possible that you have not surrendered your priorities and goals to Christ. It’s possible that you have unrealistic expectations for people, or you are selfish. Those things are possible. But maybe you need a break. If you live sacrificially for others, you will need times to be renewed and filled again. Jesus himself modeled this.

 True self-care is not a selfish act. It’s good stewardship.It’s within God’s boundaries that we reach our full strength capacity effectiveness. Sometimes, we have to see opportunities and not become involved. None of us can help everybody or do everything.  God raises people up “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).  If we aren’t; careful, we forget how specific that is: “For this time. Now.”

Steward Your Relationships

 At some point and in some way, you are going to need to limit the access and influence of people around you. Jesus did. Not everyone was a disciple; not everyone had a conversation with him; he left some towns; he left some situations.

 Please don’t misunderstand: Jesus was a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11: 16-19). None of us are righteous; to simply pull away from someone because they struggle with sin would be the height of hypocrisy.  And this is not meant to be an excuse to avoid people just because you find them hard to love. But there are some situations that, if we remain too closely connected, our faith and our effectiveness will be compromised.  Some people must be experienced in small doses.The Bible gives several examples:

  • “Don’t befriend angry people
or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them
and endanger your soul.”  (Proverbs 22:24)
  • And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for ‘bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:32-33)
  • “Escape quickly from the company of fools (hate truth and love trouble);
they’re a waste of your time, a waste of your words.” (Proverbs 14:7)
  • “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:14) Paul did it twice (Acts 13 and 18).

This is not about the demands of being a friend or mentor (the next point will address that). This is specifically about people who:

  • tempt us to sin
  • teach a false gospel
  • waste our calling

God doesn’t give up on people, and we shouldn’t either. But Jesus himself had circles of friends. His closest disciples were very carefully chosen; many others were “friends,” but they weren’t in his inner circle. Others he preached to from a distance, and others he approached and then left when he realized the soil of their hearts was hard. 

Steward Your Time

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16). 

“Redeeming the time” was a phrase used by merchants to talk about timely business investments. One commentary describes it as “a careful and diligent use of [time], an improvement of it to the best advantage; and shows that it is valuable and precious, and is not to be trifled with, and squandered away…” (Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible)  We say “no” so we can say yes.

  • We say “no” to even good ministry opportunities if we are saying “yes” to something greater. Think of all the local ministries we can be involved with – Right To Life, PCC, Thomas Judd, Goodwill Inn, Father Fred – you can’t do them all. In church we have a ton of ways you can be involved – and you can’t do them all. If you have to choose, do the one that matches your calling.
  • We say “no” to wasting our free time so we can say “yes” to preparing ourselves for future opportunities.  If you don’t know what God is calling you to do, just start doing stuff, read biographies of Christians, learn about different ministries… go, experience and learn – you might be surprised what ‘clicks.’
  • We say “no” to running ourselves into the ground so we can say “yes” to the Sabbaths in our life -  the times of rest, renewal, and enjoyment of God and his creation. You can’t do everything other people want you to do.  There are times you must say, “I can't meet for lunch. I can’t take that phone call. I can’t respond to that email as quickly as they would like, and that has to be okay.”

 Time is not a renewable resource for us. We are going to have to put limits on where and how we invest it.  We need to pray for wisdom and ask godly friends for guidance.

Steward Your Input

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8) 

 Paul loved this word (“think”). He used it twenty-seven times in his letters. It  means that there are some things that should be weighty, that we should mediate on. Those things should form us more than others. 

  • Some things are always worth “thinking on” (we just read the list)
  • Some things are never worth “thinking on” (such as pornography)
  • Some things are worth “thinking on” for a season or a reason. Paul was clearly versed in classical Greek and Roman literature and arts – he quoted Greek writers numerous times – he was aware of it without succumbing to it. We should know our culture so we “understand the times and know what to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
  • Some things I should never “think on” – but maybe you can. In that grey area of ‘seasons and reasons’ we must be discerning. Know your weaknesses! If violence or swearing influences you, you need some boundaries that might be tighter than others. If you are easily influenced by false teaching or emotional manipulation – if you have a hard time separating truth from lies (Matthew 3:12) -  you are going to have to be more careful than others about what you consume.

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I was noticing some popular slogans in the past several weeks : No Limits! No Boundaries! The Only Thing Stopping You is You! You Can Be Anything You Want To Be/Do Anything You Want To Do! I get it – it’s meant to motivate people toward “full strength capacity effectiveness.” But…they’re not true. In fact, they can actually lead to real disillusionment. On the other hand, there are some often overlooked voices noting a different way to view limits:

  • “To note an artist’s limitations is but to define his talent.” – Willa Cather, author 
  • “Your limitations create your sound.”  Norah Jones, whose first album sold 26 million copies and received 8 Grammy Awards. 
  • “Embracing the limitation can actually drive creativity… We need to first be limited in order to become limitless.” Phil Hansen, artist whose hand tremors limit the mediums in which he can work.

God has given each one of us different gifts: capacities and gifts and potential. But we are not limitless; God does not expect us to complete all work. Jesus completed the work God gave him to do without doing everything.  We can to.  God’s desire is that we do the things He gives us to do. Perhaps it is within this recognition that we begin to see more clearly who God intended us to be.

 Let’s pray for an understanding of godly, healthy limits in our lives, and for the wisdom to see all the opportunities God has given us. After all, “His strength is made perfect in my weakness” (Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:9).

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**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The SurfaceBreak the Power of the Past, Live in Brokenness) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.

Live in Brokenness (Emotionally Healthy Church Part 3)

When Paul wrote about being “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:2), he used the word for the metamorphosis a butterfly experiences when it leaves the cocoon. When we give our life to Christ, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and convicts us, we develop a longing to be free of harmful traditions and habits and experience freedom.

Here’s the thing: if a butterfly is robbed of the struggle, it will never be able to fly. If God’s creation gives us insight into the mind of the Creator – and I think it often does – there are times that He is going to let us struggle. He will do all the things only God can do – but there is purpose to the struggles he allows us to have (or perhaps even wants us to have).  

Today we are going to talk about the importance of living in brokenness. This is not a call to shame and depression; it’s a look at the metamorphosis, the struggle to break free of all kinds of things that threaten to wrap us in sin and failure. Our text is the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.

 “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father.

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

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The Lost Younger Brother

  • He basically tells his father, “I want to live as if you were dead.”
  • He sells his inheritance at a loss; he has no sense of the life that has been offered to him
  • He moves to a country that is “far away” in more ways than one
  • He loses everything the father gave him
  • He settles for the most “unclean” work imaginable rather than go home.

He is arrogant, rude, selfish, irresponsible, and blind to his path to destruction. He is content to be degraded and used to live far from the Father. Jesus’ Jewish audience was probably tracking with him so far – yeah, that’s a bad kid.  His heart and soul are a wreck and his life followed.

The Lost Older Brother

  • The older brother should have helped heal the broken relationship between his father and brother. Instead, he apparently does nothing. He lets his younger brother publically shame himself so he can benefit.
  • He keeps everything his father gave him with entitlement instead of gratitude. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you.”
  • He becomes combative and argumentative, bitter that a sinner like his brother would be celebrated when they came back home.
  • He brings out a scorecard: “What? Not even a goat for me?”  
  • The story begins with the younger brother insulting his father leaving the house; it ends with the older brother dishonoring his father by refusing to enter.

 He is arrogant, rude, selfish, judgmental, and blind to the corruption in his heart. Jesus’ audience was probably a little more surprised by this twist. The older son was supposed to be the good guy, but his heart and soul were a wreck also. 

Two brothers in two fields. Both far from the Father in ways that look very different. One is wildly sinful, the other properly sinful.  One is obviously rebellious, the other subtly so. One shames his father by challenging him, the other by failing to defend him.  Only one makes it back home. What changes? What’s the difference between the two? 

One of them was willing to reveal his brokenness with the hope of recovery and restoration.

  • “I have sinned against heaven and earth” vs. “I have never disobeyed.”
  • “Just make me a slave!” vs. “All these years I’ve slaved for you!”
  • “I’m not worthy to be your son” vs. “You’ve never given me what I deserve!”

 One sees his sin and is driven to repentance; the other refuses to see his sin and responds with judgment. One is humble and vulnerable before God and others; the other refuses to concede he could have done anything wrong. One longs to return home; the other refuses to enter his house. One knows what it’s like to be found; the other never knew what it was like to be lost.

The younger brother reached a point where he said, “This is who I am - and it’s not good.”  He “came to his senses” and saw himself as he truly was – through the eyes of the Father. The older brother  never saw himself as he actually was. He never comes to his senses.  At this point in the story he remains blind to his sin, unbroken and unrepentant. 

 Did you notice that nobody went to get the older brother for the party?

  • the village would certainly be buzzing with the news of the returned sons
  • a party had started for his long lost brother on his property
  • his father had to butcher one of the older brother’s cattle and go through the process of preparing it, which I assume took a while.
  • there were servants who were certainly a part of all of this

And nobody goes to get him. 

 But why would they? What would he bring to a party like that? Well, we know what he brought to his father. Judgment. Anger. Jealousy. Accusations. Unhappiness. Pride. Grudges.

Luke records a story where Jesus was in the house of a Jewish religious leader when a “sinful woman” shows up to wash his feet with very expensive perfume.  They criticized him, but he responded:  “Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.”  (Luke 7:47).  It's not that the Pharisees didn’t need forgiveness –they just didn’t think they did. They didn’t know what it was like to feel the weight and the cost of their sin – and then find forgiveness, healing and hope.

 Genuine brokenness brings repentance and transformation.

Brokenness and repentance are not important just because they restore our relationship to God – it is in this struggle that we grow to understand grace and forgiveness. The younger brother and the sinful woman were changed.  Even while they were “the worst of sinners” (to quote the Apostle Paul), God the Father extends his forgiveness, grace, love, and restoration.  I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience… (1 Timothy 1:16)

 Kenneth Bailey, author of The Cross & the Prodigal, notes that a Jewish son who lost his inheritance among Gentiles and returned home would meet a community group that would break a large pot in front of him and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!”  The father probably ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village so that his son does not experience the shame he deserved. The village would probably have seen this emotional reunion and realized they would have to do what the father did and accept the lost younger son in spite of what he had done.

This is where brokenness and repentance sends us – back to the Father who loves us, runs to us, embraces us, cleans us up, restores us, invites all of us to celebrate with him. 

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**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, Break the Power of the Past) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.

Break The Power Of The Past (Emotionally Healthy Church Part 2)

In Part One of this series, we looked at the importance of honest introspection. We must look beneath the surface of our lives in order to, with God's help, see ourselves as we really are. In Part Two, we are going to look at one of the most significant ways in which our character, personality, and perspective on life are formed.

The legacy of our family profoundly impacts us (Exodus 20:4-6; Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Samuel 12:10). History is not destiny, but it is significant, and perhaps the most formative influence of all is our family of origin. How we were “parented” -whether by our biological parents or others who filled the role - will impact in many ways.  It can even influence our view of God.

 When we commit our lives to Christ, our past is not erased. We need to take a deep look inside at all the things that have formed us. We don't do this because we are stuck with our past, or because we want to spend our lives back there, but because it’s an important step on our way to seeing God clearly and passing that better view on to others. 

“A father has a powerful influence in deep and subtle ways. Even though children know intellectually that God is fair, loving and kind and patient, it’s hard for them to relate to God at a gut level in a deep way if their own father is not that way.”                David Dollahite. Professor of Family Life at BYU

Our perspective can distort our view of God anywhere from a little to a lot. 

  •  If you think love is earned, then you probably think you have to earn God’s love.
  • If you think family is stifling and parents just don’t understand, do you think that might impact how you view God the Father who offers you a new family?
  • If you think the solution to conflict is to withdraw or shame the other party, what happens when you have a gripe with God?  What do you think God does? (And what do you do?)
  • If you experienced parents that abandoned you, or were embarrassed or burdened by you, or used you, or hurt you, or communicated that you were just not important enough for them to live sacrificially …. What do you think God thinks of you?

On the other hand, you may think love is given not earned, and family is a place of safety, and conflict is resolved through healthy confrontation and resolution, and that you are loved sacrificially, deeply, closely, and safely – and that probably effects your view of God.

Part of the good news of the Gospel is that our past is not beyond redemption. We are more than the sum of our past experiences.  God has offered us a way past the defining power of history.

1) Embrace the work of Christ

Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3:6-7)

Everything connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” (Ephesians 4:21-24, The Message)

God does not give us amnesia. Our past will still call to us. We will need to learn how to honestly express our feelings and emotions rather than stuffing them as if nothing happened. We still have to ask questions like, “Why am I feeling like this?”  There is a reason, and it should be sought. The good news is that, through the work of Christ, we can begin to make new and better memories. We can be rebuilt.

2) Find Yourself In God’s Story

 Joseph carried a hard family legacy into his slavery in Egypt. Yet we find him years later a changed man, free of the deception and manipulation that marked his history. 

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you!”  (Genesis 45:4-8)

 How is this change of heart possible? Joseph saw the hand of God at work. All those terrible things that shaped me?  God has shifted them around and made something new. Joseph saw that his life was more than the sum of his experiences. From an earthly perspective, Joseph should have been a wreck. But God took the ugly pieces and made something beautiful.

3) Find Your Place in God’s Spiritual Family

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes…  You are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” Galatians 3:26-29 

“Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Mark 3:33-35)

 God’s Word and His Spirit will work in us, but we need to reach out to His people and let them help to rebuild us. With the help of God’s Word, His Spirit, and the company of our Christian friends, we can move past the parts of our past that have been broken, look up and see God with ever increasing clarity, and live in such a way that we more clearly reveal the heart and the presence of God.

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**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, etc) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.

Look Beneath The Surface (Emotionally Healthy Church Part 1)

Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Emotionally Healthy Church, has written, “It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” In the following weeks, we are going to be looking at six different areas of our lives as we seek to move toward emotional maturity.  We will be looking beneath the surface, peeling back the layers of our lives as we submit the emotional part of our human nature to the lordship of Christ.** 

LINKING THE GOSPEL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH

This process can be unsettling. Who wants to put his or her personality  on the altar?  King David once said, “I will not give God sacrifices that cost me nothing”  (1 Chronicles 21:24). The honest journey inward will cost you something. So how do we find peace in the midst of this storm?  How can this hard, costly transformation be part of the good news of Christ's gospel?

The bad news: We are more sinful than we care to believe.  We must acknowledge this. If we don’t understand the depth of our ability to be broken – and dishonest about it – we will never seek, understand, or appreciate the salvation Christ has to offer.

The good news: God loves us more than we dare to believe.  All of us are created in such a way that we bear his image; when we commit our lives to him, we also commit our identity to him. Our worth, value, goodness, acceptability, capability – it’s all grounded in the person and work of Christ, not in ourselves. 

 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

If the fact that we are more sinful than we care to admit is the storm, the gospel is the anchor in the midst of the storm. This has to do with identity: if we are created in God’s image, and God gives us righteousness, and our hope and worth is found in Christ, what do we need to hide or fear?  As we understand the freedom and foundation of a life surrendered to Christ, we begin to experience the freedom of honest introspection.

ACKNOWLEDGING OUR FEELINGS

God himself is an emotional being, and we are created in His image. The Bible attributes many emotions to God:

  • deligh (Genesis 1:25, 31)
  • grief (Psalm 78:40)
  • anger (Deuteronomy 1:37)
  • pleasure (1 Kings 3:10)
  • joy (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • pity (Judges 2:18)
  • compassion (Lamentations 3:22)
  • love (John 3:16)
  • jealousy (Exodus 20:4-5)

 The Bible describes Jesus’ emotional life in a equally all-encompassing way:

  • He was greatly disturbed in spirit (John 11:33)
  • He wept at the gravesite of Lazarus and over Jerusalem (John 11:33; Luke 19:41)
  • He was angry with disciples (Mark 10:14)
  • He was furious at the crass commercialism in the temple (John 2:13-17)
  • He showed astonishment (Matthew 8:10
  • He longed to be with his disciples (Luke 22:15)
  • He was distressed (Mark 3:5)
  • He had compassion for widows, lepers, and blind men (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13)
  • Joy (Luke 10:21)

God has some emotions that we aren’t used to applauding – jealousy, anger, disturbed, grieving. Conclusion? The emotions themselves must not be the problem. It must have something to do with why we experience them or how we express them. 

We need to honestly acknowledge our inner life - then study it with discernment. We can’t just feel and act (or react). Emotions are a gift from God, but not all the ways we experience them are healthy and holy. If we want to be disciples of Christ, our emotions must be submitted to His lordship as well. We must understand them and learn how to use them appropriately.

 DOING HONEST INTROSPECTION

Sometimes we respond emotionally in ways we don’t understand. The easy solution is to ignore the deeper questions and just get through the situation. Of course, we will just hit that emotional storm again…and again... and again. We need to ask the right questions – in this case, the “why” question. 

  • Why am I always late (or early)?
  • Why am I so devastated that Sally didn’t like what I said (0r why wasn’t I more bothered)?
  • Why do I dread this particular meeting?
  • Why do I panic when I think that I might cross paths with this person?
  • Why do I feel so driven to succeed or be noticed?
  • Why do I avoid confrontation (or constantly instigate it)?
  • Why am I so rigid about answering social media promptly (or why do I avoid it constantly)?
  • Why am I undone when my plans are altered? (or why do I resent people who make rigid plans)?
  • Why do I think even the smallest criticism about something I do is an attack on my identity or character (or why do I want so badly to separate what I do from who I am)?

When we don’t know the answer to the “why” question, we won’t find ways to surrender this part of our life to Christ and begin a journey toward emotional healing and health.  One why question may lead to another… but we keep peeling. Sometimes we don't need to stop and purposefully ask questions about ourself. Some we just need to pay attention to the observations we make about ourselves, even if it smarts a bit. 

  • I’m not very good at feelings. I’m more about doing.
  • I prefer to think rather than feel.
  • My feelings are just a blur; I can’t explain them.
  • Sometimes my emotions cause a physical reaction.
  • My emotions at times flood me and confuse me.
  • Sometimes, TV commercials make me cry.
  • I get depressed after doing X and I don’t know why.
  • I have this overwhelming sense of being defective.

If these statements resonate with us, it’s a signal that we aren’t asking the ‘why’ question. God made us emotional beings – and we are ignoring that part of our nature . Subconsciously, we are making a decision: “Yes, God made me with emotions, and there is something fallen and damaged in me in this area, but I would rather remain broken than enter into the renewed life Christ has to offer.”    

So how do we begin to face ourselves? We need to compare ourselves to Scripture, get the perspective of others, explore our interior life, and pay attention to the warning signs.

  • Scripture: When is it healthy for me to be angry? Celebratory? Frustrated? Grieved? Sad? Happy?  What does the Bible says about the circumstances I am in?  Are they a big deal or not? How much emotion should I be investing? Is there a godly way to respond, and do my emotions match God’s design? “What does God think and therefore feel about this issue, and does my response match His?”
  • Others: Get the opinion of trusted Christian friends. Do they agree that your response is godly in its reasons and appropriateness?  
  • Interior Life: Find silence; write or speak what you are feeling as a prayer to God. David gives a great model of what this looks like in Psalms. What he felt wasn't always pretty, but he was honest. He knew God could handle it.
  • Signs: God has made us physical being in which our body, soul, and spirit are in some fashion connected. Sometimes our physical body’s reaction to situations – a knot in the stomach, a tension headache, teeth grinding, hands clenched, sweaty palms, neck tightening, foot tapping, or insomnia – might be a warning sign.  Too much…back off…you need help with this situation.  

EMBRACING DISCOMFORT AND VULNERABILITY

“Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality. Listening to our emotions ushers us into reality.  And reality is where we meet God… Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice… However, we often turn a deaf ear – through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing  in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world.  We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our inner consciousness. In neglecting our emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes from brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.”  - Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, The Cry of the Soul

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**This post (and the ones that follow) are a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.