Relate to God in Real Time

Going Vertical: Talking to the Father

Going Vertical: Talking to the Father

Union with Christ enables us to focus on the various ways that we are connected to Jesus (see previous blog). Now we need to bring these truths into the real life fight to grow in grace. So here is the challenge: how do we take the truth of our union with Christ and utilize it in such a way that we relate to God during our struggle and therefore actually change? That’s step 8.

Step 8

Your union with Christ should move you in two ways: a lifestyle of repentance (or “deconstruction”) and faith (or “reconstruction”). What does this look like?

Gospel Deconstruction: Repentance

I’ll start by sharing an example from my own life—follow along as I highlight a few themes from the previous blogs.

Look Around You (You, Baggage, Terrain, Weather)

Late one afternoon, I was sitting in my house enjoying some peace and quiet. This always works better when no one else is around to interrupt you! At just the moment that I was contemplating how peaceful it was, the front door opened and then was quickly slammed. I immediately felt tense and a bit agitated. It was my teenage daughter coming home from school. I managed to welcome her home by saying, “Hey, how was your day?” I got a terse response: “Why would you care?” She proceeded to stomp up one flight of stairs, then stomp down the hallway and stomp up the second flight of stairs. Then I heard it again: she slammed her bedroom door! What was a peaceful, quiet afternoon in the house was shattered in about 15 seconds.

Gauge Your Reactions

I could feel myself tense up immediately. There was that all-too familiar struggle with irritation and anger. It was a personal battle within that occasionally spilled over into my interpersonal relationships. It was as if I was standing at the junction: would I respond in the right way?

Look Under the Hood

Why was I irritated? What was I not getting that I wanted? On the surface, there was nothing inherently sinful in my desires. But in that moment, they had become something that I was living for, or worshiping, more than Christ:

  • Peace and Comfort: I had been working with people all day and all I wanted was some down time from the challenges of what other people wanted. Drinking a diet coke and catching up on the daily news on TV was bliss. As soon as my daughter entered the house, the atmosphere had been ruined. Peace and comfort, which can be very good things, had morphed into something I was living for.

  • Appreciation and Respect: Who doesn’t want appreciation, especially from your own son or daughter? After all the sacrifices you make for them, the least they could do is show respect! In this instance I felt disrespected when my daughter did not respond positively to my greeting. Appreciation and respect, which can be very good things, had morphed into something I was living for.

Gospel Reconstruction: Faith

This is where the reconstruction began. It started with a desperate cry for help to God and continued into ongoing conversation with him. It just happened that I had been doing some sermon preparation earlier that morning on a passage in 1 Corinthians 1. (Of course, these things never “just happen!”) The one verse that stood out was 1 Corinthians 1 v 30.

It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

That verse captures a host of the blessings that we discussed in the previous blog. And as I studied it, it had begun to penetrate deep into my soul. It was beautiful in its simplicity. It captured so many of the blessings that were mine because I was in Christ. These truths enabled me to start talking to God and turn from gazing at daily pleasures like peace, comfort, appreciation and respect and start gazing at Christ.

So as I rounded the corner at the top of the first flight of stairs and uttered my simple prayer—“Help me, God. Here I go again”—something astonishing happened. What followed was utterly miraculous, though no one would have been able to see the transformation that was going on in my soul at the moment. Here is how it unfolded:

  • By God’s grace, I was beginning to see how I was living for peace, comfort and respect rather than for Christ. Seeing patterns and signature temptations is a work of the Spirit.

  • I started to cry out to God for help. This simple pivot took me out of myself and directly to God.

  • I began to talk to God based on 1 Corinthians 1 v 30. The truth of Scripture began at the “head-level” but moved to a deeper place. I began to relate to God. The written word enabled me to engage with God and talk to him.

  • The truths in that one verse reminded me of my connection to Christ. They captured who I was in Christ and how that was deeper, more profound and more beautiful than anything else in this world; even good things like peace, comfort, appreciation and respect!

It is encouraging to know that there is hope for these everyday moments in your personal and interpersonal life.

You can find a full explanation and illustration of this in Chapter 8 of Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change That Lasts

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Practicing Gospel Awareness or "Christian Mindfulness"

Location, Location, Location!

Location, Location, Location!

What does it look like to practice Gospel Awareness? How do you remain mindful of your relationship to Christ in the push and pull of daily life? It’s not easy. It requires focus, practice, humility and patience….with yourself.

It’s All About Union With Christ

Theologians have a phrase to capture this idea of a relationship with Christ; they call it “union with Christ.” The apostle Paul calls it being “In Christ.” He uses this term approximately 165 times in his letters. That means it must be pretty important.

There are many passages that highlight different aspects of this new status and relationship that we have with God. One such place is Ephesians 1, which starts with these words;

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Paul then goes on to list these “spiritual blessings”—these are all ways of describing the many facets of our new relationship with God. And the implications for daily living are profound.

Below is a list of nine blessings that are true of you if you are “in Christ” for you to slow down and meditate on. You can find a more exhaustive explanation of each of these in Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change that Lasts.

Let’s Practice Christian Mindfulness

When you begin to savor what kind of relationship you have with God, you are more willing, able and ready to demolish anything that is keeping you from growing and becoming more like Jesus. So as you read the list, take a moment to talk to God and thank him for how he has made it possible for you to enjoy knowing him relating to him in the micro-moments of daily life.

1. Chosen and Predestined (Ephesians 1 v 4, 11): Before you ever came into existence, God chose you to be his very dear child. In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. You are not alone in the universe.

2. Called (Ephesians 4 v 1, 4): By his Spirit, God began to draw you to himself long before you ever started thinking about moving in his direction. In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. You were sought after by God.

3. Made alive / regenerated (Ephesians 2 v 4): As part of the process of being called, you were given new, spiritual, life that enabled you to confess your sins and place your trust and hope in Jesus. In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. You are no longer powerless and enslaved to sin.

4. Justified (Ephesians 1 v 7, Romans 5 v 1): As a result of your initial trust in Christ, your sins were forgiven because Jesus died to pay the penalty for those sins. But there is even more. You are now viewed by God as if you have lived a perfect life because Jesus lived a perfect life in your place. In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. You are fully accepted by God and you don’t have to earn his favor.

5. Adopted (Ephesians 1 v 5): At the very moment that you trusted in Christ you were “adopted” by God. You have moved out of the courthouse, where he sits as Judge, and you have been welcomed into the family home, where he embraces you as your Father. In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. You are no longer isolated; you have the Father and the family you always wanted.

6. Ongoing Change (Ephesians 1 v 4, 13-14): Now that God has adopted you, he is committed to sanctifying you—making you more like Jesus. He has given you the Holy Spirit, who gives you a new power and ability to fight sin through the practice of daily repentance and faith. In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. You are no longer pre-programmed to sin. You do not need to stay stuck. You can change!

7. Hope in Suffering (Ephesians 3 v 13): God loves you so much, and is so committed to making you like Christ, that he’s prepared to use any means to do it. And sometimes, that involves suffering (1 Peter 1 v 6-9). In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. You will not be overcome by your suffering.

8. Perseverance (Ephesians 1 v 13-14; 2 v 10): God is going to finish what he started in you (Philippians 1 v 6). You are in a spiritual war that will not end until you die or Jesus returns (Ephesians 6 v 10-18). Your enemies are the world (the world around us that is at odds with God), the flesh (remaining sin in you that is not yet completely eradicated) and the devil (the one who would love to derail your faith). In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. God is working in you to enable you to persevere until the very end.

9. Glorification (Ephesians 1 v 10, 13-14): And if all of this were not enough, you have his promise that one day you will be completely transformed into the glorious likeness of Jesus. In view of the nature of your relationship with God, talk to him now and thank him for his grace. The restoration of all things, including yourself, is coming.

Practicing Gospel Awareness or “Christian Mindfulness” will involve keeping these realities at the forefront of your mind as you go about your daily life. This will not happen automatically. It will require attention, awareness and focus. But as you do this over time, you will find that it will become more natural. These new habits will lead to a new way of thinking, believing and doing over time.

Read more about this in my latest book, Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change that Lasts.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

The Key to Change

Union with Christ

Union with Christ

Ready to Turn Right

Over the past few blogs, we've looked back to what Christ has done for us and how his Spirit is at work in us. We've looked around us at our circumstances. We've looked down the left fork—our negative responses and the desires that drive them. So how do we go about actually taking the right fork—choosing moment by moment to do the right thing? That's where we are headed beginning in this blog and the ones to follow.

The More You Know?

So how does ongoing change happen? We tend to think that if we just know the right things, change will follow. It’s the approach taken by the public service commercials on American TV. The commercial briefly describes the social problem (teenage pregnancy, obesity, heart disease, etc.), and then provides some helpful advice to address the problem. The commercial always ends with this statement: “The more you know.” In other words, Right thinking will lead to right behavior. We might call this a cognitive-behavioral approach. Research shows that very few people actually follow the advice that is given.

Many professing Christians approach the Christian life in the same way. The thinking is that if you struggle with worry, lust, gossip, greed, anger or addictions (you pick your problem), the best way to change is through awareness and information. “The more you know…”

It’s true that knowledge is important. If that weren’t true, then writing and reading this blog would be useless! Change won’t come if we don’t think rightly. But there is so much more to it than facts. After all, I know how I ought to treat my wife; but sometimes I don’t treat her in the way I know I should. I know what the speed limit on the freeway is; that knowledge alone does not mean I will change my driving habits. There must be another dynamic in addition to right thinking.

It's All About Relationship

Union with Christ

Union with Christ

At first sight, it might seem that Paul agrees with the cognitive-behavioral approach. He says in Romans 12 v 2:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

So, renewing your mind leads to transformation, right? Not quite—because when Paul talks about the mind, he’s talking not just about our intellectual capacity, but our inner person. If we were neuroscientists, we might say that Paul is speaking about the linkage between the rational brain and the emotional brain. But actually, Paul’s talking about something spiritual here—any biological change is enabled by God’s grace anyway! He is describing the part of someone that makes them tick; the central core of who a person is and what they live for. For Paul, if you are not changed at the core of who you are, change in your behavior will not follow. Real change begins at the level of what we honor, treasure, adore and worship on a daily basis.

This is how commentator William Hendricksen states what Paul means in these verses:

Paul does not say, ‘Substitute one outward fashion for another.’ … What is needed is ‘transformation,’ inner change, the renewing of the mind, that is, not only of the organ of thinking and reasoning but of the inner disposition; better still, of the heart, the inner being.

In other words, change must happen at a deeper level than just thinking and behaving.

What does this look like practically? It is more than talking to yourself and trying to convince yourself to change. It involves more than telling yourself to not worry, or get angry, or look at pornography because it is wrong. It is more than thinking positive thoughts (even biblical ones). It is even more than reminding yourself of who you are in Christ!

It involves talking to and relating to Christ in the midst of your anxiety, anger and addiction, or whatever your battle is. Since God is personal, change will be the result of you relating to him personally as you struggle. Because when you relate to Jesus in this way, gratitude and joy for his grace begin to work their way down deep into your soul. This is what drives true change! Relating to Jesus in this way could be called Christian meditation. It can be done alone in a quiet place or right in the middle of a hectic day—essentially, this word describes what it means to enter into a relationship and converse with a personal, loving, gracious God.

So here is the right way to approach change: right relating to God based upon right thinking about God will lead to right living before God. This does not mean it will be easy to overcome your struggles, nor does it mean that change will happen automatically or quickly. Rather, it will happen gradually over time. But it will happen.

In chapter 7 of Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change that Lasts, I consider how the various ways that our union with Christ is described can be used as a means of connecting with God in practical ways while facing temptation and suffering.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Do Your Responses to Your Circumstances Matter?

unstuck diagrams5.jpg

As we continue down this path of change, it is now that we must pay attention to the ways we react to our circumstances. In this chapter of Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change that Lasts, we take our first pivot inward in a “critical” way. But before we do, remember where we have traveled so far.

  • Step 1: You are in Christ and secure in His love.

  • Step 2: The Holy Spirit is already at work in you.

  • Step 3: Change will happen along the contours of your personality and emotional life.

  • Step 4: You have given careful and appropriate attention to your shaping influences.

Now, as you stand at the junction, how will you respond to your circumstances? This step is critical to understanding where you are growing as well as where you need to grow! As we saw in step 2, the Spirit is presently at work in you so you will see responses that are pleasing to God and helpful to others. But you will also see areas where change needs to happen. So, how do you know what to look for? What are good responses and what are responses that indicate change needs to happen? There are many places in Scripture to find answers to these questions. The 10 commandments is one place. The one I choose to highlight in my book is the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-25.

Gauge Your Reactions

Gauge Your Reactions

Unwise Responses: Life According to the Sinful Nature

The acts of the [sinful nature] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (v 19-21)

False worship. “Idolatry and witchcraft”: This includes any form of worship that is not directed towards the Christian God; Father, Son and Spirit. We are prone to worship (essentially, “give worth to”) many other things instead—from our relationships to our reputation. Notice that false worship leads to a host of behaviors that are ungodly.

A lack of self-control over bodily pleasures like sex, food and drink. “Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery … drunkenness, orgies, and the like”: This includes any sexual activity between unmarried people (real or imagined), unnatural sexual practices and relationships, and uncontrolled sexuality.

Destructive attitudes: “Hatred … jealousy… selfish ambition … envy.”.

Destructive results of destructive attitudes with others: “Discord … fits of rage … dissensions, factions.”

Paul says that anyone who practices these things without any repentance is not a Christian—they “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v 21). But remember, this list is being written to a group of believers. That must mean that Christians can be tempted to live in these ways. Because we are not made completely perfect when we become Christians, we will see ongoing warfare and struggle in these areas; and in some areas more than others, due to the life-shaping experiences that we discussed in chapter 4. One Christian may be more prone to struggle in the area of sexual purity, while another may be more prone to struggle with an attitude of envy.

Nonetheless, this first list highlights those things that are contrary to change.

Wise Responses: Life According to the Spirit

In the next list, Paul shows us the character qualities that should be developing in us as a consequence of our new relationship with God:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Paul lists three sets of three qualities, which encompass all of life; your relationship with God, others and yourself. Notice how they are contrasted to the list of sinful responses listed above.

Your Attitude Toward God: True Worship

  • Love: for God in light of all he has done for you in Christ.

  • Joy: a delight in God for who he is, not just for what he has to offer.

  • Peace: you have peace with God, and confidence and rest in his wisdom and sovereignty.

Your Attitude Towards Others: Love for Others

  • Forbearance: patience with others when they sin against you or persecute you.

  • Kindness: a general disposition of humility and encouragement towards others.

  • Goodness: showing God’s love to others in word and deed.

Your Personal Integrity: Self-Control

  • Faithfulness: to be utterly reliable and true to your word.

  • Gentleness: being humble in your own self-assessment rather than self-righteous.

  • Self-control: expressed in faithfulness and gentleness, rather than being carried along by your impulses.

These two lists could not be any more different! And God desires for every one of his children to grow this fruit, because these godly responses reflect his own character. This is precisely what the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. Amazing!

And as you look down that list, isn’t that what you want too? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to always live like that? Scripture paints a picture of godly living in order to spur you on to change. You can find similar comparisons between the “old” lifestyle and the “new” lifestyle in passages like Colossians 3 v 5-17, Ephesians 4 v 17-32 and James 3 v 13-18.

You can find more information in chapter 5 of Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change that Lasts

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Emotions and Growth in Grace

Unstuck incons3.jpg

Step 3, Part 2: Understanding and Managing Emotions

What is the role of emotions in the Christian life? What are you to make of your emotional world? Is the Christian life a life of emotions or should we avoid them? Before we answer these very important questions, we must start with a more basic question; "What are Emotions?"

In his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ (1995), Daniel Goleman defines emotions this way:

All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us. The very root of the word emotion is motere, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e-” to connote “move away,” suggesting that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion (p.6)

A word about what I refer to under the rubric emotion, a term whose precise meaning psychologists and philosophers have quibbled over for more than a century. In its most literal sense, The Oxford English Dictionary defines emotion as “any agitation or disturbance of mind, feeling, passion: any vehement or excited mental state.” I take emotion to refer to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities to act. There are hundreds of emotions, along with their blends, variations, mutations, and nuances. Indeed, there are many more subtleties of emotion than we have words for (p.289).

In other words, emotions are what propel us into action. They are a vital part of what it means to be human. Without emotion, we would cease to act. While Goleman says that the nuances of emotions are endless, there are a variety of "families" of emotions that we are able to identify. Here are 10:

1. Anger: fury, outrage, resentment, wrath, exasperation, indignation, vexation, acrimony, animosity, annoyance, irritability, hostility, and, perhaps at the extreme, pathological hatred and violence.

2. Sadness: grief, sorrow, cheerlessness, gloom, melancholy, self-pity, loneliness, dejection, despair, and, when pathological, severe depression.

3. Fear: anxiety, apprehension, nervousness, concern, consternation, misgiving, wariness, qualm, edginess, dread, fright, terror (phobia and panic).

4. Enjoyment: happiness, joy, relief, contentment, bliss, delight, amusement, pride, sensual pleasure, thrill, rapture, gratification, satisfaction, euphoria, whimsy, ecstasy (mania).

5. Love: acceptance, friendliness, trust, kindness, affinity, devotion, adoration, infatuation, agape.

6. Surprise: shock, astonishment, amazement, wonder.

7. Disgust: contempt, disdain, scorn, abhorrence, aversion, distaste, revulsion.

8. Shame: guilt, embarrassment, chagrin, remorse, humiliation, regret, mortification, and contrition.

9. Inadequacy: helpless, inferior, powerless, incompetent, useless, inept, mediocre.

10. Confusion: distracted, rattled, baffled, bewildered, mystified, flustered, perplexed, jarred, puzzled, jolted.

According to research, you have to be able to identify and name emotions when you experience them. As you do this, you are more able to manage your emotions and empathize with others.

Emotions and Your Brain

Three level brain.gif

Emotions are formed in the limbic region of the brain. This is the mid-region. Decision-making happens in the neocortex. The goal is to regulate one’s emotions so that the limbic region can work in tandem with the neocortex. When this happens, one is exercising what is often referred to as “wise mind.”

The challenge for anyone is the fact that you are feeling before you are thinking. Because of that, we are very susceptible to an “emotional high-jacking.” If you don’t know what that is, just take a moment to remember the last time you did or said something and later asked, “Why did I do that?” The goal, therefore, is to slow down and become more mindful of your emotions so that you can manage them well.

Scripture is a book that is very much at home with emotions. The Psalms are the most obvious place to look for them. You will see most if not all of the 10 listed above. All of them can be expressed in helpful and wise ways or unhelpful and unwise ways. They can be expressed in such a way that builds others up or tears someone down. The challenge is managing them wisely. Notice how the Psalmist expresses a negative emotion like sadness and loneliness in Psalm 88:18,

You have taken from me friend and neighbor—-darkness is my closest friend.

Immediately after that Psalm ends, Psalm 89:1 begins with a positive emotion of joy,

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.

What a profound shift from negative to positive and both are expressed in wise, helpful and godly ways. The Christian life is not a life of rational stoicism nor is it one where we are simply led by our emotions. God has made us with a brain that does both. And we see this in our very human Savior, Jesus. He was acquainted with deep anguish and grief throughout his short life. He was also one to celebrate and enjoy a party as is seen at the wedding in Cana (John 2).

How are you doing with identifying emotions in your life? Perhaps you could be more mindful of them as you go throughout your day. As you do, take moments to record your emotions and identify them as carefully as possible. This is a very important aspect of growing in wisdom and grace.

For more on the role of emotions in the Christian life, purchase the 5 session video workshop as an online course by following this link: ONLINE COURSES

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.