Heart, Emotion, Relationships
Our example in the way of humility is Christ himself. Our purpose is to acquire the mind of Christ by receiving the same spirit with a similar humility, an attitude which places us at the disposal of others.
As we proceed downwards, we may find that those relationships or activities which provided us with support are stripped away, leaving us very vulnerable. Indeed such a removal of props is often the first painful evidence that we are on a way of descent. At such a point, we have a choice: to build on what we have, have had, or would like to have; or to examine God's investment in us and to build on that. If we build on our investment, work, offering, sacrifice, we will soon find our resources exhausted, and we will fill the resulting space with ourselves, leaving no room for others. But if we build on what God invests - God's promises - then we have resources to offer others, and, by the way, resources for ourselves.
The emotions in prayer:
How am I feeling?
How long have I been feeling like this?
When did I begin feeling like this?
What else was going on at the time?
Is there a connection between my emotions and what is going on around me? What is it? How are my emotions telling me about what is happening? What “story” are they telling me? Should I take action to “rewrite” the story, alter the “plot” of the story as it plays out in the future?
The Biblical writings reflect many different moods and contain every kind of emotion, expressed with great honesty. Indeed, this honesty is often too much for us, because the feelings expressed are not “pious” or holy at all! But the faith, and the holiness, lies in this very honesty, in the fact that here are people being utterly real before God; willing to recognise the truth of themselves and see that truth in the light of God’s truth, mercy, grace and love.
As we allow ourselves to be “real” in this way, we begin to understand that many of our negative emotions are forms of fear, and that at every point where we are afraid, we must learn a greater or deeper form of trust. This means letting go of the fear and trusting that God does see, does know, does understand, will act - or indeed, is already acting - to address the situation that disturbs us. Our willingness to have faith in God, in others, and in ourselves can make a huge difference to how we feel, and this, in turn, contributes to God’s process of transformation.
From Sorrow to Joy
Pain is the starting point of many prayers. When we are saddened and perplexed by events, we can lose sight of God to the point of wondering whether God even knows - let alone cares - about what is happening. At such times we are invited to trust that God does see what is going on, and takes responsibility for doing something about it. God takes the situation “in hand” and facilitates a process of change. The workings of this process may be so slight and subtle that for a long time we cannot be certain that things are improving: it is up to us to trust that God’s saving power is at work now as it has worked in the past - and to act as if this is true.
Psalm 10.12-18 God sees and takes action
1 Samuel 2.1-10 Turning the world upside down
Psalm 126 God can do it again
Isaiah 25.1-9 Rejoice in God’s saving power
Jeremiah 31.10-14 Gladness for sorrow
Psalm 30 Mourning into dancing
From Anger to Creative Action
Anger can be one of the most disturbing emotions. We can be frightened of other peoples’ anger, and its consequences, such as conflict, estrangement, bitterness and violence. We can also be frightened of our own anger, because it is a powerful surge of energy which we may not know how to use creatively. It can be helpful to understand that when we become angry, it is often because we are afraid of losing something which is important to us. In that sense, our anger is a signal - an invitation to a deeper trust. The Biblical writers recognise that anger is powerful and associated with many sins. But anger itself is not necessarily sinful. Rather, it is a sign that we need to take care - and time to reflect on what is happening within us and around us - so that the evil consequences of anger can be avoided, and the emotion itself replaced with generosity. By facing our anger and taking responsibility for it, we learn how to overcome evil with good.
Psalm 4 When disturbed, do not sin
Galatians 5.16-26 Anger tends towards sin
James 1.12-21 Be slow to anger
Proverbs 22.17-25 Avoid those given to anger
(replaced by: Colossians 3.1-11 Seek to avoid anger
Ephesians 4.25-32 Replace anger with generosity
Romans 12.14-21 Overcome evil with good
From Jealousy to Contentment
We are envious of those who have what we want. We are jealous of those who can take what we have; or who claim what we used to possess but fear we have already lost. When we feel jealous of someone else, it is because we are afraid of them. We fear that they have the power to spoil things for us, or to take from us something we value.
Saul’s jealousy of David is one of the great stories in Israelite history, and is woven into the narrative of 1 Samuel 18-24. If we have worked hard to achieve something we can easily become jealous of colleagues who attain the same ends with greater ease; or who use our efforts as a stepping stone to their own advancement; or who appear to be a threat to us, or our team, or our leader.
Moses, David and Paul all recognised the power of jealousy and learned how to deal with it, in themselves and others. They realised that jealousy can divide people in those very situations where it is important that they work together for a common cause. It can undermine all the good we do, and perpetuate conflict between those whom we should regard as sisters and brothers. But as Paul explains, gratitude and rejoicing give us an inner peace which builds contentment, and becomes, indeed, a way of life which has radical implications for our personal relationships and witnesses to God’s process of profound, transforming love.
Numbers 11.23-30 Jealous of spiritual power
1 Samuel 18.5-16 Driven to murderous rage
1 Samuel 24.1-17 Repaying evil with good
Philippians 4.2-9 Rejoicing brings peace
Philippians 4.14-20 The secret of contentment
1 Timothy 6.1-12 A radical way of life