A New Heart: Truth-in-Feelings
A New Heart: Truth-in-Feelings Sermon at Harbor Church, 2/24/19
How are you? How do you feel today? I feel BAD. I feel GOOD. Why? Why do we feel the way we feel? We’ve been taught that feelings whether positive or negative emotions, aren’t bad in themselves, they just are. We know that What we do with them can produce virtue or sin. But what causes our hearts to behave the ways that they do? What makes our emotional tickers tock?
A New Heart: Truth-in-Feelings
Truth in Advertising and Marketing and Other FTC Regulations. When consumers see or hear an advertisement on the Internet, radio, in print, on a billboard, on television, or anywhere else, federal law says that the ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. There are also laws concerning Truth-in-Lending when it comes to financial institutions, and Truth-in-Sentencing with regard to our judicial system. I’d like to propose another standard for telling the truth with regard to our emotions, and call it Truth-in-Feelings. I think this practice is so important, that if I were a legislator, I would borrow language from the FTC Regulations on advertising, and write a law that says with regard to our emotions, that they must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scriptural evidence.
This idea doesn’t come from the Bible, but from a branch of Psychology called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The premise for this widely-accepted counseling practice is that much of what we feel is a prodct of what we think. That our emotions flow from our cognitions, and that if our perceptions are distorted, then our feelings will be as well. That in plain English, if we believe the lies that we and others tell about us, we will feel bad about ourselves and the world around us. Conversely, if we strive to fill our minds with accurate thinking, our hearts, the seat of our emotions, will be healthier and happier as a result.
In a recent article I read in INC. Magazine, by Amy Morin, she suggested that ‘changing your inner dialogue will change your life’. She goes on to say:
“You have somewhere around 70,000 thoughts each day and those thoughts influence every emotion you have and every choice you make. While you can't control the automatic thoughts that first pop into your brain, you can control how you respond to them.
Believing your self-doubt, worrying incessantly about things you can't control, and ruminating on the negative will drain you of the mental strength you need to be your best. Reframing your unhelpful thoughts, refusing to dwell on the negative, and purposefully training your brain to think differently, can help you build mental muscle.
Replace BLUE thoughts with true thoughts.
Everyone experiences cognitive distortions sometimes (irrational and inaccurate thoughts). And while there are many types of distortions, the acronym BLUE sums up the most common thinking errors:
Looking for the bad news, (CATASTROPHIZING)-Remember the children’s story about Henny Penny who said “The Sky is Falling” she thought the world was ending when a leaf fell on her head!
Unhappy guessing, (FORTUNE TELLING/PROJECTING) and
Exaggeratedly negative thoughts. (MAXIMIZING THE NEGATIVE/MINIMIZING THE GOOD)
When you catch yourself experiencing BLUE thoughts, respond with a more realistic statement (or true thought). When you think, "I'm going to fail," you might respond by thinking, "All I can do is my best," or when you think, "I always mess everything up," remind yourself of the times when you've succeeded.
Right about now you may be thinking, what does all this psycho-babble have to do with Spirituality, my faith, my relationship with God, myself and others? The short answer to that question is A LOT!
Rational Christian Thinking is a practice that distinctly Christian Counselors have adopted that has its roots in CBT, but go one step further. It replaces the lie that we tell ourselves with the truth of scripture. For example:
The Lie: “I am a bad person who always does bad things” The result can be feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, depression, or anxiety.
The Truth: “I am Wonderful Child of God, made in God’s image” (A good person who sometimes does bad things) The result can be feelings of contentment and joy, peace and happiness.
This type of disciplined thinking is only one of the ways in which God can give us a new heart, a healthier emotional life. There is another important path to this: the life and example of Jesus.
The Emotions of Jesus
As the Son of God incarnate, we’ve been told that Jesus is both fully-human, and fully-divine.
The human side of this understanding includes the idea that during his earthly life, Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions. But they were perfectly experiences and expressed by him, because he was perfectly conditioned by divine truth. Consider some of the feelings of Jesus that we read about in the gospels, and then lets think about what caused them.
JOY/GLADNESS> Jesus told His followers if they keep His commandments, they will abide in His love just as He has kept His Father’s commandments and abides in His Father’s love. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full,” Jesus said. What joy was Jesus referring to? The joy that came from complete obedience to His Father. The joy that came from pursuing God’s will. The joy that came from pleasing His Father in Heaven.
DEPRESSION/ANXIETY. Think about Christ’s passion in the garden just before his arrest and crucifixion he was in such agony, that He sweat blood and tears as He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” In His humanity, He dreaded what was to come. But in His faith and pure obedience to His Father, His agony made for surrender: “Yet not my will, but yours be done”
Two very different emotional states, both perfectly experienced and expressed through his trust and confidence in God the Fathers’ will and purposes.
ANGER & INDIGNANCE. Jesus was irate with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who lacked integrity. He was incensed by the unscrupulous practices of the money-changers in the temple courts. He was absolutely disgusted with those who oppressed and cheated others. Who gave preferential treatment to some while exploiting the weakness of others. Honest emotions that Jesus experienced based upon his knowledge of God’s righteousness and the truth in Scriptures that he perfectly understood without distortion about how to treat others. In all these things, he experienced intense feelings, yet did not sin because these true expressions of emotion were based on his understanding of what was good and true. He never lied to himself, and he rejected the falsehoods and false practices of others.
When we become angry, is it because we believe the lies that our egos tell us, or is it because we see ourselves or others offending the truth revealed to us in Scriptures.
LOVE/COMPASSION. Jesus’ motivation for healing the sick was a genuine sorrow for the physical suffering that he saw in others. But in one of our readings today, he also wept for the spiritual pain he experienced when he looked upon Jerusalem. He anticipated his betrayal by the people there, and instead of judging them, he experienced sorrow for their lostness. That they were hurting so much inside that they were ready to lash out and hurt others, to hurt him. When you see someone who is living in sin, or with the consequences of their sin does it make you cringe or cry? Is your heart moved to pray for that person’s relief, healing, comfort, and salvation? Is your compassion strong enough to cause your hand to extend in action, help, or hope for another? That’s was Jesus’ response.
EMPATHY. Perhaps the truest expression of feeling we can have is to identify with the emotional state of others. We have no record of Jesus feeling sorry for Himself or dwelling on or becoming preoccupied with any of His personal suffering. There are plenty of examples of his ability to relate to others, to feel what they were feeling, and then translate that into action for the benefit of the people around him.
Pursuing the Heart of Jesus is the truest path to discovering a new heart for ourselves. Examining our motivations in the light of Jesus’ example is the surest way to producing wholeness in our emotions.
Believing the lies that we hear from others can damage us, and clinging to the distorted versions of the truth that we tell ourselves can result in damaged, debilitating emotional states. Replacing these with the truth of God is the best way to experience the purest, most genuine feelings possible. This doesn’t mean that all our feelings will be positive or pleasant. But it does ensure that will largely honor God, and will ultimately yield good things for us and for others around us. And practicing Truth-in-feelings can become a new way of living and the way to a new heart, the heart of Christ.