Preach // Emotionally Transformed // Psalm 139 //

Emotionally transformed // Psalm 139 // TRINITY 630 service, 24th Sept 2017  

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Intro //

So we are continuing our series on ‘lives transformed’ and over the next 2 weeks we are going to look at emotional and mental health and transformation.

Now I want to say up front that this is not going to be an easy subject for any of us! The whole area of emotional and mental health is huge and can be very challenging. I want you to know I am not an expert in mental health conditions, far from it!, I simply want to, over these 2 weeks, help and encourage all of us to seek Jesus as we look at these themes, both for ourselves and for others. Especially for those who might be struggling in these areas particularly, or for those supporting people who are, I want to help us all to seek the Lord in those situations.

I should say I’ve been really grateful to a few people who I have spoken to while I was preparing these talks who have first hand experience of some of the things I’m going to talk about, however I do know it’s a tricky area and conditions can be quite individual, so if you have comments or questions please do come speak to me or one of the leadership or drop us an email. This is such an important area and we want to be able to explore it together, with grace and compassion.

And of course the prayer ministry team are on hand as always, so do make use of them later on if you feel God is stirring something in you this evening.

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So, this week we are going to focus on emotional health and build up to talking about mental health next Sunday evening. So what I am saying tonight might not really scratch the surface if you are struggling with mental illness of any kind. Tonight is really a focus on general emotional well being. I hope it’s accessible to all of us and I hope I’ll raise some questions and tools that can be relevant for us all.

But as I said I know that for some of us things are much more complicated and it might be that when we go a bit deeper next week into mental health as opposed to the emotional that might reach some of us more. So I want to encourage you to listen to both talks and if you can’t be here next week or if it might be a difficult subject for you, the talks will be available online to listen to or you can email me for a copy of the text

 

What are emotions – God given for a purpose

 

Our reading from Psalm 139, gives us a wonderful picture of us being made by God, and him knowing us inside and out, in great detail.

We are, made by God, it says: vs 13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

 

Every part of us made, known and loved by God, so that includes our mind and our emotions…

We are emotional beings, it is how we were made. We are meant to have emotions so they aren’t a bad thing – though often we can see them that way:

when someone gets angry about something, we perhaps don’t know how to respond, we get a bit scared maybe. Or when someone is crying we want them to stop, we want to make them feel happier, or perhaps worse, we just ignore them because we don’t know what to do.

But they are part of who we are.

 

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As human beings we have 6 basic emotions or predictable responses to situations:

happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger. There are over 600 words in English to describe them and we use 42 muscles in our faces to express them.

Over time, this list of basic emotions has been added to, changed and reshaped based on the idea that human emotions are universal, so we all have them

And psychologists think that there are two reasons for emotions:

  • they are the response to any situation we face or (so based on our mind )
  • as a result of changes in our bodies (based on physicality, that’s hormones and the like)

So they help us react to situations, setting off a physical behavioural reaction.

So for example when we feel fear it sets our heart racing, it gives us the impetus to escape from a dangerous situation if we need to. Less likely for us today to be in that kind of situation but for our ancestors they needed that emotion to survive. These days however emotions tend to (not always of course) help us make lifestyle choices rather than staying alive!

But they are also a social indicator. When we are happy we smile or laugh, which is a sign to others that we are happy. Sometimes that is contagious isn’t it – our emotions can affect others emotions. If we see someone crying, sometimes we find we need to join them in crying too. Emotions bring us closer to each other or give as an understanding of each others needs or feelings, which in turn helps to shape society.

Of course none of this is coincidental if we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And

the brain communicates with itself by transmitting chemicals from one neuron, or nerve, to the other. And those chemicals either stimulate brain activity or they have a calming effect, so they have a huge role in how we feel each day. But we also have hormones that are released by those neuro transmitters which also can effect our mood or mental health. These chemicals and hormones play a key role in our physical health as well as our mental health, so they are all there for a purpose.

So they key to be emotionally healthy is about maintaining a balance in those chemicals. And to some extent we can help maintain that health by looking after ourselves. But there are things that can cause imbalances in the chemicals which can then cause mental health conditions.

 

So science lesson over…

 

I read all of that and I find myself thinking, wow, all that detail and intricacy that God has designed, created, to make us ‘work’, to make our bodies function and not just function but abundantly function – we don’t just go through life as a machine, eating for fuel, going to work, procreating, we do it with a whole range of experiences and emotions that enrich our lives and enable us to flourish.

 

So Emotions are part of who we are. Just as they are part of who Jesus was when we was here on earth.

If we look at Jesus throughout scripture we can see his emotions at work:

He felt sorrow, he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, but also at the fate of Jerusalem (John 11:35, Luke 19:41) and in fact Isaiah (53:3) tells us that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”.

He got angry too, we see him in the temple getting angry with the money changers (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22) and he wasn’t particualry enamoured with the Pharisees either.

he loved, he showed compassion (Matt 14:14 and various places),

he showed joy (Luke 10:21), possibly even despair at the cross ‘my God my God why have you forsaken me?’ (Matth 27:46).

So just as Jesus did, we can and should embrace that full range of emotions given to us by God, but they key as Eph 4 says, but we should, not sin in them:

 

Be angry …and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26)

 

So the question for us is, how do we act on our emotions?

Do they get out of balance, out of control? Because it’s when things get out of that perfect balance, we can find a problem.

We need to express our emotions, if we hold on to past hurts or emotions, if we smother them and hold them in, they can end up taking over in other ways, we can become bitter and it can effect our own mental health. And in fact there is some scientific evidence to show that some physical conditions can be as a result of the pain of past trauma that has not been expressed.

Likewise if we express our emotions too much, then they get out of control or take us over, so that we find we can’t function as we should.

 

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As Christians we want to draw closer to Jesus I hope, we want to be more like him, we want to be growing into his likeness, and that should be in all areas of our lives, including in our emotions and our emotional response to things. So lets be seeking to see Jesus in all situations, all places, and all emotions. Lets ask ourselves: Where is he in my anger? Where is he in my hurt? Where is he in my joy?

 

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Now the bible is full of emotion and I think there are some key things we can learn from God’s word to help us to have healthy emotional lives that are being transformed into God’s likeness…

So I’ve chosen three examples here for us to look at:

 

Express /lament

The first is to express what you feel. The Psalms are full of David expressing his emotion, this one here Psalm 139 is full of Praise and declarations as to who God is. But David’s life is a rollercoaster – anf he expresses such vast highs and lows of emotion. But one thing that people often bring out of his experiences is the idea of lament. In fact there’s a whole book i the bible called lamentations!

We are not very good in the west at expressing our stronger emotions, there’s that whole British ‘stiff upper lip’ thing going on, we don’t always feel we can talk about how we are feeling or it feels easier to just shut it all in. But that means we are essentially ignoring the things that matter most to us in that moment or that season. We are in some sense, ignoring ourselves, not accepting who we are, just acting like a cardboard cut out of ourselves. (Simon Stocks) and more that ignoring where God might be speaking to us, helping us to be more whole even.

As we’ve already heard emotions are part of how God made us, they are not something to be ashamed of, so we need to get better at releasing them and expressing them.

Lament is all about recognising the sorrow we are facing and feeling, so in biblical terms we see phrases like beating ones chest, tearing ones clothes, falling down, were all examples of people expressing a deep sorrow or pain. We see it still often in the middle east when people have lost a loved one for example and they wail and cry very publically. It can seem quite alien to us, but it is a natural human and emotional response to the pain they are experiencing.

I think we need to get better as the church at allowing a space for lament, and allowing people to express their deep-seated emotions without fear or shame or worry at what people will think. Often people feel they can’t express how they are feeling, they can’t make themselves vulnerable because they are worried about the response they might get. And I’ve heard some awful things people have been told in church in response to them making themselves vulnerable. Let’s not be afraid of emotion, and emotional response, actually let’s get in there with that person, get alongside them. Mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice…

If we can allow space for that then for some it will be a true release of what they need to let go of, and not let it build up into something more damaging.

 

So express your emotions!

 

Guard your heart //

Secondly, guard your heart

Prov 4:23

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Often in the bible where it talks about the heart, it is referring to the mind or to emotions. They thought the heart was where feelings and emotion originated.

So Guard your heart, meant to guard your mind in that sense, look after your mind, so as Rick Warren puts it ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If you fill your mind with stuff that is not going to help you be emotionally healthy you won’t. From what you read, what you watch, what you hear. It all shapes us.

 

David says here 5-6

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

 

He just wants to be filled with the knowledge of God, aiming to fill his ind with more of the Lord and his truth.

But we can’t always choose what goes in though can we, even with the best intentions because well, because other people, right?

I can still remember some harsh words that were spoken over me as a child, as if they were yesterday. I can picture what I was wearing, how I was stood, the person as they said them. And those words have in one part shaped who I am now. I was a child, I didn’t now what to do with those words other than to internalize them. But as adults we can try to choose to make a choice as to what we hear, what we accept (it isn’t always easy of course, we get hurt by things said about us as adults too).

But I think of that expression ‘taking offence’ .The key word there is take’ we don’t have to take hold of the offence, we don’t have to take hold of those difficult words, or those negative sentiments, we might respond to them emotionally but they key is to not let them settle in us. Vs 10-11 says even in the darkness God is there… so if we’ve been hurt by thigns said of us, or we’ve taken on board thigns we maybe shouldn’t have done, lets seek God in there.

2 Cor 10:3-5 says:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ

So we can bring things before the Lord and seek him in them whether they are new to us or historic. Is there anything good there? Is there something we need to take in or can we leave them with him and walk away? Let’s weigh up what we believe, what we think, what we hear. Take hold of your thoughts.

And if we need to, replace the negative stuff with Godly truth Let’s not believe lies!

You look in the mirror and see someone ugly – well God’s word says you are fearfully and wonderfully made!

You are told you are useless? God’s word says he has gifted us all for the common good 1 Cor 12

& that he has plans for each of us, to prosper us and to give us a hope and future Jer 29:11

Think you are too old? Well grey hair is a crown of splendor (Prov 16:31)

Lets seek out the truth of God not take on the rubbish

 

 

And let’s nourish ourselves and our minds

Scientists tell us that to a certain extent we can help ourselves to be healthy physically and emotionally by looking after ourselves, by eating the right foods, getting exercise. So it makes sense that we should do that spiritually too.

Nourish was my one word for the year, my word to focus on and so my plan was and is to eat more healthier, run more and spend more time focusing on my relationship with God. All three of those things are key to me living a healthy and balanced life.

 So what do you find spiritually nourishes your mind, what helps you feel closer to God?

The Psalmist does that by spending time with God, pouring out his thoughts and feelings to God in every situation and asking God to cleanse him if you like or to point out where things might not be right.

V23-24

Search me, God, and know my heart;

 test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

He makes declarations about who God is vs7-8 all about God being ever present.

What helps you to draw closer to God – reading the bible, Coming to church, praying, praying with someone, listening to worship music, singing, walking, painting – what makes you feel closer to God?

Sometimes when we feel our emotions are dragging us down it’s hard to keep doing those things, our routines get out of place, we loose the impetus or the inspiration, sometimes we need a bit of encouragement – so here it is! What do you do that nourishes you spiritually and helps you to feel closer to God, really think about that and how can you make that a concrete and reguarl part of your life?

 

Romans 12: 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.

We should seek for our minds to be renewed, made new, made whole, made in God’s design, God’s image not the image of this world. And more than that, that in itself will help us to become closer to God and knowing his will for us!

And then we will be more able to follow God’s plan for our lives – his perfect plan not our own flawed one!

So let’s embrace our emotions, let’s express them, and if they get out of control we seek help.

Lets seek God in our emotions, where is he in our happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger?

Let’s guard our minds, think about what we et in, what we belive, what we take on board.

And lets nourish ourselves spiritually as much as any other way.

 

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Now look, there are some pointers but I’m well aware that sometimes it isn’t that easy . Sometimes there are seasons to be worked through – necessary seasons – grief after death, dealing with something traumatic and so on, and sometimes we just need time or we need healing. Sometimes those things develop further and we’ll look more at how our mental health can be affected next week

But for now let’s remember that our emotions are not a bad thing, they are God given and help us to live a full and flourishing life.

 

Resources //

 

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbrain/whatareemotions

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbrain/whatareemotions/canyourecogniseemotions

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/what-are-emotions.htm

Songs for the Suffering – Simon Stocks

Mind & Soul Foundation

http://www.mentalhealthaccesspack.org/install/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Medication-and-faith-Bible-section-pdf1.pdf

 

 

 

A Priesting prayer. ( Or just some rambling thoughts…)

Chichester Cathedral in glorious sunshine

 

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 

I often hear people utter in prayer: ‘less of me and more of you God’.

I don’t know about you but I really can’t stand it. It just makes no sense to me at all. Oh yes I know what the sentiment is, before you all holler: it recognises our own brokenness and the need of a saviour, I get all that, we want to be more like Jesus. But for me, focussing on that phrase just leads us down the path to self denial, to dark and condemning thoughts, it leads us away from the truth that God made us, that he knit us together in our mothers wombs.

Look, of course there are always the few who think the sun shines out of their own derrieres, but there are many many more who question themselves, not fully convinced of their identity in Christ. Lack of self worth and recognition of the talents and characteristics that form us into unique and beautiful individuals, leads us away from God, not to him.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

In the same breath that the Psalmist asks God to search him, to sift through his heart, to seek out the specks of offense, to lead him into the light, he notes:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

So wouldn’t a better prayer be: ‘more of the me who you made me to be and more of you God’?

….o0O0o…

I write less than 48 hours after being ordained a Priest in the Church of England. 72 hours ago I was heading off to retreat with my fellow Curates, feeling utterly convinced of my own brokenness, less than prepared and with a host of reasons why God was wrong about sending me to this.

(I know it’s common to feel that way and it was suggested to me over the weekend that if I didn’t feel that way I shouldn’t be doing it anyway).

I was walking towards the retreat and Priesting with my head hung low, making my bed in the depths. And yet over that 24 hours God spoke to me saying:

Where can you go from my Spirit? Where can you flee from my presence? all the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.

Gently lifting my head, speaking precious words over me and leading me towards the way everlasting…

….o0O0o…

It all started with a few words: ‘I’ve re-discovered Jesus through you…’

– an unexpected email arriving moments before leaving for retreat gushed with such love and encouragement for my ministry. I believe God sent me those words to break through the wall of condemnation I had built around myself. To remind me that I am doing what he has called me to do. That really it’s not about me, it’s about him, and about the people round me. I’m just the bee busily buzzing round in the middle, hoping to pollinate those I come across with the potential for new life, for transformation and growth. I sobbed as I read that email, knowing that yet again God was peeling back the darkness and revealing his truth.

Then a few hours later, a suggestion from an advisor to focus on Psalm 139. I know it well of course, but an hour spent sat in the gorgeous surroundings of the Bishops Palace Garden, and taking in those words peeled away more. Noticing the beauty in the detail of God’s creation all around me, a robin coming to join me for a snack so close I could see the detail in his tiny feathers, the light glinting in his beady eye fixed on me, seemingly searching my heart. As I sat, prayed, wondered and read, those words spoke warmth and validation into my soul afresh.

And then the words of the Bishop himself, ‘charging’ us afresh for the ministry of a Priest, encouraging us to be ourselves, but ourselves with Christ in us. That people see our face – they want to see our face, our humanity, our reality, our humanness, not a ‘clerical cardboard cut out’.

Then finally the moment arrived, my robes which felt so alien just a year ago, now feel like a faithful friend (though I’ve only worn them a handful of times!) and we process in together, surrounded by those who have taken this journey before us, those who stand and support us now and those who are beside us in the work we are doing.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

We stand and face the congregation as they are asked to affirm their support for us, I am face to face with my Vicar – someone who knows me, has seen me in distress, in anger and in doubt. And as he looks me straight in the eye and tells me he supports me and will pray for me and encourage me, I feel those last bits of self doubt falling away.

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

Then one at a time we kneel before the Bishop, again someone who knows me well, who knows my frustrations, my hopes and fears for the church, and in spite of this he prays for the Holy Spirit to fill me, equip me for the office and work of a Priest, gives me a bible and anoints my hands asking for the empowering of God upon me.

We turn and stand before the congregation to rapturous applause and cheering and I am undone.

 

…o0O0o…

Despite my self doubt, despite my failings, my mistakes, my frustrations, this feels right. It seems completely insane, I still wonder why God has called me to this, but I know it’s right and recognsing the gifts God has given me and my characterisitcs, they are there to enable me to fulfill this role. Traits I’ve thought were negatives in me, suddenly become essential tools for ministry; emotions that I find hard to handle, appear as necessary to support others; and my wilfullness and stubborn nature become the backbone I need to survive ministry.

I feel affirmed.

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

So, Lord, now as I step into this future, I pray :

more of the me who you made me to be, and more of you God.

Amen

Selfies of God…

fearfullyJPG

My husband tells me that he loves seeing me first thing in the morning, because my curly hair seems to take on a life of it’s own overnight, meaning that when I get up I pretty much look like I’ve stuck my finger in an electric socket. He says because I usually take time with my appearance and how I look, so he is the only one who gets to see me in this crazy unkempt state and he loves it. I, on the other hand, look in the mirror each morning and praise God for the gift of GHDs…

..oo0O0oo…

Self image, what we think of ourselves, how we style ourselves – it’s hard to imagine women 100 years ago worrying about this stuff but I’m sure they did, perhaps just to a lesser degree. Our generation, the technology brigade, means that our innermost fears about wrinkles and spots and crazy curly hair are exacerbated hugely. A while ago I was sat on the beach with my kids as I watched a young girl (I guess aged about 13) take an incessant number of selfies on her phone, all in the same place just shifting her gaze or her pose slightly each time, seeking out the perfect shot.

As a pretty gawky pre-teen I got used to seeing photos in which I looked, well gawky, but that was the era of film and you just got the pictures you got, the excitement being in heading off to Boots to pick them up a week after your holiday. A week? flippin’ heck how we’ve moved on… Of course that didn’t stop me becoming self-conscious, worried about how I looked, what I ate and so on, but as I look at Instagram now and see the selfies of friends teenage daughters it worries me so much. What message are we sending our kids? sending each other?

shutterstock_230975479I’m writing this now because I woke up this morning and perusing my various feeds and timelines was struck by so many themes of ‘the self’. One magazine writer had written an article praising the selfie and had written from a ‘pseudo-feminist’ point of view to make it sound intelligent and wise – ‘girls, we have a responsibility, we are leaving behind a piece of history’ and all that… Frankly it was a load of bull… and made me rather cross. On another feed I saw a comment from someone declaring the oft used Christian phrase ‘less of me, more of you Lord’. Another thing that irks me slightly, you are who God made you, embrace it!

..oo0O0oo…

I write from the point of view of a woman, because well I am a woman, clearly I’ve no idea how men feel about this stuff but I’m sure for some it will be the same insecurities and anxieties. So women… what does the bible tell us about who we are? about who we should be? Is posting endless selfies a biblical crime? are we all becoming self-obsessed and less concerned with the world around us? Is technology the beginning of the end…? (ok perhaps slightly too far with that one). Well, let’s start at the beginning. At creation we read that humans are made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:27) and take note, that’s male and female. God made us like him… is that something to pick at or to find the perfect angle for? Can’t really imagine Adam and Eve attempting to get a selfie with the apple tree and Adam just checking the positioning of his fig leaf to get the bet shot can we? Or perhaps we could, after all that would assume it was post apple-gate and therefore influenced by the enemy…

Ok so then how about this from Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being;
 you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
 your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body…

I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made? what, me? me, with the crazy hair that I try and straighten out each day? This Psalm says ‘your works are wonderful’ and it’s not just talking about Mount Everest here, it means himself, the human body, so why can’t we declare that about ourselves each day? Look in the mirror and whisper sweetly to your reflection ‘I… am… wonderful….’ ?  no? well perhaps not, we’d all turn into narcissists pretty quickly. Ah but hang on isn’t that what the selfie generation is accused of? being too focussed in on themselves? The Psalmist isn’t admiring himself for the sake of it, he is admiring God within himself. Recognising the wonder of what God has made, and we can all join in that, right? the amazing power of the human body, we often say that when a baby is born – it’s the miracle of life.

So then. Should it be less of me, more of you Lord? I’m not so sure. We were made in the image of God. As Christians we carry God within us, so perhaps it should be ‘more of the me you have made me to be’? Of course we all get swayed by wordly influence and that’s why I get anxious about all those teenage selfies, ‘like for like’, ‘rate me’ and so on,  what kind of message are they giving each other, giving themselves? The reality is simply seeking an acceptance, an approval that yes, even as adults we seek too. I’m not averse to a selfie myself, and I too will carefully pick which one I post, but we should be so careful about accepting this and pretending it is a source of ‘girl power’.

So how about instead of seeking to be the perfect self that the world seeks, or that we seek of ourselves, how about we seek to selfie the God in our lives? Where is the glory of God in who he has made us to be? the beauty, the wonder? Let’s embrace who we are in God and who God is in us, that is definitely something to selfie…

2015-07-09 17.30.31-1

I posted this, this week as a bit of a joke on Twitter, but here it is now as I give glory to God, my hair is totally crazy at times (especially when I’ve been laying in bed for weeks) but it’s how God made it (and yes I did take 4 and chose the best one…)