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