Theme of the Week: The Voice of Jesus
Bible Verse: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-20
If Jesus is the good shepherd and his sheep hear his voice, how do we hear it? How is it recognized and known?
Christian discernment is the spiritual discipline by which we listen to God by attending with the heart and mind to the presence of the Spirit in our lives. If we are going to listen to the inner witness of the Spirit, it follows that [we] must not polarize the intellect and the affections.
It is common, at least within evangelical religious communities, to hear that “our faith rests not on feelings but on the promises of God’s Word.” Unfortunately, this is a woefully inadequate portrayal of the place of emotion in Christian experience, partly because it fails to even begin to capture the relationship between reason and emotion or that which exists between faith and feeling.
What has left the strongest impression on me and many others in religious communities where this has been taught is the conviction that feelings are secondary at best. Rather than being vital to faith, feelings are portrayed as a threat to true faith.
The Christian spiritual heritage takes emotion very seriously, particularly the interplay between the mind and the heart. What we learn is that we cannot think clearly and deeply, and thus cannot have “faith in facts”, unless there is a definite emotional content to this faith, a faith that then ultimately rests not so much on facts as it does in a person.
We are thinking, feeling and acting beings. Our emotions define our experience and give weight to our convictions. They give meaning to our lives. They reflect our fundamental values. They color, if not actually determine, each judgment or decision we make.
By its very nature, an intentional response to the inner witness of the Spirit of God requires that we develop the capacity to be attentive to what is happening to us emotionally. This is so in large measure because affect is the vital sign of our spiritual health and well-being. As we mature in faith, hope and love, our emotions will increasingly reflect the intentions of God.
In the Scriptures the language of “heart” speaks of the central part of human identity. In its broadest sense, “heart” speaks of the volitional, cognitive and affective parts of a human person. I am using the language of “heart” to focus more narrowly on the emotional dimension of our identity. However, following the biblical usage, this is closely aligned with, and cannot be divorced from, the intellectual and volitional dimensions of our inner lives.
True emotion is the fruit of an enlightened and informed mind; if our emotions are confused and in turmoil, then our thinking is just as confused and potentially dangerous. There are two dangers that need to be avoided: a cerebralism that discounts the central place of affect and a sentimentalism that fails to appreciate that the affections be informed by our understanding. We must listen with heart and mind.
Gordon T. Smith in The Voice of Jesus. Copyright ©2003 by Gordon T. Smith. Used by permission of Intervarsity Press.
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