Feel: The Power of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

On Sunday, the sermon theme was Psalms: Life as Worship. The focus was on the psalms being full of emotional experience that is lifted to God through various forms of prayer. The psalmist uses his emotional energies as the launching pad to seek after God. I only had a few minutes to talk about the power of emotions. This week, I will share several of the most important ideas about emotions, but even these blogs will be brief. There is much more that some of you may want to pursue.

Today I want to recommend two different books that have shaped my thinking on emotions. While there are other more academic books that I love, both the recommended books are full of substance and yet they hang the fruit low. They make this substance understandable and practical.

The title of the blog post is a mashup of these two books.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero is a wonderful book. The focus is on spirituality, but the flavor is how spirituality is not just about thinking, it is about the emotional life as well. And it is about how good spirituality is full of emotions and how good spirituality promotes healthy emotions.

We use this book at many places at Living Word. Many groups have been through it. It is part of our basic spiritual direction training, and our women’s ministry and small groups ministry have used it as well.

This book is directly influenced by the masterful work of Daniel Goleman, who launched the Emotional Intelligence Movement. Goleman, while he was not the only theorist on this subject, was the one who made it popular and understandable. You can find more about Daniel Goleman on his website.

Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart is a different book. I like it a lot. Matthew Elliott has worked in the world of missions. He is a teacher, an author, a leader, and a New Testament scholar who did his Ph.D. research on the role of emotions as it is taught in the New Testament. So he is the real deal. He knows his stuff.

In this book, he gives words and models that helped me understand the inadequate teaching that was promoted by people like Bill Bright (in The Four Spiritual Laws) and James Dobson (in Emotions: Can You Trust Them?), who minimized the role of healthy emotions and made us generally suspicious about the role of the darker emotions. Elliott shows that far from finding this taught in the Bible, these were ideas they found in the secular world that were popular in their day.* 

Elliott also shows how the great theologians of the church were united in giving a place of priority to the power of emotions. And he does all this in a very readable way through stories and conversations, and through practical suggestions for how you can address the emotional realities of your life. He provides many reflective exercises and space for personal journaling about your discoveries.

Like the psalmists, Elliott sees your emotions as the place where God is at work and the place where God wants to be at work. He sees emotions as a central part of life that make life wonderful and beautiful, or painful and difficult.

This week, I will give you some nuggets of best ideas about your emotional life. But if you want to go much deeper and understand a central part of your life, it is worth the investment in some good reading.

Tomorrow: What not to do with your emotions.

Grace, peace, love, and joy,
Pastor Brian

P.S. * While I believe Dobson is wrong on so many points, he is not completely wrong, and he does say helpful things at times. However, there are other books that are so much better than Dobson’s, that I recommend reading those books instead. Dobson wrote from a cold culture stance, in a time when Christianity was quite rationalistic and not nearly holistic enough. The Bible is very hot culture, as well as being holistic and integrated about your human nature. Thinking, feeling, desiring, wanting, willing, choosing, and acting are all part of who you are. Nothing should be minimized. Everything should be redeemed. Including emotions.

Brian Rice
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