Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Spiritual Cardiograph

What should the Christian life feel like? What ought to be the emotions and affections that we have as a Christian from day to day, and as we face the different circumstances that life brings our way?

This is an important question to think through. The problem is that we don't feel as we ought to feel, we don't desire what we ought to desire, we don't delight in what we ought to delight in, we don't weep over what we ought to weep over. Our affections, desires and feelings are disordered. Sin has affected every part of who we are. This does not mean that we are as sinful as we can be, in His grace God restrains us from this. However, it does mean that there is no part of who we are that is unaffected by sin. Therefore, not only have our actions and our thoughts been tainted by sin, so also have our emotions, desires and affections. All of our person has been impregnated by sin, it has marred the whole of who we are. This is why we find ourselves getting exited by things that are sinful, and being bored with things that are pleasing to God.

What then can we do in order to feel as we ought to feel? How can we re-order our affections and emotions? The way we do this is to allow our desires and feelings to be shaped by Scripture. One of the parts of Scripture that God has provided in particular for this is the Psalms. They both reveal how healthy our emotions and affections are, and help to re-calibrate them so that we feel the way we ought to feel.

Recently I came across these words from a former pastor of mine: "It has been wisely said that the Psalter is a spiritual cardiograph. The more I am at home in the Psalms, the healthier my spiritual condition." That is, the Psalms show us the state of our hearts. They help us to see how healthy our feelings and longings are. The more we read through them the more we see what affections and emotions shaped by the truth of God's word look like. The more we see of this the more clearly we will be able to diagnose how healthy our desires and emotions are.

Another great function of the Psalms is to shape our distorted feelings and desires so that we begin to feel as we ought to feel, delight in what we ought to delight in and weep over what we ought to weep over. Christopher Ash says: "The Psalms give us authorised, authentic response to God and his word." They re-calibrate our emotions so that they are shaped by God's word. This is because the Psalms not only teach us truth about God, they also take that truth and turn it into prayer, they show us how we ought to respond to God's word. One of the things the Psalmists do throughout the book of Psalms is to take the rest of Scripture and turn it into prayer. They show how we ought to respond to the rest of the Bible. In doing so they are re-ordering our ragged desires and emotions so that they are brought more in line with the truth of God's word.

This means that, if we want to feel the way we ought to feel, one of the best ways we can do this is to learn to pray the Psalms. Take them and make them our prayers. One of the ways I have tried to do this is to try and pray through a Psalm a day. Why not try making the Psalms more a part of your prayer life (both private and corporate). Take a Psalm, read it and then turn it into prayer. Let what the Psalmist delights in become what you delight in, let what he mourns over be what he mourns over, let what he longs for be what you long for. The more we do this the more we find that we will become aware of how we ought to feel, and we will find that our affections and emotions become increasingly shaped by the truth of God's word.