It is important to note that Greg tied this discipleship series to our church’s Vision Statement. We are called by God for a purpose, part of which is being discipled into spiritually empowered people. In this message Greg explored how we can guard our hearts. We cannot “will” to feel differently about things, but we CAN change how we think and represent things in our minds. Our feelings will follow.
It is very important to notice that Greg ties this series on discipleship to our Vision at WHC. We are called by God for a purpose and we need to understand our “becoming a spiritually empowered person” to have its goal in the Vision God has for this church. Greg returned to some themes that have been present in his previous sermons. Some foundational texts have been 2 Cor. 10:5 where Paul speaks of taking every thought captive to Christ and Phil. 4:8 where we are instructed to think only on godly things. Today, Greg focused on Proverbs 4:23 to help us see the importance of guarding our hearts. This verse puts a very high priority on this! Greg clarified that “guard” here means to “govern,” “protect” and “oversee.” And “heart” is not merely our emotions, as we might tend to think today, but in the biblical context was understood as the “seat of both thought and feeling.”
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Much of the attention has been on our taking thoughts captive; today Greg made a turn toward dealing with the feelings. If we are to guard our hearts, as the proverb says, how do we do this? We saw that we cannot simply change our feelings about things, they are too immediate for that. We cannot “will” to feel differently about things. But we CAN change how we think and represent things in our minds, and then our feelings will follow. Greg introduced the example of a woman who had the following ways of representing her world “installed” in her mind/heart. Courting is fun, exciting, passionate, etc., but married life is dull, boring, hopeless, fighting, and even feels like a prison. As a result of representing things this way in her mind, she was very excited and enjoyable to be with before she got married, but then her husband found that she was a very different person after the wedding! She felt fundamentally different because her representation in her mind WAS very different, and inevitably her emotions followed those representations. The truth of the matter is that courting may be fun, passionate, and exciting, but marriage should be no less than that! The way out for this woman was to re-image what married life is really all about. She can look to God to see the hope, the joy, the meaning, passion and calling that God has in store for her and her husband! If she represented married life like THAT then her emotions would not fall flat so easily.
Another example that Greg gave was about his struggle with pornography. Biologically, we are wired to be drawn to sex and stimulating images. These things are associated with pleasure and so we associate sex with good feelings. Having been exposed to pornography in the context of his father’s habit, there was the positive reinforcement that these feelings are good and appropriate even when they are provoked by perverse images. As Greg learned that this was not a good association, the positive feelings still attached to pornography and created a very real tension between Greg’s feelings and what Greg now knew to be true. How can we get free in situations like this? Greg found freedom in revising the way his brain represented pornography to his mind and heart. He needed to see pornography for what it really is, vile, disgusting, devastating to those involved. He learned to associate it with child pornography, kidnappings, and other true associates that pornography keeps. Seeing good as good and evil as evil is critical if we want to respond positively to godly things and negatively to ungodly things.
Greg identified these patterns to help us change our feelings by controlling our thoughts:
We need to realize that our feelings are not really TRUE but are merely reactions to how we represent things to ourselves. This means we need to in control of those representations if we want to govern our hearts. We are wired to feel positively about good things and negatively about bad things. The trick is keeping these things straight in our representations. We are not given “software” or programming that helps us discern good from evil when we are born, our parents and our environment installed this. We need to assess this and reclaim areas in which we have bad programming. This is not a matter of simply wrong information, we have concrete representations that attach to our emotions, this is why this software is so powerful!