Head or heart? Faith has room for both

There’s a lot of talk about how faith in God should be a “heart relationship, not a head relationship.”

But let’s be honest for a moment here. Our hearts don’t always do what we want them to do.

What about those days (… weeks, months, years?) when you just “don’t feel God”? Does that mean your faith is useless?

I don’t believe so: here’s why.

Faith is a journey of mountains and valleys

We don’t get to float through on the mountain-top experiences all the time. Sometimes walking in faith means we keep doing the hard work of trusting, even though we don’t have any real feeling of assurance to go on. All we have to go on are past experiences, and the commitment we’ve already made to believe.

Sometimes all we can do is fall back on our head knowledge: pray the Lord’s Prayer, read the Psalms, let the spiritual disciplines we’ve learned carry us through. Pray that in doing so, eventually the joy of that “heart knowledge” will return.

Head and heart

Perhaps it’s a false dichotomy to talk about “head vs. heart”. I wonder even if this is a particularly western kind of division to make. Apparently the Hebrew word for heart and mind is in fact the same word (lebh). The same is true in Chinese (xīn 心 ),1 and I would suspect a number of other languages as well. There’s a different kind of cultural understanding at play here, one that sees the heart and the head as working in harmony with one another, rather than as diametrically opposed.

Jesus certainly doesn’t seem to favor faith-with-the-heart over faith-with-the-head. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,”1 is his exhortation — the first, most important commandment! — that we know so well.

Jesus seemed to advocate a whole-of-body kind of faith. His was a dirty, messy, hands-on faith that involved putting mud on people’s eyes and spitting on the ground. It involved the messy actions of feeding people, tending to their needs, listening to them, weeping with them. It involved his heart, his soul, his mind, and his strength — no one part more or less than the other.

But it wasn’t always about “feeling” the right way. At the pinnacle of Christ’s story, as he hangs on the cross, Jesus has nothing to go on but his head-knowledge of who He is, and of who His Father is. His heart-cry to the Father, on the other hand, is one that breaks our own hearts to hear: “Why have You abandoned me?”

Lean on the ‘head’ until the ‘heart’ catches up

So if believing with your “heart” is something you can’t quite muster up some days, take comfort that you’re not alone in having experienced this. Trust in the remembrance of times past; the things God has done for you. Pare everything back to the foundations of your faith: what unshakeable truths do you know about God? Start from that. Sit with that, and trust God in the midst of the unknowing.

Many times, for me, it’s about going back to the Gospels and re-reading who Jesus is; the kind of person He lived as. When all else seems murky and unsure, I trust that this person, this person who lived and loved in such a revolutionary way, is the revelation of who God is. I trust that his life lived in rebellious love is the only real answer we have in our broken world.

And this head-knowledge carries me through, until my heart can sing out in praise again.

Self care: an important part of building God’s Kingdom

A little while back, I wrote a short post entitled Tending to my corner of Creation. It talked a bit about our tendency to feel guilty taking time out for self care. It reminded us, though, that we’re a part of God’s creation — “fearfully and wonderfully made”, the Psalmist writes! So it follows that we should place a high value on looking after ourselves well. There’s no need for a guilty conscience where proper self care is concerned.

I’d like to go into a little more depth with some of the ideas I touched on back in that post. But first, let’s look some Scripture.

Elijah’s self care ‘fail’

Do you remember Elijah’s moment of despair — that little tale in 1 Kings 19? Poor Elijah was in fear for his life. He’d been faithful in prophesying God’s word — but for all his efforts, Jezebel was threatening to kill him. At this point in the story, it all seems too much for him. Elijah is tired of running and running, but never getting anywhere! He’s wondering if any of his efforts have even made a difference. He’s wondering what the point of it all is. Elijah has reached a place of desperation, and of bone-deep weariness. Perhaps you can relate.

“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

1 Kings 19:4b-6 (Read 1 Kings 19:1-9)

So what does God do? He doesn’t say, “Get over yourself, Elijah! Stop wallowing and get on with the job.” He doesn’t tell Elijah everything’s going to be fine, or to cheer up, it’s not that bad!

God gives Elijah sleep. God gives Elijah food and drink.

Then, He gives Elijah more sleep, and more food and drink.

Then, and only then, does Elijah decide he is strong enough to face what’s ahead.

Forgetting self care: the dangers of “running on empty”

Things often look better after a good night’s sleep, don’t they? A proper meal helps, too. When we take care of these basic needs in our own lives, we tend to see things with more clarity. We approach situations more rationally. We deal with set-backs with more resilience, and we’re less likely to take things personally.

Sometimes, we become so consumed by a particular task, that we end up neglecting our basic needs. Maybe we’re not even aware we’re doing it. We might still be going through the motions of eating and sleeping — but perhaps the meals are rushed and not as healthy as they should be, and the sleep is low on quality as a result. Like Elijah, we can get caught up in this cycle of running and running, and never stopping, but never really getting anywhere, either. Eventually, we end up running on empty. We become so exhausted that we forget our original motivations for whatever it was we were doing. We collapse in desperation, wondering what the point of it all is.

In today’s fast-paced world, constant busyness can seem like an unavoidable fact of life. Making time to care for one’s self requires intentional focus. It requires setting aside time to plan meals, to schedule quiet time, to get enough exercise and enough rest. That might mean consciously shifting our priorities.

Deferring self care to others

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life who picks up the pieces for you when you forget to look after yourself. You know the type of person I’m talking about — maybe a parent, or a spouse, or a close friend. That person in your life who makes sure you eat a vegetable every now and then. They remind you when you’re due for a health check-up. They drag you away from the computer screen at 2am, when you’ve been staring at it for so long you can’t keep your eyes open anymore.

These people are such blessings to have in our lives! But the truth is, we can so often take them for granted. We fail to notice that they’re spending time looking after things that we should be taking care of ourselves.

Now, in saying this, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t accept help when we really need it! If you’re struggling with your health, and you’ve got a supporter out there on your team helping you shoulder the burden, then skip over this section. This is not meant to make you feel guilty!

But sometimes, we place burdens on those close to us, when deep down we know that with wiser prioritising and more self-awareness, we could carry those burdens ourselves. If that’s the case, we need to make some serious changes. Neglecting ourselves so that someone else has to do the hard work instead is beneficial to no one.

“Because you’re worth it”

Ultimately, we bear responsibility for our own self care. We might justify overlooking our wellbeing because we’re too busy serving others. But if serving others comes at the expense of our health, we won’t be any use! We won’t have the physical, emotional, or spiritual fitness to be able to support or serve anyone.

Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Did you see that? God’s handiwork. That’s you! That’s someone worth taking care of. And someone who needs to be taken care of, so that you can do those good works that God has prepared for you to do. Carrying out those works has to start with discipline and faithfulness in our own lives.

God’s Kingdom: bearing each others’ burdens in balance

Once we’ve got the self care thing sorted out, we start to become aware of those areas where we’re pushed to our limits. We start to have a clearer picture of where we might need to rely on our friends and family to help us out.

And on the flip-side, we also become more aware of those areas where we have particular gifts to bring, where we can help carry burdens for others in our community.

This is how Kingdom living is done! This is how God intends for His community to work and live and love together. But none of it can be done well if we don’t get our own house in order first, so we have the strength and the endurance to live out our calling. So that we know, realistically, when we actually do need a hand up from a friend. And we know when we’re sturdy enough to be able to hold that hand out to someone else.

So go ahead. Make that doctor’s appointment; invest in that gym membership. Buy some fresh vegetables. Whatever it is that you know you’ve been neglecting about yourself, it’s time to tackle it. It’s time to look after the you that God made you to be, so you can carry out the good works he’s calling you to do.

Look after the you that God made you to be, so you can do the good works God has called you to do. Click To Tweet

Lent begins this Wednesday March 6th. Traditionally, Christians observe Lent by giving up something, or observing a new spiritual discipline. How might you observe this season of Lent?

Silence and speaking: a time for both

The wisdom of silence

I like making people laugh. It’s my way of getting to know someone, breaking the ice, or smoothing over an awkward social situation. Sometimes it’s a good thing: it puts people at ease, and lets them know I’m on their side. Sometimes it works really well as a way of starting a friendship, or healing a misunderstanding.

But making people laugh can also be a defense mechanism for me. There are times when I jump too quickly to make a joke — maybe to deflect from my own embarrassment, or to show off to someone who I’m trying a bit too hard to impress. Or sometimes it’s just because I don’t know what else to say. I cringe when I think of all those times I’ve made some clumsy joke, when really I should have just kept my mouth shut and listened.

The writer of Proverbs has much to say on the wisdom of keeping one’s mouth shut. When words are many, he writes in chapter 10, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. And he goes on:

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
   and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
   when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Proverbs 17:27-28

Sometimes I need to remember that it’s not my job to fill every gap in the conversation. Sometimes I need to have the discipline to be silent, to listen, and to learn.

The wisdom of speaking

But this is not true in every situation. There are other times I can recall when I’ve kept silent in a conversation out of fear, and later regretted it. There are countless moments I can think of in my life where I should have spoken up, but didn’t: to defend a person being treated unfairly; to prevent a wrong decision being made; to speak truth to power, when I was scared of how that power might react.

Proverbs acknowledges, too, that in some situations we are called to use our voices! Silence is not always the answer:

Open your mouth for the mute,
  for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
   defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Prov 31:8-9

So it seems Scripture is telling us both things! We should speak, and we should keep silent. Which is right? Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes sums it up best:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak

Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

There’s a time for silence, and there’s a time for speaking. The challenge is knowing which is which.

If I’m honest with myself, I usually do know whether that still, small, Holy Spirit voice inside me is calling me to speak out, or to keep silent. I just need to slow down and be obedient to that voice, instead of letting my fears and insecurities drive me.

Lord, grant me the wisdom to know when to keep silent, and the discipline to do so. And grant me the wisdom to know when to speak out, and the courage to do so. Click To Tweet

Interruptions and Routines

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

It’s often said that God likes to interrupt our best-laid plans – that the Holy Spirit works not in the way we expect, but rather through a series of sacred interruptions that overturn our routines and our expectations and our preconceived ideas. Along with this idea comes the implication that we need to make sure we’re open to these interruptions – not so wedded to our day-planners and task-lists that we say no to God when he comes knocking, because he didn’t send a Google Calendar invitation.

And all this is true! But it’s also true that for there to be any sort of interruption, there must be something going on to interrupt. I’ve come to realise it’s also possible for me to go too far in the other direction – to avoid any sort of fixed regime out of fear of becoming too tied down to any one thing at a particular moment, in a misguided desire to be more open to the Spirit’s promptings. The result is an unfocused mind – one that isn’t disciplined enough to discern God’s voice apart from my own untethered thoughts.

We still need discipline and routine, only not to make an idol of it. When God comes crashing into our daily schedule, we need to be ready to lay it all to one side and follow Him without hesitation. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have such a schedule in the first place.

For the Holy Spirit to interrupt us, there must be something going on to interrupt. Click To Tweet