Even if we wholly believe in the infallibility of the Bible and characterize God as our “Lord”, the majority of us still generally live out of our limbic system. You know – the emotional part of our brain that virtually each and every time overrides our prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that was designed to compel us to pursue wise decisions. I have heard it said that we make 90% of our decisions based on how we feel. And as we witness every day, that process produces an overwhelming assortment of turmoil and heartbreak.
For those of us who characterize ourselves as Christians, let’s take a look at how we stack up in this area. Compelling statistics from various sources indicate:
- Extramarital affairs are nearly as prevalent in the church as they are outside of the church
- Pornography use is already rampant among those who attend church as roughly 70% of men 30% of women struggle with unbiblical compulsive sexual activities they cannot stop
- Road rage, though sadly joked about so often within the church is on a regular basis creating varying degrees of hate-filled confrontations
- Divorce is arguably as prevalent in the church as outside
- Intimacy dysfunction between married couples inside the church is disturbingly common.
Why, when we have a genuine relationship with the living God at our disposal are we so perplexed within a dysfunctional existence? I believe it’s because we are, by and large, making the bulk of our decisions based on what we feel rather than what we know to be the truth. Our feelings are, in reality, paramount.
Mike Tyson versus Woody Allen
Several years ago, I heard an intriguing assessment regarding these two components of the brain: This will date me a little, but the analogy was that the limbic system is like Mike Tyson and the prefrontal cortex is like Woody Allen. When there’s a disagreement, Mike will annihilate Woody every time. So then, with this cognitive quandary as the fundamental truth we live in, what is the answer? How can we live according to objective truth found in the Bible when it too often flies in the face of our feelings? Paul addressed characteristics of this conundrum in Romans 12:2 – Please allow me a relatable paraphrase:
“Fight against the cultural flow, as it tries to shape you into its way of thinking and behaving. Instead, intentionally allow God to transform the way you think by paying close attention to who He is and what He has to say about all aspects of life. When you do this, you will be positively changed and you will begin to understand what God wants you to do. And you will find yourself increasing in understanding about what He considers good, pleasing and perfect.”
Essentially, it’s our Lord’s responsibility to appropriately position us with the truth, as we purposefully pay attention and make the essential adjustments. Fundamentally, our pursuits must be established within an intimate relationship with Him. OK, yes I know this is a very Christianese declaration, one that we repeatedly hear from probably every pulpit. But what does that practically mean and how is it achievable.
Well, let’s say you move to another city and shortly thereafter, decide to attend a church around the corner. Your first Sunday you are sitting in the congregation and you notice a person of your same gender sitting across the aisle who looks to be around your age. They dress a lot like you, have their hair style similar to yours and just look sorta normal, based on your personal estimation. Well, you are open to relationships in these new surroundings so you casually place yourself in proximity to them after the service and nonchalantly engage them in conversation. You quickly discover that you have a few interests in common.
So the next Sunday you try to appear “cool” but you find yourself purposely gravitating their direction again. During the ensuing conversation even more of a connection is made and you casually ask them if they would like to “get lunch” sometime. They respond positively and a day and time is agreed upon and – well, here you go. You are in the initial stages of establishing a relationship with that person. You see, pursuing intimacy is not actually any sort of a mystery at all. Spending time together is essentially how any relationship matures.
Intimacy with the Lord is developed exactly the same way. You “hang out” with Him. You look for opportunities to “do things”, even normal, everyday things, together. Am I talking about reading the Bible? Well, reading the Bible is a pretty good way to hang out with Him but it’s so much more than that. As it is when we are getting to know someone, we simply spend time together in all sorts of ways and we talk about all sorts of things. So as the scripture above says, we are to, “intentionally allow God to transform the way (we) think by paying attention to who He is and what He has to say about all aspects of life.”
How do we do that? By “being with” Him in all sorts of situations. Here, let me give you a few ideas:
- Read a good Christian book and listen for His voice in the midst
- Spend time talking with Him in a dialogue format (talking and listening)
- Listen to Christian music and pay attention for His heart/voice in the midst
- Intentionally invite Him to participate in whatever you are doing and conduct that activity in such a way that you do your best to retain that awareness
- And yes read the bible and listen for His voice as you read;
Are you kind of getting the gist of it? Now, of course when I say listen or pay attention for His voice, I am not talking literally. Not to say that’s impossible, but generally the promptings we sense during times spent with Him are the voice, the communication, I am speaking about.
And what I like to do prior to “hanging out” with Him is to intentionally and sincerely ask Him to connect with me during that time. For example, if my wife is going to be gone on a Saturday, I will plan my time I spend with Him around her “gone” time. When she leaves I will often sit down for a few minutes and deliberately ask the Lord, usually out loud, how He wants to spend this time together. After all, He knows better than I do how best we can connect that particular day. So once I’ve asked Him I don’t spend a huge amount of time waiting. Whatever I “feel/sense” He wants to do, that’s what I pursue.
Then even as I am preparing, I will briefly say to Him, “now I think ‘this’ (whatever I’m feeling/sensing) is how You want to hang out but if I’m wrong please let me know, because I’m trying Lord”. Then I, without further concern, go about doing what I believe He wants me to do to spend that time together. Often after spending a period of time in that specific way, I will sense we need to do something different, and so I make the adjustment. It’s a relationship. We communicate!
Feelings should follow Obedience
I guess what I am proposing is that we will never effortlessly “feel” propelled towards the truth. We were born into this world dead – spiritually. And the forces of the world, flesh and the Devil will forever be in opposition. Consequently the intrinsic feelings that do naturally propel us come from a selfish, egotistical, and prideful place in our brains/hearts that epigenetically have a very long history of cause and effect. The only way for us to begin to feel at all compelled towards the truth is for us to become spiritually alive; to be in such a place of intimacy with Him that His desires actually can increasingly become our desires. And these desires in many ways will then, more often, flow in conjunction with our feelings.
Mike Tyson must change because Woody Allen will never be able to defeat him. Mike must be transformed; our limbic system must be deliberately altered. That change, that transformation, will come as our Lord is allowed to renew it within intimacy. And, the feeling part of us that so often betrays our best intentions will forever need to be a focal point. Ephesians 6 tells us our battles are actually being relentlessly fought in the spirit world. That being true, then it appears obvious that the enemy’s efforts never cease. Oh, there are ebbs and flows, but if there seems a cease-fire currently, you can be sure it is only temporary. As Satan never gave up on making every attempt to take down Jesus during his time on earth, why would we think we will experience a less war-like existence?
Yes it’s actually possible, as we as Christians have repeatedly been taught, for feelings to follow obedience; however it’s naive at best to assume that we should ever plan on giving precedence for “feelings” to be our default. Truth will forever be true regardless our fickle and half-baked feelings.
Steve Hunt lives in Clovis, California, and is involved in a number of men’s ministries, including leading weekly groups for men struggling with marriage, relationship and sexual issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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