Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23 NKJV)
Good emotional management is a highly needed commodity in Christian work. Without it we can unintentionally make a complete mess out of our service for God. One emotional explosion at the wrong moment can be held against us for a long time to come and we are often judged by others on how we handle our emotions. Many very productive Christian workers have had to leave the ministry because they just could not manage their emotions well and this marred all their relationships. So we need to do something – but what can we do? The good secular materials available do not draw on the resources that the Holy Spirit can bring to emotional transformation and few good Christian resources exist that combine biblical insights with good clinical data. This book is an attempt to do that.
In order to do this I have had to start with first principles and work out a biblical paradigm with Jesus at its center and the emotional life of Jesus as our model. The Holy Spirit is seen as the main power behind emotional transformation. Also tips and techniques from secular authors as well as their data has been incorporated where this material is “Christian-compatible” so to speak. So this book is divided into three sections, the biblical basics, discussion of the inner self and our emotions, and practical tips on self-mastery and emotional expression. Each of these sections have five or six chapters. The biblical section discusses some foundational teaching about the Christian emotional life. The “inner self” section looks at how emotions arise in our spirit and soul and are influenced by our body, and how our inner emotional life is formed. Finally, the practical section looks at our experience and understanding of emotions and how they should be best expressed.
What is EQ?
Emotional intelligence is the term we use to describe a complex set of human abilities related to emotional management. The four key aspects of emotional intelligence as described by Mayer and Salovey (the pioneer researchers in the area) are:
- Emotional identification, perception and expression
- Emotional facilitation of thought
- Emotional understanding
- Emotional management
Various other researchers, most notably Daniel Goleman, have broken these into various sub-factors which are continually being reviewed. Recent findings in neurology have contributed greatly to our understanding of where emotions arise in the brain. The field is fluid and a final decision on what finally constitutes EQ has not been entirely reached yet and there are two or three main schools of thought. However, much is coming out of these studies that are very interesting from a Christian perspective, as we shall see in this study.
What Is Biblical EQ?
This is the biblical perspective on the above four key skill areas. It doesn’t neglect the findings of neuroscience but it adds in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of Proverbs. It has as its model the emotional life of Jesus Christ with His personal presence, self-control, emotional expressiveness and discernment of situations. Thus it has a clear pattern, a master plan that can be used to analyse theories and to determine what is true and false, wise and unwise. Secular theories have no “ideal person” to point to – they merely assemble ideals from their own theories and worldview. In Jesus we have a model, a guide, a point to aim our teaching towards and this is invaluable.
The Christian believer is to aspire to have the emotional life of Christ Jesus for that is very much part of being “in His image”. Above all Biblical EQ is biblical – founded on faith in the inspired, inerrant and authoritative Scriptures.
The Failure Of The Secular Models of EQ
After reading various EQ books you know that emotions are important, that you should handle them better and a lot about how they arose within you, but you are not shown how to conquer them. In fact many of the EQ programs based on this kind of research have had fairly middling results. The corporate sector is pulling back from them, partly because of recession but partly because they are not delivering as expected. Why is this so? Why has the secular approach to emotional intelligence fizzled?
First, they have a philosophical underpinning that has no definite direction. There is nothing intrinsic to the theory that tells them what to aim for when helping a person achieve a higher level of emotional intelligence. Apart from being in touch with ones emotions and being
able to express them accurately, appropriately and responsibly there is no “big picture” of what the emotionally intelligent person should be like.
People end up confused and perplexed. Theories seem at variance with each other and the result is that some practitioners are almost Zen Buddhists while others are extremely businesslike, manipulative and pragmatic. Without any agreement on what an ideal person is they cannot make much real progress.
Second, much of the work of Goleman and others involves a model steeped in a medical and neurological framework that sees our responses as entirely conditioned by biology, genetics and environment. Alteration of responses is through medication, education and behavior modification. After a while people start to feel depersonalized by this approach, and react against the diminution of human responsibility that seems to be the outcome. It is so reductionistic and materialistic that after some initial enthusiasm people are repelled.
Third, prayer and spiritual disciplines are marginalized in the literature despite their utility. For instance on page 75 of Goleman’s first book, Emotional Intelligence, he says, “Finally, at least some people are able to find relief from their melancholy in turning to a transcendent power. Tice (a researcher into depression) told me “Praying, if you are very religious, works for all moods, especially depression”. Despite this obvious therapeutic value for prayer it is never again referred to in Goleman’s book. People know religion works – they are just refusing to admit it much in print.
Should we then throw out their work entirely? Not at all. Truth is truth and measurements are measurements. There is an enormous amount of good work and wise information in the current EQ literature. It can be, and is, very helpful in giving us understanding of how our emotions work. However, it does not give us a whole lot of power to transform them. The power to defeat deep and difficult emotions comes from God and involves the human spirit coming into contact with God’s Spirit. So in this book we shall tend to turn to secular sources to explain much of the physiology and the mechanisms of emotion and to Christian sources for the power to deal with them.
To get answers that genuinely help people we need two things, a clear destination, and the power to get there in a reasonable amount of time. Our destination is the image of Christ Jesus. Our power to get there is the infilling with and transforming work of the Holy Spirit. These are just some of the great advantages of the gospel. We have hope, and we have lots of hope!
Thus the central premise of the book is that Christians can have their emotional life redeemed so that it is transformed to mirror the emotional life of Jesus Christ and that the Holy Spirit’s power and grace are the key to this process. This involves renewing seven key aspects which will be discussed in detail as we move along:
- Renewing our basic perceptions of reality and our perspective on life.
- Renewing our individual belief system.
- Renewing the purposes and intents of our heart.
- Renewing our physical bodies and their influence on our emotions.
- Renewing our ability to be aware of and to understand our own emotions.
- Renewing our ability to understand the emotions of other people.
- Renewing our ability to appropriately express emotion according to the desire of the Holy Spirit.
The first few of these are a very deep work. It takes effort, courage and time to change one’s perspective on life or to review and change core beliefs, thoughts and intentions. However, unless this is done the foundations are not strong and any positive emotional changes will be temporary at best. Thus it is important that you work through the foundational chapters and understand them. They are the chapters which will give you the deepest wisdom to assist you with your emotional growth. Before we go much further we need to answer a few of the common questions about emotions and that is the topic of the next chapter.
1. What do you want out of this book?
2. Are you prepared to change?
3. How can we combine secular insights with biblical insights?
- What are some of the reasons that the secular models of EQ have not got the
results that everyone hoped they would?
- What advantages does the revelationof Scripture give us?
- What advantages do we obtain from having Jesus as our model?