Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spiritual Healthcare

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

                        Proverbs 17.22 

Who’s In Charge?

How do you feel? Are you the master of your emotions, or are they running the show? These are questions we should ask ourselves often, because who’s in charge of our feelings is directly responsible for our mental, spiritual, and—often—physical health. Feelings are like TV color controls. Everything we see and learn streams through their filters. If our emotions run “hot,” the picture becomes too vivid and pulls each detail into the foreground. If they run “cold,” everything recedes and we grow indifferent. None of what we see is accurate or trustworthy.

We recently popped in Burn Before Reading, the Coen Brothers’ throwaway comedy, unaware our DVD player had gone on the fritz. Barely into the first scene, I said, “What’s with the pink-and-green production design?” We assumed it was another of the Brothers’ eccentric touches. A half-hour later, Walt said, “I still don’t get the color scheme.” We spent the rest of the picture hatching theories. It ended and I said, “Well, that made no sense.” Not until learning the player’s color was off did we realize we wasted 96 minutes in search of meaning that wasn’t there. The same thing happens when our emotions take charge. They corrupt vision, raise meaningless questions, alter perceptions, and waste time. So who’s in charge? How do you feel?

Facing the Day

Everyone on any given day has reasons for not feeling so hot. If everything’s going well—and, really, how often does everything run in optimal condition?—we still carry past regrets and future anxieties. Facing the day takes heart, because much of what transpires during the day rests outside our control. A perfect morning is no guarantee of a glorious evening. In John 16.33, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The King James Version translates “take heart” as “be of good cheer,” a phrase Christ uses several other times to assure the disciples He’s with them. “Be of good cheer,” He says in Matthew 14.27. “It is I; be not afraid.”

Thus, when we hear Solomon advise, “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” we understand he’s not talking about cockeyed optimism. He’s speaking about confidence, a relentless rejection of fear based on knowing we are not alone. Whether we rise to a day looming with trouble or we wake in paradise that collapses into living hell by day’s end—or if it ends as splendidly as it began—with a cheerful heart in charge of our emotions, we can rest knowing, good or bad, the One Who triumphed over the world remains beside us.


Like all matters of faith, this is far easier to say than accept, let alone practice. Spiritual healthcare requires the same discipline we apply to maintaining physical health. Just as we comply with doctor’s orders taking our medicine, watching our diet, and exercising as he/she instructs, we should conscientiously comply with Proverbs’ direction. We nurture a cheerful heart by guarding our thoughts. Philippians 4.8 offers comprehensive counsel about how we should think: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” In the verses prior to this prescription, we’re told to rejoice always, be gentle, and avoid anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and with thanks, make our requests known to God. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v7)

How we feel is how we think. If we allow our emotions to govern us, we’ll lead erratic, storm-tossed lives that rob us of persistent joy. They leave us out there, flapping in the wind on our own. They crush us until we’re dried out and lifeless. But if we’re compliant and follow the directions we’ve been given, we’ll remain of good cheer. Fearful symptoms will fade. Loneliness will be a thing of the past. They say laughter is the best medicine, but it isn’t always appropriate or even possible. A cheerful heart, however, always works and is never out of order. That's how we feel.

A daily dose of right thoughts will maintain a cheerful heart.

(Tomorrow: Parallel Paths)

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