The problem is, it’s hard to ignore feelings. We live in bodies that experience this world with its bumps and worries, and experience feelings that are reactions to this reality whether we like it or not. The question is what we are going to do with them. The feelings themselves are neither good nor bad, but how we choose (there’s that word again) to react is a moral issue.

How do can I rein in these feelings? Is it possible to gain a degree of mastery over them? How can I train myself to trust in God – regardless of the emotional noise in my head?

It’s easier said than done, but  developing good habits of the soul will go a long way to helping us. As I write this (originally written in January 2010), I’m facing a layoff from a job I’ve held for more that 23 years. With 5 dependents, believe me when I say that my feelings are all over the map. I’m not sleeping as well, and concern for the future is where my natural inclinations lead. My worry is a reaction to the circumstances I find myself in; yet I am told that God will provide. Memorizing some key passages from the Bible has been a great help, and they are there, accessible and right in my head when I’m lying awake in bed at night with a brain that won’t shut off. If there’s too much static in there, a dose of some helpful passage can restore perspective and calm the waters. This is a habit to train ourselves in: it won’t happen by itself, and I have a long ways to go.

Speak what you choose to believe, not how you feel. Put it into words. There’s a real distinction between feeling and belief that we often forget. It’s a vital difference. Saying what you believe helps unmuddy these waters; there is something special about the spoken word. It’s not some abacadabra to invoke God’s power; but more a point of nailing your colours to the mast, taking a stand unashamed. It bears witness to God’s reality, the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It emboldens and fortifies the heart.

We are encouraged to pray for His strength to help us obey. Can we claim to be His sons and daughters if we don’t? We have been invited to be co-maintainers of God’s universe, called to live like the sons and daughters of God we are, to display God’s kind of life and to and to insert it into nature. Talk about being salt in this world! “Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven”.

This is essentially a work of creation as opposed to being a mere cog in the cause-and-effect machine that nature is. This is the point I want to make: good habits are creative acts – we are injecting a new cause into the chain of events that stretch back to the beginning of time. They are not something that would happen if nature ran its course. Bad habits are merely natural reactions to our surroundings and will occur unbidden: fallen nature works by cause and effect. Moral choices, however are events of another kind – and their source is outside of nature.

If our spiritual side is what defines us as humans, then it follows that those who listen only to their natural, reactive nature are becoming somehow less human, spiritually dead. And doesn’t scripture bear this out? 2 Peter 2:10b-12 says, “…and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord. But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption,…” The spirit is what makes moral decisions. To act amorally is to deny the spiritual, to ratify the natural, animal part of ourselves.

I used to get confused when I saw in the Bible that we are saved by grace, and not our works, but then read we were to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, and that “faith without works is dead”. The two views seemed contradictory. But when you think of “working out” as disciplined, applied effort towards a goal – mindful of the price that was paid to make our spiritual rebirth possible – the contradiction evaporates. If we were given a great gift at enormous expense to the giver and then treated it as a common thing, that would speak volumes about the value we placed in the gift and its Giver. I will be very careful to esteem the gift given to me – to be otherwise speaks of ingratitude and an unchanged, hard heart.

God calls us to be agents of change – both in our own lives and in the world. We need to cultivate these good habits – forgiveness, grace to others, prayer, thankfulness.