Podcast: Jeremiah – The Weeping Prophet

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If you’re not one of the almost 1500 people (from 51 countries) who signed up for the free Ligonier Connect Course, you’re now too late. Sorry! But you can still benefit from what the rest of us have been learning from the book of Jeremiah by tuning into this week’s Connected Kingdom podcast.

A New Recipe for Happiness

The most popular happiness recipe in the world is: SUCCESS FIRST, HAPPINESS SECOND.

Millions work themselves to the bone every day because they believe hard work will bake the cake of success that they will then be able to feast on with joy. So how’s that working out?

  • In 2010, only 45 percent of workers surveyed were happy at their jobs, the lowest in 22 years of polling.
  • Depression rates today are ten times higher than they were in 1960.
  • Every year the age threshold of unhappiness sinks lower across the nation.
  • Fifty years ago, the mean onset age of depression was 29.5 years old. Today, it is almost exactly half that: 14.5 years old.

There’s no less success; but there’s much less happiness. Why? Have we got the recipe wrong? Are we using the wrong ingredients? Or are we putting them in the wrong order?

The ingredients are right but we’ve got them in the wrong order. So says, Shawn Achor, Harvard Psychology Professor and bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage.

Happiness first, Success second
Achor argues that happiness is the pre-requisite to success, that optimism fuels performance and achievement, that our brains are “hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive” [The Happiness Advantage, 15]. Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive, which drives performance upward. Some of his evidence includes:

  • Doctors put in a positive mood (with the promise of candy!) before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster.
  • Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent.
  • Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers.
  • Of 272 employees, those who were happier at the beginning of their employment ended up receiving better evaluations and higher pay later on.
  • A person’s happiness as a college freshman predicted how high their income was nineteen years later, regardless of their initial level of wealth.
  • Nuns whose journal entries had more overtly joyful content lived nearly ten years longer than the nuns whose entries were more negative or neutral.
  • Unhappy employees take more sick days, staying home an average of 1.25 more days per month, or 15 extra sick days a year.
  • Happiness functions as the cause, not just the result, of good health.
  • When positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, cognitive functions such as concentration, analysis, creativity, problem-solving, and memory are heightened.
  • Students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers
  • People who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals did so more efficiently and successfully than those who were more neutral or negative
  • Happy people recover from stressful events faster
  • Students  who viewed attending Harvard as a privilege shone much brighter than those who saw their studies as a chore.
  • One study of 112 entry-level accountants found that those who believed they could accomplish what they set out to do scored the best job performance ratings from their supervisors 10 months later.

One meta-analysis of happiness research that brought together the results of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people, found that “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity, and, in particular, our jobs, careers, and businesses.” [41]

Positive Spirituality
It’s a pity that the positive psychology movement took so long to discover what Nehemiah knew about 2,500 years ago:

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

Yes, joy in God empowers the believer for life’s hardest challenges and loftiest aspirations. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37: 4). Or as Jesus put it: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Christians have such a positive advantage here, because we have so much more to be joyful about.

  • We love and are loved by the one true and living God.
  • We know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
  • Our sins are forgiven.
  • We’ve experienced sovereign and saving grace.
  • We are justified and adopted into God’s world-wide and heaven-wide family.
  • Everything is working together for our good.
  • The Holy Spirit is sanctifying and empowering us.
  • We have all the promises of God.
  • The sting of death is removed and the grave has been de-fanged.
  • Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven and will welcome us there.

What mind-, heart-, soul- and body-strengthening joy God gives us in the Gospel! He has baked the perfect happiness recipe for us to feast on, strengthening us to be more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive in every area of life.

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Is it Time for More Positive Biblical Counseling?

Until the late 1990’s “there was a 17-to-1 negative-to-positive ratio of research in the field of psychology. In other words, for every one study about happiness and thriving there were 17 studies on depression and disorder” [The Happiness Advantage, 11].

Consequently, most psychologists spent their time helping people with problems get back to an “average” human experience. Their aim was to help people who were operating at sub-normal levels to get back to normal (e.g. sober up the alcoholic, remove anxiety, etc). Little attention was given to making people happy and optimistic, to lifting them above the average.

Positive Psychology
In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, rebelled against this imbalanced negativity and led a shift to studying the positive side of the curve, the above average, the “abnormally” happy, etc. Thus, “positive psychology” was born with the emphasis being “what works” rather than “what’s broken.” [12]

Instead of traditional psychology’s focus on “Why are people unhappy?” and “How can we help them out of the slough?” positive psychology asks, “What makes people happy?” and “How can we help them flourish and excel?”

Positive Biblical Counseling
As I survey biblical counseling literature, the ratio seems to be at least 17-1, negative-to-positive (and I’ve contributed to that imbalance.) If you asked most people what words comes to mind when they think of a biblical counselor, I don’t think “smile,” “laugh,” and “enthusiasm for life” would trip off the tongue (although there are some wonderfully cheery exceptions).

Isn’t it beyond time for biblical counseling to become a more positive movement? Yes, of course we must continue to get involved in the mess and rubble of people’s lives. But what about forging an additional positive path? Building another brighter dimension to the movement? Adding the banjo to the violin? Getting on to the front foot and leading people proactively rather than waiting for disasters and then reacting?

I’d like to see Biblical Counseling change the ratio by:

  • Getting Christians through the dark valleys AND leading them beside green pastures and still waters.
  • Wiping away their tears AND teaching them how to rejoice.
  • Fixing spiritual problems AND  promoting spiritual flourishing.
  • Targeting sins for demolition AND graces and gifts for strengthening and exercising.
  • Pulling the backslider out of the filthy ditch AND showing the godly new vistas of spiritual beauty.
  • Puncturing the pride of the arrogant AND building up the faith of the meek.
  • Removing despair AND instilling hope.
  • Quenching hate AND inflaming love.

Such pre-emptive, pro-active, and positive biblical counseling would not only enhance and strengthen an already strong and useful movement, it would also hugely bless God’s people, many of whom are tired with “average,” and who long to flourish, excel, and soar.

It might cheer us all up a bit as well.

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A Web of Wisdom
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Top Ten Sentence Slip-ups
Why couldn’t my english teachers have taught it so simply and succintly?

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It’s gonna happen, so you’d better get ready.

Battling discouragement as a pastor’s wife
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Whole Church, Whole Gospel, Whole World

How Racism is Bad for our Bodies

In How Racism is Bad for our Bodies, Harvard researcher Jason Silverstein argues that “Stop and Frisk” is a large-scale threat to public health. Whether you agree with him on that particular issue or not, he does link to some stunning evidence on how discrimination increases the risk of depression, the common coldhypertensioncardiovascular diseasebreast cancer, and mortality. His article especially focuses on the impact of discrimination-related stress:

  • Being a racial minority leads to greater stress: In a study of 30,000 people, 18.2 percent of black participants experienced emotional stress and 9.8 percent experienced physical stress. Comparatively, only 3.5 and 1.6 percent of whites experienced emotional and physical stress, respectively.
  • This stress leads to poorer mental and physical health. This is not only because stress breaks the body down. It is also because stress pushes people to cope in unhealthy ways, especially when they are socially disadvantaged.
  • Just the fear of racism alone switches on the body’s stress-response systems: In a college experiment, when Latina participants thought they were interacting with a racist white partner, they had higher blood pressure, a faster heart rate, etc.
  • When conditions of social injustice affect this many people, and prompt poor health outcomes, risk passes down generations: At a time when the first generation of African Americans born in the post-Jim Crow Era is only 40 years old, it is probably not accidental that current life expectancy among African Americans resembles that of White Americans 40 years ago.

If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, Christians ought to be at the forefront of fighting discrimination in every sphere: political, ecclesiastical, cultural, legal, etc. But is fighting against racism enough? Is that going to remove these horrendous consequences quickly enough? Is there anything more positive we can do to improve the health and even extend the lives of African Americans, Hispanics, Scots (just kidding), etc.

Some, like Dolphus Weary, have argued persuasively for a sensitive and careful positive discrimination when employers have the opportunity to offer a job to equally qualified candidates.

While that’s a controversial issue, surely we can practice positive discrimination on a personal level. Is there anything we can do today in our interactions with people that will make them feel more loved, more accepted, more valued, etc.  It might be just an extra smile and thank you at the checkout. Maybe we can do or say something positive online. Or how about an encouraging word to a colleague, or even a complete stranger?

You never know, it could save (or extend) a life.