Renovating the Heart

I took part in a pastoral care think tank a few weeks ago. It was one of those precious moments where all of us around the table felt we really were talking about the things we ought to be talking about as ministers and pastors in the church.

Two questions stood out for me during the conversation. The first was ‘how does the human heart work?’ We looked at the complex interplay between understanding (cognition), feeling  (affectation), and will  (volition). The discussion was an attempt to articulate the process of change. We were all a little suspicious of Aristotle, even if the Holy Spirit is bolted on, so we wanted to look beyond virtue, Christian habits and practices. They all seem to work from the outside in. We wanted to work from the inside out so we began with the heart.

But how is the human heart transformed or renovated? As far as I am concerned, it has got to begin with desire. As we chatted we wondered whether desire and affectation were the same thing.  I suspect that desire runs deeper than feelings and perhaps drives understanding, feelings and will, but I’m open to persuasion. Either way affectation, fuelled by cognition is the main driver of the will

Of course, if the renovation of the heart begins with it’s desires, how can those desires be shaped or trained. Gregory of Nyssa speaks of the ‘pedagogy of desire’ in which the desire of the heart is thwarted, chastened, transformed, renewed and finally intensified. But how does this process take place?

As good Charismatics, we soon turned our attention to the question of prayer ministry. This led us to our second question. What do we think we’re doing when we pray ‘Come Holy Spirit’ and what has it got to do with the renovation of the heart? We mapped the process of spiritual transformation from intensity, through intentionality, to intimacy. Intensity has three movements within it; firstly purgation, secondly illumination and, thirdly union. We tentatively concluded that prayer ministry was a moment of intensification that had to be intentionally followed up with the Gospel if we wanted to sustain intimacy with God in the long run.

This means that to move beyond behavioural modification to real heart change, the ministry of the Holy Spirit has to go hand in hand with a gospel-centred theology. Effective pastoral care demands both.

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