The Power of Moods to Shape the Mood

For years, even after my conversion, I went about my days often as a pretty moody person.

Back in the time when Tim LaHaye’s temperament categories captured the evangelical imagination, I always got stuck with the same label of the four: melancholy (choleric, sanguine, and phlegmatic rounding out the group). Ask Nancy and she will probably tell you that this moody blues pattern in her husband during far too many of those early years made for one of the biggest challenges to her marital adjustment.

I am happy to say after nearly forty years of walking with Jesus that the label doesn’t stick so well anymore. That’s not to say that I don’t struggle with melancholy from time to time. I do. But things have changed by God’s grace and the power of the gospel.

Understanding the power of the gospel and living in the grip of grace that delivers one from melancholy depends a great deal on grasping the relationship between the moods of Greek verbs. Gotcha thinking now, don’t I? You probably didn’t guess that trajectory in my thinking.

But it’s true, entirely true, in the relationship between the indicative and the imperative moods. The indicative mood in languages states what is. The imperative, on the other hand, declares what should be. The former is descriptive; the latter is prescriptive. To put it another way, the indicative tells us who we are in Christ because of the gospel while the imperative tells us how we should live in light of the gospel.

For example, Ephesians 2:4-6 states what is. Because of God’s great love, even when we were dead in sin, He made us alive together with Christ, raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places. We refer to that as positional truth. That’s our position in Christ. Ephesians 4:1-3, on the other hand, declares what should be in light of what is. Because of what God has done for us in Jesus we should walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. The rest of those verses goes on to unpack what worthy walking looks like.

That’s only one of a myriad of examples from the New Testament. Here’s the point. Don’t confuse your who with your do. Don’t switch your indicative with your imperative. The Bible never does. The indicative always precedes the imperative, never the other way around. In Christ what you do does not determine who you are; who you are determines what you do! We don’t obey the commands of Christ in the word of God to make ourselves pleasing to God; we obey the commands of Christ in the word of God because we are pleasing to God in Christ.

This is huge in terms of shaping emotional moods! If you confuse your who with your do, if you switch the moods, you will end up either despairing because you never measure up, or you go the other way and end up bragging at how much you have it together. Neither of those moods pleases God.

I was reminded the other morning just how much the gospel has changed my moods by a rather silly incident. Nancy prepared a dynamite egg & cheese strata for our weekly staff meeting. I get up earlier than she does on Tuesday morning so it fell to me to preheat the oven and get the thing cooking while our guys prayed. Sounds simple enough.

But when she came out to the kitchen I heard a gasp and wondered, What did I do wrong now? Turns out I had preheated the oven but never put the casserole in there! Poor Nanc had to scramble literally, whipping ups some eggs. Plan B she graciously called it. How cool is it to live with a wife constrained by the gospel?

Tell you the truth, I was tempted, really tempted, to do that silly thing I have often done. I thought seriously about playing that game I play so well called beat up on PC. I know it’s silly, but that’s the very kind of thing that can put me into an emotional tailspin!

And then I remembered the gospel. It’s not about my performance; it’s about His provision. He has perfected me for all time (Hebrews 10:14). I am complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). I have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). The pleasure of God with me His child does not depend on remembering to put the strata in the oven or any other assignment for that matter. It depends upon my union with Christ and God’s absolute delight with Him.

If we get this, if we keep our moods in the right order, then the joy of the Lord really will be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), and our moods will be shaped for the glory of God and testify to the beauty of the gospel.

3 responses

  1. Dear Dr. Heffelfinger: I read your comments on moods in language and came away with a lovely lyrical sense of your teaching — and perhaps your being. Your smile reminds me of a beaming smile from long ago. Tnank you so much; it was delightful to read a little about your history, as well.

    My love to you and Nancy, — John Charpie

  2. Well doctor this is an excellent posts about moods. As moods play an important role in shaping our day to day life, so one must understand them properly. Thanks for a nice post

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