Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought - would like to see more., May 23, 2012
This review is from: Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free From the Four Emotions That Control You [Paperback] Andy Stanley (Author (Paperback)
Religious self-help books are easy to dismiss, but Andy Stanley has an interesting premise here, framing his book around the Hebrew proverb, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov 4:23 NASB). To watch over our hearts, Andy suggests attending to four besetting emotions that can corrupt our inner lives: guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy.

And in a startling rhetorical move, Stanley translates each heart-issue into one of misplaced debt: guilt as the belief that I owe you, anger when I feel that you owe me, greed because "God owes me," and jealousy springing from the belief that the world owes me.

As an example of his handling of these passions, I'll reflect on greed at length. This because I find Stanley's discussion especially useful:

"Fear is the driving force behind greed... supported by an endless cast of what ifs... What if it gets lost? What if there's not enough? What if I don't get my fair share? What if she has more? What if the economy collapses?" (74).

In reframing greed as the fear that "God either can't or won't take care" of us, Stanley asks us to stop looking at what we lack, and start asking why God has provided us with "extra" (more than our bare survival needs)n and looking at how to use that to benefit the people around us.

"A consumer-driven culture keeps us laser-focused on what we don't have, and focusing on what we don't have leaves our hearts vulnerable to greed. How? Because as long as I'm on a quest for more, then when more does come along I'll assume it's all for me. As long as I'm living for the next purchase, the next upgrade, the next whatever, I'm consuming mentally what I hope to soon be consuming physically. I'm anticipating future consumption. That /// kind of attitude leaves us little margin for generosity... So let me ask you again: Why do you have so much? ... Why has God provided you with more than you need?" (147-8).

From a completely religious perspective, Stanley is making the same observation as David Graeber does in his book on debt: debt keeps us enslaved to the future. Greed, and the desire for more - more honor, more status, a respected career, an impressive spouse, all keeps us tied to the future, and "consuming mentally" far in advance of where we actually are.

Stanley's solution is both to engage in Christian practices of dwelling in God, as well as to stop viewing our possessions or accomplishments as ours. Instead, we can step away, in a sort of Zen-removal from ego attachments, and consider ourselves not as owners, but as managers of what God has given. At this point, we need not feel guilty for having more (an easy elision of power and injustice, I think), nor do we need to feel terror if we lose what we have or hope to have --- it wasn't really ours in the first place (157).

Ultimately, Stanley points us to the apostle James, who wrote:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight (4:1-2, NIV).

He believes this goes to the heart of "the common denominator for every relational struggle" we experience, that of the division between what we desire in our hearts, and what others will in theirs: "According to James, there are conflicting desires churning around inside me, and if you bump me too hard, what's on the inside is going to spill out all over you" (162).

It's an interesting analysis, and I think there is some good meat here, but ultimately I'd like to see more specifics on what you can do in such relational situations, and more practices to counter these tendencies of our heart. Perhaps that's to be found in books like Richard Foster's Celebration of Disciplines instead. At any rate, it's always good to get a reminder to attend to our emotions and desires, and use God, community, and spiritual practices to nudge them in the right direction.

Review for Waterbrook Multnomah via the Blogging for Books program.
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