How many times a day do you say this? How many times a day do you subconsciously say this about your relationship with Jesus? What about reading the word, praying, or worship? Should you do those things even if you’re not FEELING it? And would that time be worthwhile if you did it despite such feelings? Feelings and faith are always touchy topics around evangelical Christians. In my experience, Christians tend to polarize to one extreme based on their background, personality, and theological “camp” in discussions about faith and feelings.
On one hand, you have the charismatics who think any moment of worship or prayer without emotion is lifeless religiosity. On the other, you have traditionally reformed folk who, like a football referee, are eager to flag any intense worship context as “idolatrous emotionalism” and “anti-intellectualism”. The problem with these categories and judgments is the inability to defend them through actual scripture. Don’t get me wrong, I have been guilty of this polarization myself, but I’m starting to realize a few things about my faith and emotions.
First of all, sinful manifestations are bad, NOT emotions. Therefore, God intends and expects us to be wholly engaged when we are worshiping, reading and praying. This includes emotionally. In Deuteronomy 6:4-5 we are introduced to one of the most beautiful and holistic pictures of a life that is pleasing to God:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Obedience, devotion, faith, and knowledge all begin with love. And this love involves our whole being. In other words, you should ask yourself, “am I actually ‘loving God’ if I am emotionally unaffected when meeting with him?” This is akin to not being emotionally engaged when seeing our kids or spouse after a long day at work. To say, “my family knows my love through my faithfulness” is simply absurd. Hug your kids!!! Kiss your wife!!
Love your God.
Here’s the other side: Life is hard, we get tired, and we sin. We sometimes
What should we do? Feel bad or guilty for not loving God enough? Do we wait for “right” feelings to come? NO. Here’s the thing I love about the Deuteronomy verse, read what the next few verses say:
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
God knew that the command to love him with everything we have is too hard a task for us in our sinful state. Yet, since grace reigns through Christ, God calls us to strive to love him. Strive as a response of gratitude for what he has done through the gospel, not to earn anything. Now, how do we love him even when we don’t FEEL that love? The verses above tell us how. One word. Habit.
The way to find a middle ground between both polarities is to understand the power of habit. God instructs us in Deuteronomy 6 to love him. But then he says remind yourself of this command, again, and again, and again. This command became a Hebrew prayer called the “Shema Yisrael” which means, “hear O Israel”. This prayer was said countless times in the life of an Israelite. They said it when they woke up. They said it to their kids before bed. They said it before they dozed off themselves. Feelings and desires produce habits; habits inform feelings. The more you do something you enjoy, the more you’ll want it; the more you’ll do it. Wanting to love God more is a desire. Such a desire needs to produce a habit, that at first, you may not FEEL like doing.
Here’s an example:
Many Christians make a huge mistake in fighting lust and addiction to pornography. I confess I did this for years. We say that you MUST have a greater affection and desire to please God to conquer your lust. This is true. But it is a lie to say that this affection is going to feel the same as the sensation of lust and pornography. Out of your genuine DESIRE to please God you need to create a new habit. At first, that new habit will feel unrewarding and be very, very hard. Eventually, as a new habit is formed, your desire to please God and ability to enjoy him will grow. It’s amazing.
So should you pursue God, obey him, worship him, and pray to him even when you don’t feel like it? Absolutely! Because through it you’re forming a new habit, and eventually love will grow.
For more on this read the following resources:
You are what you love by James K. A. Smith
The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers sermon
About the author: Benjamin Rodgers is currently one of the pastors of Solid Rock Church. He also is the campus leader of OneU at the University of Maryland. He and his wife Kennesha have been married since January 2012. They have one son, and a daughter due in July 2016.