Written by Andrea Nwabuike
At a Christian conference a few years ago, one of the speakers said, “Put your faith in the facts, and the feelings will come.” The speaker was explaining the importance of prioritizing truth above our momentary feelings. He argued that the task of every believer is to model our lives around what is true as opposed to what we feel. If truth is our highest pursuit, then joy and peace will follow. But if we prioritize our emotions instead, believing and doing only what feels good, we invite sin and disobedience to take root in our lives.
I eagerly latched onto his words, but my interpretation likely wasn’t what the speaker had intended. I chose to receive his talk as permission to deny my emotions; an encouragement to become a spiritual stoic. I saw emotions as an inconvenience and obstacle to genuine faith. The gospel was something to be understood and studied apart from my emotions and feelings. I believed that the more I grew in my faith, the more detached I would become from my emotions.
Contrary to my expectations, the opposite occurred. As I immersed myself in the disciplines of the faith, primarily Bible study and prayer, my love for God and my affections towards Him grew. For the first time, I found myself raising my hands during praise and worship, pleased to express my joy at the knowledge of God’s goodness. I became more expressive and honest in communicating with God, freely sharing my hopes, dreams, fears, and pains. The more I engaged my mind with the goodness of the gospel, the more my heart was stirred.
Unfortunately, many churches embrace an extreme approach to emotions. Some congregations view outward expressions of emotion with suspicion and label them a distraction to true worship. In such contexts, the gospel message can become stale knowledge rather than a living reality. On the other hand, some churches pursue an emotional worship experience that can ignore the importance of sound doctrine and rigorous biblical study. In such churches, worship runs the risk of being little more than a show of entertainment.
The consequences of a lopsided approach to worship are profound. Either extreme impedes our sanctification and creates distance in our relationship with God. A lopsided approach also impacts our witness to the world. Our faith will not stand up to challenge and critique if we fail to study and equip ourselves with the Word of God. Similarly, the world will remain unmoved by a faith that offers nothing to their hearts.
In Matthew 22:37, Jesus declared that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Our love of God ought to be all-consuming, transforming every aspect of our lives. But, if we want to love and worship God rightly, we must first know who He is. You cannot love someone you do not know. The Bible is the principal means by which God reveals Himself to us. A deep and rich study of Scripture ignites and sustains our love for God.
In his book Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live, David Platt wrote, “It is impossible to separate faith in Christ from feelings for Christ…. Faith fuels feeling. True intellectual knowledge of God naturally and necessarily involves deep emotional desire for God.” As our affection for God grows, so also will our emotions be stirred unto his glory. Peace soothes the spirit that meditates on the evidence of God’s faithfulness. Joy overflows when reflecting on the victory of Christ over sin and death. Hope is restored when we remind ourselves of God’s promises to us.
Embracing the tension of an intellectual and emotive faith may be uncomfortable. Some will need to stretch their minds under the discipline of Bible study, remaining consistent despite confusion, boredom or disinterest. Others will need to remove the shackles of spiritual stoicism, allowing their knowledge of the gospel to warm their hearts. Turn from idolizing emotional responses or intellect pursuit and worship Christ. Choose to pursue Him above all things and the Spirit of God will bring your mind and heart in submission to Him.