against feel good religion

[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

Mark 8:34-37

Melissa Florer-Bixler makes a good point in her article: “Worship can be boring, and that’s OK.” The title to this post (not to that article) may be strong or a bit misplaced, but feelings and emotions are a byproduct of what we’re about, what we do, not the aim of faith at all. As humans, experience is important and has its place. And “the dark night of the soul” is no picnic. It’s not like we want to be emotionless, or experience no peace and joy. That’s not the point.

It’s an emphasis on following and continuing on regardless of our own state of emotions, or whatever struggle we’re having. It’s following Christ to the breaking point and beyond, yes even to death if need be. Taking the way of the cross. Pressing on that direction, no matter what. Oblivious to how that feels. In company with others who are doing the same. In and through Jesus.

God hears our sincere even uninspired prayer

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, do not refuse to hear me,
for if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.[a]

Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who are workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors,
while mischief is in their hearts.
Repay them according to their work,
and according to the evil of their deeds;
repay them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,
or the work of his hands,
he will break them down and build them up no more.

Blessed be the Lord,
for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
O save your people, and bless your heritage;
be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

Psalm 28

There are times when prayer seems so empty. Maybe I should say there are those special, relatively unusual times, when it seems inspired, as if some wind was blowing in one’s heart, giving special love to pray, as well as insight. Contrast that to the times when the soul feels like it’s in a desert. That God is far off, the soul dry. And where hope is gone, no sense of the divine. Fortunately that is not the usual either, but there are times and seasons when we can seem stuck in that.

What we need to get rid of is the idea or notion that when we feel empty our prayers don’t matter. Sincere prayers do matter to God, and we might even say especially when they come with difficulty and no sense of God’s help. I’m not sure we can measure prayer that way. Yes we’re to pray in the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 6), but no, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require effort on our part. And as humans we experience many emotions and conditions which can make prayer difficult. But when we open up the psalms we should be encouraged since so many of them come from a troubled heart.

Something to remember and be encouraged by. In and through Jesus.

rejoicing all the time?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

Lament is a missing word in our vocabulary. I remember once leading a short devotional time on Psalm 88, and asking everyone if they thought it might apply to us today. They didn’t think so. I think it does.  So what’s up when Paul tells us more than once in this letter, and others elsewhere in Scripture to rejoice in God, to rejoice in the Lord, no matter what?

It is helpful that Paul gives it as something we’re to do. It’s not something he’s saying we’re caught up into, though that certainly may occur. It is part of the attitude we’re to adopt as Christ followers. Instead of groveling, being down in the mouth over difficulties, we choose to do something. Notice I didn’t say feel different. There’s nothing we can do directly to change our feelings, though what we do can indirectly result in our feelings being changed, given some time. We simply do something. We rejoice, and we rejoice in God.

Some do this loud and often, others like me don’t. Or depending on what we’re doing, we rejoice in the Lord under our breath. This is an important starting point for us, if we’re to live in the life God has for us in Christ. And it doesn’t mean we don’t sorrow or lament. Quite the contrary. If you return to the Psalms, unlike the Psalm mentioned above, you’ll notice that the psalms of lament and complaint are mixed with praise to God. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10a).

Something I’m working on, that helps lift my spirits when I’m weighed down with trouble. In and through Jesus.

the breakthrough we need

A David Psalm

When I call, give me answers. God, take my side!
Once, in a tight place, you gave me room;
Now I’m in trouble again: grace me! hear me!

You rabble—how long do I put up with your scorn?
How long will you lust after lies?
How long will you live crazed by illusion?

Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him.

Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.
Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking.
Build your case before God and wait for his verdict.

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day

Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.

Psalm 4; MSG

There are times when we may have quit in your spirit. Where there seems no where to go. When one feels hopeless. That is partly what is so great about the psalms . We encounter real people living in the real world. The psalms speaks our language, sometimes in ways that are uncomfortable, and probably a bit off the mark, sometimes more than a bit. Sounds like us at least in our private spaces at times, doesn’t it?

But we find just like the psalmist here, David, that God answers us. We may have to keep reading in the psalms before we land on one that meets us where we’re at. That was the case with me last night. So I opened my The Message Bible to Psalm 1 and began to read. But stopped after reading Psalm 4. And sought God’s help in prayer from that. And God helped me, removing the complete discouragement with a sense of peace, as well as an imagination for something that was encouraging.

So we need to find our space with God. The psalms are perhaps the best in helping us do so. Meeting us in our various circumstances and moods, God helping us as we enter them to find God and what we need from God. In and through Jesus.

the experience of God’s love in our hearts

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

I live in the default experience of feeling down. Some people, especially Christians, will fault me for that, or at least wonder, though many not. It’s not how you feel, but it’s about faith, and in a sense, what we do with our feelings. I wonder if it isn’t related to head injuries I’ve had. But it’s been a struggle for years.

There are ways I can get around it, or maybe past it for a time. But the best way by far seems to be when the Holy Spirit just takes over. All the negative feelings are gone, awash in the love of God through the Holy Spirit.

Note in the passage above that this love is in a process which in itself is not easy, and surely fraught with negative emotions. The peace with God spoken of here is not the peace of God experienced, but rather our standing before God through God’s justifying grace and our faith in Jesus. Suffering is part of it, and then the perseverance that follows it. And character, and then hope.

I wish I could live in that feeling and sense of well being and love all the time. It does make life so much easier. I have to remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan no less, which tormented him. But how God was in that for Paul’s good, and our blessing (2 Corinthians 12).

But that love of God is made known to us by the Spirit. Something we look forward to living in forever together with all of God’s children in and through Jesus.

feel the emotion

John 10 (and note John 9 preceding it) is an interesting example of a point made in one of John R. W. Stott’s excellent books, Christ the Controversialist. Jesus was up against it time and time again, against his Jewish opponents. Yet you can see throughout that Jesus is still humbly trying to make his appeal to them. But his words were loaded for them. Jesus noted his works which he attributed to the Father, pointing to the claim that he was in the Father and the Father in him.

John 8 is not children’s bedtime reading so to speak. Jesus is not the meek and mild fictional Jesus which is understood in society at large, and it seems even in many of our churches. Jesus doesn’t mince words, and the words said would never be put in Jesus’s mouth in popular portrayals of him. Like “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father, you want to do.”

But back to John 10. In our habit of marking down doctrine or precious promise passages, neither of which we should dismiss, we can easily miss context. What can help us is reading Scripture in real life, and realizing what we’re reading is couched in real life. Jesus’s opponents were emotional, but so was Jesus himself. Jesus’s following words were surely mixed with pathos in the form of grief in lament, along with perhaps something of a defensiveness, even as we was trying to defend the truth that he was from God.

I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:25-30

 John’s entire gospel was written to underscore the truth of who Jesus is.

But watch for the real life emotion in passages. What can help us is the emotion we live with. And we need the Spirit and what the church has given us, as well. As we continue on in Scripture and in this life in and through Jesus.

the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

the peace Jesus gives

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, and just before the agony he endured in the Garden of Gethsemane. And it was wonderful to hear surely, even with the shock that had likely settled in with the disciples. Or maybe more like falling on rather deaf ears, since their hearts were a thousand miles from peace. I know all about that; I’ve been there, done that most all of my life.

It is wonderful that we have so many words preserved from our Lord’s Upper Room Discourse, as it’s called, from John’s gospel, along with his washing of the disciples’ feet, not to mention his “high priestly” prayer in closing (John 13-17).

There is nothing like having the Lord’s peace. It doesn’t mean that we have peace not to face reality. It does mean that in the midst of it all, Jesus gives us no less than his very own peace. Note that Jesus gives it. And because of that, we’re to not let our hearts be troubled or afraid.

Of course emotions come and go. The peace the Lord gives certainly does have to do with our emotions, but it’s more than that. It’s the general sense of well being, and a settled disposition from faith, which means that even when we don’t feel it, it’s there. Nevertheless, it is good when we do feel peace, akin to the peace of God going beyond all of our understanding and guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Jesus knew that his disciples would begin to fully appreciate his words only after Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit would come. Jesus even talked some about that during this discourse (John 14:15-31; 15:26-16:15).

The bottom would drop out shortly after this, for the disciples. They would all fall away to some extent, as Jesus told them, because of their own weakness. In their hearts they were ready to lay their lives down for the Lord, but they were not spiritually fit to the place where they could do so. That would take the emboldening power of Pentecost, the filling of the Holy Spirit and grace of God on them, Jesus’s presence in that. And with that, the peace Jesus gives. In and through him.

 

not taking back our trust in God

Chuck Swindoll shared the wise insight that we should never take back the light God gave us. That is not easy, since we’re so experience oriented. That is true of myself as well, even though I tend to want to remain on the rational side against experience, or more precisely against what I’m feeling. That can be good up to a point since our emotions can run all over the place. But certainly never at the expense of taking back what God gave us. When we’re tempted to doubt God, we need to stand firm in our faith.

Along the way, God will continue to guide us as we trust in him. By the Spirit, through the word, through others, and through circumstances. We can and should count on that. But let’s not make the mistake of no longer accepting what God once gave us. In the dark, let’s trust God all the more. In and through Jesus.

one of my go-to books and passages to help me when I feel either on edge, or overwhelmed

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12

Life can seem overwhelming to me much of the time. People around me may not know it from simply watching or interacting with me, but if they get to know me well at all, they’ll realize that I feel pressure about this and that. Challenges are of course a part of life. Some people don’t seem to struggle any with ill feelings, but I’m not one of them.

2 Corinthians starts out with Paul acknowledging despair for good reasons, even to the point of giving up on life entirely. But with the helpful twist that he felt the sentence of death in himself, so that he might no longer trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead, and who would deliver them from any deadly peril which faced them. The letter ends with the same theme, highlighting Paul’s own weakness, and then that of our Lord’s in his crucifixion.

I find it most helpful again and again and again, world without end, to accept the difficulties, and hard places. To simply accept them, period. Not radical in understanding, but radical in meaning, indeed. But for the same reason spelled out by Paul in the passage above (click the link to read it all): to help us be more completely dependent on God. I would like to add from other places in scripture, also more interdependent on each other, for that is the way God would have it. Even in 2 Corinthians, Paul is working with others, so that it’s a team. We do well to share our struggles, or what we might call over-burdens with each other for needed empathy, possible counsel, and prayer. At the same time learning to carry our own load better, while casting on the Lord the things which weigh us down. Above all, as 2 Corinthians makes clear, and especially this passage, we need to learn to accept and even come to delight in our weaknesses, in order that we might experience the Lord’s help and strengthening.

Something I can easily forget, but which I need to remember more.