I grew up in the church, and by the time I was a teenager was well acquainted with the concept of a “mountaintop” spiritual experience. If you missed out on this (bless you), then here’s the basic idea.
You go to a retreat. Or a camp. Perhaps a conference, or just some youth bonfire night. Honestly, it’s just best if there’s a bonfire involved. It really adds to the experience. But I digress. At this retreat/camp/conference you spend large quantities of time hearing teaching, praying with others, confessing and repenting, and rededicating your life to the Lord.
By the end of this thing, you can’t believe you ever struggled with sin to begin with. Who could, with such a great Savior to follow?? You’ve broken up with your boyfriend, you’ll never drink again, and TV is a thing of the past. From here on out, it’s all Jesus, all the time.
To top the whole experience off, there is an end of retreat worship service where people are falling out singing for Jesus (at my retreats we were all mostly baptist and presbyterian, so it was more like tentatively raising your hands singing for Jesus).
You get where this is going, though. Eventually, your conference ends and it’s back to the real world. No matter what your intentions, it’s back to work, back to school, back to your responsibilities. Back to real, messy relationships. Back to a sin-ridden, fallen world. Those old temptations creep in, and that mountain top is quickly forgotten.
I experienced this a few times myself, particularly in the teen and college years, and one thing I remember really struggling with was singing in church. I would remember those spiritually “high” moments, and know that in my current state I felt none of that enthusiasm; I’d be engulfed in low-level guilt over the disconnect between my words and my heart.
Every time the words “I love you,” would pass through my lips, I felt deep shame that there were many other loves that held my affection. I’d say “you’re all I need,” but know deep down that I wasn’t living like I needed Him at all.
Can anyone relate to this?
My answer to the whole issue was to just not sing. If I don’t mean the words, it hardly seems authentic or honest to sing them. And for that matter, if I don’t feel like reading my Bible, surely I shouldn’t read it anyway. That’s just hypocrisy. And why obey God’s commands if my heart’s not in it. Better to just wait until I get that mountain top experience again.
You can see where this leads. The moment our feelings – our perceived level of holiness, our emotional desire to please Him – determine our actions, we’ve lost the very thing we proclaimed in the first place – the gospel.
The gospel says that while we were still sinners Christ died for the ungodly. It tells us that apart from Him, there is no one righteous, not even one. It also doesn’t attach our obedience to “feelings,” but rather to faith. Faith sometimes produces feelings, but it’s not dependent upon them.
One thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown as a believer is that sometimes it is actually our obedience that produces feelings of love and affection for the Savior. And then that love and affection inspires more obedience. In fact, it seems that the two go hand in hand, and it’s less about one preceding the other than we might think.
Sometimes I serve my neighbor out of obedience to Christ, and love for Christ follows. Sometimes I am filled with love for Christ, such that I look for an opportunity serve my neighbor.
Sometimes I read the holy Word of God, and I don’t feel like it at all. In fact, I can think of a thousand other things to do instead. But I do it out of knowing, not feeling, that it is the best thing for me.
And sometimes I sing even though my heart isn’t in it. Because the heart is deceitful above all things, but the truth of God’s Word stands forever (this is why it’s important to sing songs that proclaim true things about who God is).
This past week we sang a song that contained the lyrics “You are my Life…You are my everything.” The old Katie would have been swallowed by guilt saying those words. But instead I was able to confidently sing them, because whether I have perfectly lived as though Jesus is my life and my everything or not, He still is.
I have put my hope in Christ. There are times I fail to follow Him perfectly, times I put lesser things before Him, times I feel as though He is NOT my life. And yet He is my life and everything all the same.
“When Christ, who is your life appears, you will be like Him, for you shall see Him as He is.” When all else passes away, and we are left with nothing but the faith we have placed in Christ, He will remain. And that is a truth you can place your hope in, whether you “feel” like it or not.