Heartfelt Desire vs. Duty

President Obama looking pensive.

I’m feeling pensive today, so I thought I’d share something that I’ve been thinking about and pondering lately. It concerns this dynamic that believers feel a lot of times between having this burning passion to love, serve, and be with God, and doing things like reading scripture, prayer, etc., simply because we know we’re supposed to, even though we don’t really feel like it.

On the one hand, our culture has programmed us to think that our hearts (our emotions) are the ultimate, deepest part of ourselves. “Listen to your heart.” “Follow your heart.” “Do what you feel is right.” Phrases like these serve to highlight the fact that our post-modern society tends to believe that feelings and emotions are the only things in existence that can’t be argued and debated. People simply feel the way they feel (or don’t feel a particular feeling), and that is their reality.

But that kind of mindset makes it very difficult to have a satisfying faith life. I believe it’s simply not possible for any human being to feel a particular emotion all the time. None of us are ever 100% happy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for our entire lives. It’s simply not possible. In the same way, I don’t think it’s possible for a human being to be 100% “on fire” in our faith all the time. Jesus himself, when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, basically said, “Father, I really don’t want to do this. But I know that you have called me to do it, so I will.”

So how do we handle it when our spiritual fire dwindles or dies? I learned something on this issue from C.S. Lewis several years ago, and I’d like to share it with you.

A pensive (and handsome) Jerry O'Connell.

In his book The Screwtape Letters, Lewis jumps into the mind of Screwtape, the Undersecretary of Hell in charge of Temptation, or something like that. Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood, who is on his first assignment tempting a human male. At one point in their correspondance, Screwtape writes the following to Wormwood:

It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it [the believer] is growing into the sort of creature He [God] wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best… Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause [hell] is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

See how that works? I believe that Screwtape is right in this instance. When we submit ourselves in obedience to God’s will even though we don’t feel like it, or we can’t see a positive outcome happening, that is when we are truly acting in faith.

So I want to encourage you today. Even if you don’t feel like you and God are BFF’s right now, stay faithful. Keep studying scripture. Keep praying. Keep tithing and giving offerings at church. Stay connected to your church family.

Even cats are pensive today.

Feeling distant from God doesn’t make you a bad Christian, it just makes you human. When we develop these kinds of spiritual habits in the difficult times when we feel distant from God, it will be that much easier and that much better for our relationship with God when we do have that feeling of closeness.

Peace.

(If you’re reading this at http://www.pofgblog.com, then don’t forget that the great blog migration of 2011 is happening now! This site will only be active for another couple of weeks. You can continue the Pursuit of God at my new site www.joerob.com starting now!)

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