DayBreaks for 08/28/12 – Emotional Idolatry
(NOTE: Galen will be traveling for the next week and will have very limited access to email to respond to comments/questions. Thanks for your understanding!)
At a recent conference of evangelical Chinese churches I served as a small-group leader for 17 year-old youths. Although they came from various geographical and socio-economic backgrounds, attended churches that differed from each other in many respects, and possessed vibrantly different characters and personalities, they were all united by one thing. Each of these youths confessed that, after many years of attending this annual gathering, they were no longer “getting anything out of” the worship services. Each of them was frightened by this fact, and suspected that he was in the process of losing his faith.
When I questioned what they expected to “get out of” the worship services, it became clear that what they had once experienced, and what they were now seeking to re-experience, was a powerful emotional response to the service. In years past, they had raised their arms in unison with hundreds of their peers, they had sung, danced and wept in a collective ecstatic experience of joy, passion and love. Now, even though they were surrounded by the same peers, singing the same songs, and going through the same motions, they did not experience the emotional response they once had. It struck me that I had heard this concern before, from people in all walks of life: I don’t worship with the same passion I once did. Such Christians strive in vain to reproduce the experience they once had, to recapture the euphoria of love they had found in the worship of their youth.
Certainly, emotions form an exceedingly important dimension of human experience. God created us as emotional creatures, and He uses those emotions in sacred ways. As emotions change, however, so will the emotional dimension of our faiths. Just like all good things, emotions become idols when they are elevated to a place of importance they were never meant to occupy. They become obstacles to our growth when we are unwilling to be carried into new and deeper ways of relating to God.
We should not fall prey to an emotion-idolatry that presents these powerful emotional experiences as the point and purpose of the Christian life. These youth I spoke with, and many others like them, had come to believe that their emotional experiences ARE faith–that they are what a relationship with God is all about. When they lost those experiences, they came to the logical conclusion that they had lost their faith. This is all too common. As a result of the over-emotionalization of worship in some circles, the inside of the church is full of individuals trying to manufacture emotional worship experiences in order to assure themselves they still have faith. At the same time, outside the church, we find individuals who ceased attending church because they ceased having their emotional experience in worship, and thus concluded their earlier “faith” had been a sham.
When first one falls in love, he is swept up in feelings of intense joy and passion. Later in the relationship, however, the love undergoes a transformation from something that is exciting and dynamic to something that is deep and consistent. We lose the excitement and thrill of newfound love (and may well mourn its absence), but we gain so much in its place: an intimate knowledge of each other, a commitment to faithfulness in every moment, a strong love that abides through all the years and changes.
God is not satisfied with our infatuation. He does not want us to love Him for the feelings He gives us. Jesus says in John 17:3 that “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.” Our faith cannot be fashioned atop the shifting sands of emotional experience; instead, it must rest upon that which is eternal: the character and love of God itself. I challenge you to refuse to remain stuck in a state of infatuation with God; press on, press deeper, into a relationship of intimacy and trust with the One who created you.
PRAYER: Lord, we love the excitement and joy we sometimes feel in worship! Thank you for those moments that lift us and encourage us to run after you! But help us to remember that eternal life is not feeling excited about you, but is found in knowing you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2012 by Galen C. Dalrymple.
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