Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hooked on a Feeling

If I'm honest with myself, I tend to judge how close I am to God...or how healthy my relationship is with how I feel. Do I feel close to Him? Do I feel His presence in some way? And the same goes for prayer. In my mind I had some good prayer time if I come away feeling good...feeling happy that I accomplished something spiritual or feeling like I was praying for the right stuff or saying the right things. But recently God has been showing me that this is the wrong measure. Faith is about things unseen...AND things unfelt.

For better or worse (and often for worse), our feelings are easily manipulated. They come and go and are tossed about like a buoy on the ocean. I mean just think of how easily a good mood can disappear. Imagine you wake up feeling good about the day...glad to be alive...with thanksgiving for all your blessings just rolling off your tongue. Then imagine you get in your car and head for work. Someone cuts you off on the highway, you jerk your car to avoid an accident and your coffee splashes over the edge and gets all over your cup holder and surrounding console. Then, when you finally get to work, the closest available parking place is all the way at the end of the parking lot....and it's already over 90 degrees outside. On the way into your office you say to yourself...well this is starting out to be a crappy day...and are in a bad mood.

Maybe that example seems a bit contrived, but haven't we all experienced how quickly we can switch from happy to mad? Or flipping it around...haven't we all experienced the power of an unexpected and heartfelt compliment to brighten our mood..and maybe even make our whole day better?

The point is that our feelings are molded and shaped, pushed and pulled, enhanced and diminished by a variety of unending influences....and THAT makes them unreliable. Are you any less blessed because someone cuts you off while driving or because you spill coffee in your car? Are you not the same person with the same appearance and the same talents regardless of whether someone unexpectedly compliments you?

The truth is feelings are good...and they can be helpful...but they are not the end goal. We want to be healthy...not just feel good. We want to be secure...not just feel safe. We want to be loved (by someone's actions)...not just feel loved. Feelings are a bonus...they are a byproduct...a happy consequence...but they are not what we really desire...or at least not what we really should desire.

And this applies to our relationship with God. Of course we want to feel close to God...we want to feel His love. But ultimately isn't the most important thing that we actually are close to Him...regardless of whether we feel it or not? And isn't the ultimate gift that He does love us....regardless of whether we feel that love at any particular moment in time? As one of my favorite authors asked so pointedly: Would you rather say a prayer that pleases you or that pleases God? The answer is, I expect, obvious to all of us.

But of course this is all nice in theory...the challenge comes putting it into practice. Believe me...I know! I find it terribly difficult to pray when my mind is wanting to wander and I keep getting distracted by random, often insignificant, thoughts. I really struggle with how to push through these moments...or periods...of seemingly dry...ineffective...unrewarding prayer. What's the point...I ask myself. How is this doing anyone any good...myself or God? But I'm realizing that is exactly what the Enemy wants me to think. He wants me focused on the feelings. He wants me focused on the gift...not the giver. He wants me to re-write Scripture (just like it did for Eve in the Garden of Eden) and conclude that faith is the assurance of things received and the conviction of feelings I have felt. And so I have to force myself to remember the truth:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1

If I truly believe in God...if I truly trust Him...then my feelings shouldn't matter. After all, He tells us that if we pray...He hears us (1 John 5:14). He explicitly asks us to come to Him (Matthew 11:28). He both tells us and shows us that He loves us (John 3:16). If we believe God (not just believe in Him) then we know these things are already true. We don't need the feelings to confirm it. Certainly those feelings are nice...even beautiful and powerful...but we don't need them in order to be assured about our relationship with God. He has given us more than that.

If we reach out...if we are faithful in spending time with Him...regardless of how that time feels to us...then we can know beyond a doubt that He is pleased...and we are transformed for the better because of it. God's love and grace and mercy and protection is constant. It doesn't change on a can't be altered by a circumstance.

In the end, we just gotta have faith. And at least as God has shown me...having faith isn't about feeling's about doing something.