Private Devotions: A Balanced Approach to a Common Problem, Pt 3
Discipline. What? Yes! It takes good old fashioned discipline to maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord and to grow in holiness (1 Tim 4:7-8). Last time I encouraged you to join the gym and get started on a regimen of spending time in God’s Word and communing with Him in prayer. However, is that all there is to it? Certainly not? You’re right. There is more. To stop with discipline would be terribly imbalanced. In the next three posts I am going to address the relationship between our feelings and our private times with the Lord. Specifically, I am going to try and shed some light on those times (which come more often than we like) when we do not feel like it. These are not in any specific order of priority, and again, this is not exhaustive. Hopefully though, it is enough to be of some help.
The Invisible War
It is a familiar passage for many Christians-Romans 7:14-25. The Apostle Paul, the great preacher of the gospel, made himself vulnerable and gave us a bird’s eye view into the deep and constant struggle that he had with sin as a converted man. There is one verse in that passage that in my mind captures and sums up the struggle-“I find then the principle, that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” (Rom 7:21 NAS). When he set out to do what was right, he felt within himself a force pulling him in the opposite direction. The sin that remained within him tainted his best efforts to serve the Lord. Every genuine Christian knows that struggle from painful experience. The moment we take the first step toward Christian duties an invisible war heats up within us. “For the flesh (remaining sin in the believer) sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:17 NAS).
What does that have to do with the relationship between our feelings and our private devotions? First, though it is not always a sin issue when we do not feel like having our devotions, it often is. It can be the result of a lack of desire and run away emotions that are not in line with the will of God. It is our remaining sin doing all it can to keep us away from those things that help us grow in grace. What should we do when we discern that this is the case with us? We are to do what we are supposed to do any time we detect sin raising its ugly head. Humbly confess it, and seek forgiveness. But don’t stop there. Cry out to the Lord for grace to increasingly put those sinful feelings to death and to cultivate the holy feelings that should be there. Second, this gives us a good dose of biblical realism. Christian, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how much progress you make, that struggle is never going to end in this life. That may sound morbid and depressing, but it is a back-handed encouragement. This means your are not abnormal and sub-christian. There is not a Christian living on this earth who has overcome this struggle. Though longing to be completely delivered from this struggle is right, the false hope that it will happen in this life will end up discouraging you and making your feelings even more contrary. Realizing that the war will never end in this life, but that you are guaranteed the victory (Rom 7:25), can be the very thing you need to fill up your “feeling tank”.
No Victim Mentality
We are not victims of our feelings. I am not down playing physiological factors, etc that play a role in how we feel. Here in Western Michigan, during the winter when the sun doesn’t shine for days, it is enough to set Bozo the clown on edge. My heart goes out to christians who have deep emotional struggles due to organic issues/chemical imbalances that effect them spiritually. I would agree that in such cases feelings and emotions can often overcome a person and the problem isn’t just a spiritual one. However, with those necessary qualifications acknowledged, to some degree we can control how we feel. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal 5:22). My feelings are a part of my self . Therefore, according the Word of God, by power of the indwelling Spirit, we do have some degree of control over how we feel. Of course, that begs the question, How exactly? Not by sheer will power, determining that we are going to feel such and such a way, but by controlling our thinking and our actions.
First, controlling how we think effects how we feel. The scripture is clear that growth in holiness has our thinking as its proper starting point. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”…. (Rom 12:2 NAS). “You will know (not feel) the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32 NAS). Sometimes wrong feelings are the direct result of wrong thinking. Not feeling as we should can often be the fruit of a failure to think biblically. Does this have application to our devotional lives? You better believe it does! For example, as I move toward the secret place to spend time with the Lord, if I allow myself to think, “My remaining sin is so powerful, Satan is so skilled at distracting me, that I will hardly get anything out of it”, then most likely my feelings will correspond and work against me. On the contrary, if I approach it thinking, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13 NAS) then my feelings will be more disposed to help me. Is that psychological mumbo jumbo-the power of positive thinking? No. It is the power of thinking biblically! I challenge you to think of other ways this can apply. Second, controlling our actions effects how we feel. Psalm 19:7-14 celebrates the sufficiency of scripture. V8 says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (NAS). There are times when the holy feeling of joy wells up within us propelling us to the scriptures. I love when that happens! However, there are other times when we feel dead and sluggish, but once we stir ourselves up to come the Word, the Word itself produces the feeling of joy. The same thing goes for prayer.It is a mistake to wait to for the feeling of joy to propel us into His presence. For in His presence is the fulness of joy (Psalm 16:11 NAS). Take the action of getting into His presence and the feeling will result. This can have the wonderful effect of wetting our appetite for more.
Your servant for Jesus’ sake,