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Your Feelings Are Liars — Don’t Rely on Them to Tell You Everything About God
If you’re seeking a dramatic spiritual experience, I’ve got news for you.
Last week, an Unashamed reader responded to me by saying, in part, “I envy the obvious fact that you have true faith, which is my problem.” He went on to say that some of his friends had shared their spiritual “experience” in a way that sounded like God had acted directly on their hearts by creating a feeling of peace and security. He wondered why it hasn’t happened to him.
I hope that nothing I’ve ever said suggested to this brother that conversion is about experiencing any special feeling at all. Truthfully, I don’t spend a lot of time pondering my feelings about anything. It’s not that I don’t like emotions. It’s just that I have found that my feelings are the least reliable source of truth in the world. Feelings are the thoughts of my heart, and they don’t intersect with reality very often.
I’m also not disparaging those who’ve had special experiences. Who am I to question what others experience? But I’m convinced that there’s a higher, more reliable way to know whether or not we are accepted by God, and it has nothing to do with what I feel.
I’m certain this reader isn’t the only one struggling with this, so I’m going to try to encourage him here.
There’s a passage in Jeremiah 17 that speaks directly to what this man is wrestling with.
Man Is Incapable of Determining His Own Steps
This may come as a great shock to the human race in 2023. Man has always tended to plot his own path — to make up his own rules — and it always ends in disaster. Following one’s heart or traipsing off to seek experiences is dangerous stuff.
This is what Jeremiah said hundreds of years before Christ:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
As I said, I certainly don’t want to pour cold water on anyone’s religious experience. But from what I read in scripture, experiencing something is secondary to knowing something. And the “something” we need to know is what God has already told us. He’s laid out his plan for us in clear language.
This is important because of what Jeremiah said: Man’s heart is deceitful and wicked. I’ve met any number of people who felt led by God to do any number of sinful things. Some have felt that God was leading them to leave their spouses and run off with someone they met on the internet. In 1978, evangelist Jim Jones convinced hundreds of people to line up and drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. Nine hundred and nine people died.
Following my wicked heart is the last thing I want to do. I’d rather go with God’s Word.
A Better Way
As I said, I would encourage our friend to abandon his desire for a religious experience and just go with what God has already said about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In order to help him (and anyone else who feels abandoned by God), I offer the following verses about what’s really important:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
—Hebrews 11:1-3; 6
My friend ended his note to me by suggesting that he deserved hell for some of the things he’s done. He is correct. That’s true about him, and it’s certainly true about me. It’s true about all of us. We deserve to be destroyed.
However, the good news is that God has promised to take care of that little problem for us. Based on the above verses, here’s the pathway out of the condemnation we deserve. It’s simple:
Come to terms with your wickedness!
You did it, and you deserve the punishment.
But God’s love compelled him to give his Son to take the beating you deserved.
Find out whether or not God exists and whether or not he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
If you want in on it, just agree to let him bear your sin burden. Die to your old way of thinking, follow Jesus as an apprentice would follow his master, and you’re on your way to a new life.
What it boils down to is this: Even though we deserved God’s wrath, Jesus drank fully from the goblet of wrath so that we can drink the cup of God’s grace.
I hope that this reader (and anyone else who thinks they’re too far gone for God) will hear the story of God’s love for him, repent of his sins, and let God take care of the rest.
It’s not your experience, my friends. It’s about believing what God has said about himself and what he’s done for you. In my estimation, that’s the best news I’ve ever heard.
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