When a choir sings Amazing Grace, are you stirred? Does a powerful sermon bring you to tears? And if not, is that a warning that you are spiritually comatose?
An untested politician named Obama suddenly found that he was rather good at giving speeches. After his “One America” barnburner at the ‘04 Democratic Convention, he admitted cheerfully to peers: “I can play at this level. I got some game.” But he soon found that crowds expected grand slams every time he took the podium. Political “groupies” began to follow the young phenom from site to site, expecting nonstop goosebumps. He finally confessed: “These people honestly expect to cry with every speech, and that’s just not possible.”
Many Christians come to expect that it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to give them a spiritual high every weekend. They look on enviously as other worshipers sway in ecstasy, eyes closed, hands raised, tears streaming down their cheeks, and wonder why they feel nothing.
In a powerful book entitled Knowing God, J. I. Packer addresses this emotion deficit: “Naturally, such Christians feel they are missing something vital, and they ask anxiously how they may close the gap between the New Testament picture of life in the Spirit and their own felt barrenness in daily experience. Then, perhaps in desperation, they set themselves to seek a single transforming psychic event whereby what they feel to be their personal ‘unspirituality barrier’ may be broken once and for all.” Either the choir or the praise music or the sermon had better dampen their hanky . . . or they change churches! “They move on restlessly to something new.” Packer adds this poignant diagnosis: “Many are caught in these toils today.” It’s an endless search for a Jesus Disneyland with bigger roller coasters and more excitement.
Two facts to consider: first, only 30% of all believers are personally wired for these kinds of emotions! It’s simply not in some Christians’ makeup to get teary-eyed or to approach an out-of-body kind of joy when worshiping. And to expect God to give us something artificial just because our neighbor has that experience isn’t realistic or wise.
The second reality is more important. Packer again: “This quest for an inward explosion rather than an inward communion shows deep misunderstanding of the Spirit’s ministry.” The Holy Spirit’s paramount role in the life of the believer today isn’t to bring excitement or a political frenzy; it’s simply to lead us into a safe and abiding trust relationship with our heavenly Father. He’s like a kind social worker who helps a foster child learn to trust their new Dad.
Romans 8:15 says: “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Galatians 4:6 adds: “God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, prompting you to cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
If a sermon next weekend moves you to tears – or, better yet, to repentance – praise God for the gift of emotional catharsis. But more important than emotional sparklers in our life is a quiet settling into a love relationship with the God who has chosen to adopt us.
It’s not the Holy Spirit’s job to take us to Disneyland; it’s simply to take us home.