It doesn’t seem fair! Right next to you in church is someone who is bathed in ecstasy while they sing. Their eyes are closed, their hands are raised in joyful praise, they sway back and forth. They might even be crying. Meanwhile, you stumble through some unfamiliar, pitched-too-high new song, feeling absolutely nothing. Even when the bagpipes play Amazing Grace, not a whole lot happens in your “emotion center.”
The reality is that nothing is wrong with you! Studies show that only between 30 and 40 percent of Christians have regular bursts of emotional intensity during spiritual activities. The rest of the body of Christ simply hangs in there, praying despite the apparent silence from God, singing even through times of fatigue or soul numbness, continuing to study Leviticus when it’s boring. Commuting to God’s house every seventh day out of disciplined habit instead of breathless anticipation.
The Bible tells stories of people whose worship included the dancing and the fireworks: King David, for instance. Samuel’s mother. Paul and Silas, who were rather charismatic even in jail! But many good saints have to quietly go about their Christian journey because that’s simply how they’re wired.
Two challenges face us as believers. First, many anxious churchgoers fret because of their quiet experience – and begin to search for the roller coasters out there. Other Christians are swooning, and they want to as well. So they try a worship service with “hot” music and better drummers. Or where the preacher artificially manipulates a feeling of frenzy. And it gets to be a church-hopping addiction. If one weekend they sense a flickering four on the divine Richter scale, the next time they go, they want it to bounce up to a five.
Christian leader James Packer writes: “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.” He concludes grimly: “Many are caught in these toils today.”
The more important concern is that this quest for sizzle might well indicate that we don’t correctly understand the role of the Holy Spirit. Is it his function to give us an emotional high, to make sure our Bible reading stirs us to tears? Well, it is his divine mission to stir us to repentance and to obedience and to faithfulness . . . but not necessarily to laughter or tears.
The bottom-line task of the Holy Spirit, as we study Romans 15, is this: to solidify our relationship with God the Father. Paul writes in the King James: For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
So the Holy Spirit comes into our lives for the purpose of settling us into a love relationship with the Father. Helping us to trust him. Reminding us of our Father’s love and goodness and steadfast faithfulness in keeping his promises.
Now, if you are fortunate enough that this experience brings a flutter to your pulse and moisture to your eyes when the praise team sings, wonderful! Praise God for the gift of excited joy. But let’s remember that it’s not the Holy Spirit’s job to take us to Disneyland; it’s his task to simply take us Home.