I was raised in a charismatic church. I grew up with people rushing down to the altars every Sunday, unashamed to throw themselves on the altars of God and open to the moving of the Spirit as we worshipped the Lord in community.
When I was a teenager, I went to summer camp every summer where other teens in our youth group dabbled in smoking pot the night before we loaded the bus, or lost their virginity to the boy on the church drama team (yes, that happened). But at camp … well, that was different. These same students all ran to the front of the auditorium to rededicate their lives to Jesus.
It was amazing.
The best way to describe it was that it gave me goosebumps. There was power at those altars and I often wondered why we didn’t experience this same energy on Sunday mornings when we went back to boring adult church.
I always left camp depressed and sad. I wanted the excitement and rush of a worship service that left me drained from tears and exhausted from lifting my arms for hours, or at least until someone said the snack bar was open.
This was the “high” I chased as a young evangelical who wanted to experience God.
I measured the success of my relationship with Him and the fruitfulness of the service on whether or not the pastor’s sermon touched me. I walked away disappointed if God didn’t speak to me. If the pastor’s message wasn’t passionate and filled with emotion, did he even hear from God?
Did the worship move me to tears?
Did I get to cry out all of my woes from the week?
Was I able to lay every burden at the altar and make sure God heard me so He would fix my problems before I left?
I was an emotionalism junkie.
And what I’ve just described is what many chase in the church today.
They’re after the high of emotionalism when it comes to Christianity, and they are constantly looking for the experience in order to prove intimacy with their Creator.
I feel compelled to write on why this is dangerous because, like I said, I know what it’s like to long for the next encounter that leaves you with an emotional high.
Here are three indicators you may be an emotionalism junkie too.
First, you know you’re an emotionalism junkie when you seek an emotional experience.
An emotional experience just means you want to feel something in order to be convinced that you had an encounter with God. But you have to have the evidence of emotion to prove it.
You look for the evidence in several ways: tears, goosebumps, a rush of courage or excitement.
Sometimes you don’t even have to be the one to shed a tear. Did someone else get excited or cry? Because if they did, that shows God is revealing Himself through the experience of someone else, which proves to you that He still works by revealing Himself through emotional encounters.
I posted a quote last year that said, “Just because you cried that doesn’t mean it was God.”
Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 when He said, “These people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
The appearance of emotionalism brings the appearance of intimacy. Just as the people of God worshiped with their words and expressions, God knew their hearts were too far away. There was no connection between the emotion and the heart. And that’s another problem. There should be a connection between the head and the heart. When that happens, true emotion will follow.
We have to be careful with emotionalism. It becomes a high that we seek and eventually it becomes the litmus test for whether or not we’re “close” to God. It becomes the barometer of a “healthy church” where God moves and the Spirit abides.
But what happens when you don’t feel God? Because I’ve been there too.
When we base our entire experience and relationship with God on the idea that we must feel His presence and see evidence of tears, we will be disappointed when the storm blurs our view of Him. Because trials do that. The feeling of pain, stress and difficulties often override the feeling of God’s presence because in reality, His presence is not a feeling at all.
It’s a truth that cannot change because He is infinite and omnipresent.
Emotionalism comes and goes with the selection of worship songs, but the truth of God’s word stands no matter how we feel. So if you’re a junkie that needs a rush of salty tears on a Sunday morning, understand that emotions will wash away and leave you feening for the next high.
Second, you know you’re an emotionalism junkie when you seek a word from the Lord.
A few years ago, I was struggling with something difficult and wrestled with God’s guidance. I needed Him to help me make a decision and I wanted so badly to hear His voice.
I used to show up to church on Sundays and hope and pray that God would give someone a word for me. When someone came up to me and said, “God told me to tell you ____” I was all in.
So on this windy day in May, I walked and prayed, “God if you want me to make this decision, stop the wind. Just stop the wind, God, and I’ll know what you want me to do.” I honestly waited for a minute and looked around, hoping the wind would stop.
For a moment, I felt betrayed. Was God real? Did He not love me? Where was someone who could tell me, “Thus says the Lord ..”? Because that’s what I needed right now.
Or did I?
My mind took me back to 1 Kings 19. Elijah the prophet ran for his life after the very powerful and emotional experience on Mount Carmel. Fire rained down from heaven. God spoke. The people confessed and shouted, “The Lord, He is God.”
But when Elijah went into the cave, it was quiet. Excitement turned to fear. He waited for God to speak.
As Elijah waited, the earth quaked. But God wasn’t in the earthquake. The wind blew. But God wasn’t in the wind. Finally, Elijah heard a still, small voice and it was then that God spoke.
When we limit the opportunity for God to speak to us through a man or woman, we have unknowingly limited God’s access to speak to us at all. God has provided His word to us and that is the avenue through which He speaks.
God doesn’t need flashy to make His point. He doesn’t need to use anyone to relay the message. He can. But He left His word for a reason.
God’s word is His voice. The Holy Spirit will speak to us by the word of God and if we’re listening … if we’re in the word daily … He will remind us of what God has already said.
Third, you know you’re an emotionalism junkie when you’re a consumer of church instead of a producer.
Have you ever watched Gordon Ramsey try to eat a steak made by one of his up and coming chefs on Hell’s Kitchen? He cuts a small piece and gently places it in his mouth with his fork. He’s silent for a moment while he chews the sliver of steak, swishing it back and forth between his tongue and teeth. Just when you think he’s about to swallow, he spits the contents into the trash, wipes his mouth with a towel and says with a few expletives peppered into the sentence, “That was bloody terrible. I said medium rare, not cut off the bloody carcass and slapped onto a plate. You call yourself a chef, you stupid idiot?”
Seriously. This is Chef Ramsey’s approach to unpalatable food. But when the pastor prepares a sermon that provides intellectual depth and challenges our attention span with a message that makes God known, we spit out the contents because it wasn’t what we wanted.
Many Christians want their problems highlighted.
They want the pastor to pep talk them out of their struggles and if the message doesn’t have fire, passion or move us in some way, we chalk it up to a mediocre Sunday and pray for better next week.
Why do you think women like Glennon Doyle (who is a progressive Christian) is popular? Because she says catchy slogans like, “You can do hard things.” Women emotionally attach themselves to these sayings and feel like they’ve connected with God. Glennon stirs the emotions, and an emotionalism junkie will latch onto anyone or anything that gives them that much needed high.
The problem with this is we run the risk of accumulating for ourselves false teachers who tickle the ears. Paul told Timothy this in 2 Timothy 4:3. Notice the words Paul used: tickle the ears. They want teachers who cause them to feel something. They want to consume the message that is palatable for them.
Consumers can’t produce. Their primary concern is not to attend a church to become a part of the body of Christ in order to use their gifts to edify others, but to be edified.
So what do emotionalism junkies need to do?
As Christians, we must understand that experiencing God is not found explicitly in Scripture nor is it unique to Christianity. All religions provide an experience.
There are three things to KNOW to come off the emotionalism high:
1. KNOW that emotion is a result of our relationship with God, not an indicator that we have one. It’s not even an indicator that He exists. Emotions come and go but truth cannot change. If your relationship with God is not based on truth, when you don’t feel God you will be shaken.
2. KNOW that emotionalism has nothing to do with the intellectual side of Christianity. Sitting at the Lord’s feet is not a passive activity. Learning is not a passive activity. Discipline yourself to study the word and you will build your ability to love God with all of your mind. Get used to expository preaching and be able to recognize sound teaching regardless of the emotion or passion conveyed by the messenger.
3. Just like we can consume empty calories and not be able to produce energy for the day, we can also consume empty calories in the spirit and not be able to produce for the kingdom of God. Many things in the physical parallel the spiritual. Nourishment is one of them. If you are able to implement point #2 above, you will become a producer. That is the natural outcome of healthy consumption and it is the purpose of each member of the body of Christ.
In conclusion, be aware of your addiction to emotionalism. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your motives for worship, study of the word and the experience you seek to have. In the end, you can’t love what you don’t know. The knowledge of God will always be the reason He moves us to tears. Not the other way around.
Take it from me, a former emotionalism junkie. Oh, God still moves me to tears but not because I need to feel Him. He moves me because I know Him.
Recent podcast episode here