The last thing I wanted to do was get up.
It was early. I was tired. And honestly, a few more minutes sleep sounded more soul-refreshing than trying to keep my gritty, not-quite-awake-yet eyes open long enough to read and absorb Scripture. I’d been struggling with finding fresh truth from the Bible, my mind wandering whenever I tried to focus. Maybe I could just skip it today and sleep in…
The battle raged—my love for my warm and cozy bed warring with the fact that I knew if I didn’t start my morning with Bible reading and prayer, I wouldn’t have another chance all day.
But I just didn’t feel like it.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time my feelings distracted me from my pursuit of God. I’ve often not “felt” like praying or going to church. I’ve often not “felt” like my faith was strong. I’ve often not “felt” passionate in my love for Jesus.
My feelings are so fickle. They come. They go. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the goodness of God and my love for Him. Other times my heart is dry, the emotions non-existent.
The rollercoaster of my feelings plummets into guilt. Am I just a bad Christian or something? Strong Christians always have their emotional ducks in a row and are always on fire with passion for Christ, right?
The longer I’ve followed Christ, the more I’ve realized feelings are not the most important part of our walk with God. If we make emotions the sum of our relationship with Jesus, we’re in a dangerous place.
Love Rooted In Action
Jesus set our priorities straight.
“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30)
I used to think this meant Jesus wanted our emotions. But the love Jesus talks about goes far beyond emotion. Not only does His list include our mind and strength (two things not rooted in sentiment), but the Greek word for love here is agapaó. You may recognize this word because the well-known agape has its origin in agapaó. Agapaó is a verb, while agape is a noun. The root definition of both far surpasses our culture’s view of love.
While culture tells us love equals flutters in our stomach, gushy feelings in our heart, or the heady desire that can blind us from reason, God knows such feelings are transient. So He designed a better and different kind of love. A love rooted in action and choice.
If you look up other places this word appears in Scripture, it’s often used in the context of action. Loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:39), loving our enemies (Matthew 6:23), loving each other as Christ has loved us (John 13:34). It’s even the word for love in John 3:16, “God so loved [agapaó] the world…”
The direct call is summed up in John 14:15, “If you love [agapaó] me, keep my commandments.”
Obedience over Feelings
We often get caught in the trap of believing our feelings for God matter more than our obedience to God.
Like I say in my book Love Riot, “I’ve learned that my relationship with God can’t be motivated by my fickle feelings, but rather by my intentional decision to come before God in obedience. Love is a choice, as well as an emotion…I’ve found that this love—one of obedience and seeking hard after God—is more constant than if I waited to seek God until all the ‘feels’ lined up.”
One of our enemy’s strategies at keeping us from pursuing Christ is to convince us we need to wait until our emotions are aligned. If our faith is strong only when the feels line up, we’re building our faith on a shaky foundation that can collapse at the slightest pressure. If our obedience to Jesus is contingent upon the moments when the passion is running high, we’re not actually worshipping God. We’re worshipping an emotion.
I know what a struggle this is. I crave the emotions because that’s when I feel closest to God. It’s also important to remember that we shouldn’t we fall into a legalistic pattern devoid of passion for Christ. In truth, feelings are good in and of themselves. They’re gifts from God, a picture of His mercy in providing what our human hearts crave—soul-deep love. The problem comes when we elevate emotion above the One we’re experiencing the emotion for. While our feelings ebb and flow, our commitment to God cannot. Our God is worthy of all love and obedience, no matter our fickle hearts. We love because we obey. We obey because we love.
As C.S. Lewis says, “Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right.”
When we struggle through a dry season, how can we be intentional to love and follow Christ, even if the feelings aren’t always there?
1. Repent and do the first works of love
In Revelation, the church of Ephesus is described as a “loveless church.” They were doing many things right, but their love for Jesus was no longer fervent. Because of their struggle, they were given instruction. The task? “Repent and do the first works.” (Revelation 2:5)
When sin is allowed in our hearts, our love for God grows cold. When our relationship with God hits a dry season, we need to honestly evaluate “Is there any sin in my life?” If there is, repentance is the first step.
The next half of their instruction is the second step: “Do the first works.”
When I’m struggling through a season of dryness, the temptation to push aside prayer, Bible study, and church is strong. But the more we struggle with a lack of feelings, the more intentional our pursuit of Christ and our obedience needs to be.
Like a new believer first discovering the beauty of God and His Word, seek Him daily and faithfully. Dig into His Word. Invest time in intentional prayer. Spend time worshipping. Gather with other believers. Obey His commands. Do the first works of love…whether you feel like it or not.
2. Don’t give in to shame
You’re a mess. You write about these things, but here you are, still struggling to live them out. What a hypocrite.
I’ve heard every one of these lies whispered deep within my heart. I’ve battled shame telling me I’m unworthy and don’t deserve a relationship with Jesus. In a way, it’s true. In my sin and brokenness, I am unworthy and I don’t deserve a relationship with Jesus. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus has made me worthy through His death on the cross and covered my sin and unworthiness with His blood and perfect sacrifice. Because of Christ, I don’t have to live bound by shame. He has set me free.
Our enemy hurls lies at us because shame hinders our intimacy with God. You cannot cower in shame and freely love at the same time. Author Esther Smith encourages, “It is impossible for me to feel shame and worship at the same time. When I look directly at Jesus, when my eyes are on Him, there is no room for shame to grow in my heart. I care only about the focus of my attention . . . When we’re distracted by shame, we struggle to engage with our Savior.”
Guilt and shame are not the same as conviction. Deal with conviction and repent of sins, but reject shame, because shame will pull you farther and farther away from Jesus as you believe the lie that His death on the cross is not enough to cover your sin.
The more I look at myself and my feelings, the more discouraged I become. But the more I fix my eyes on Christ, the less my feelings (or lack thereof) matter. I cannot look at Christ and my emotions at the same time.
3. Fix your eyes on Christ’s perfect love
C.S. Lewis also wrote, “The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.”
Christ’s love is the foundation that can hold firm through the storm of our ever-changing emotions. The power and beauty of the gospel are that Christ has already completed all I need for a relationship with Him. My feelings of love don’t save me, because Christ’s self-sacrificial love already has. Our job is obedience and accepting His love.
My sweet sister in Christ, if you’re struggling with a lack of emotions, if you’re wondering if your faith is strong enough to battle through a dry season, or if you’re afraid that because you don’t always feel “in love” with Jesus maybe you’re not even saved, hear this. Your feelings of love may come and go, but Christ never has and never will. Make the choice of love. Do the first works of love. Don’t give in to shame. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
I’d love to hear from you!
-Have you ever not “felt” like praying, reading your Bible, etc.?
-Have you ever struggled through a season of dryness in your walk with God?
-Why does obedience matter more than emotions?
Bio: Sara Barratt is a writer, avid reader, chocolate lover, and lead editor for TheRebelution.com. Her first book Love Riot: A Teenage Call to Live With Relentless Abandon for Christ released May 2020 from Baker Books. Her passion is challenging teens to live sold-out and set-apart for Jesus. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and her website sarabarratt.com.