I’ve been thinking lately about the intersection of our emotions and our ability to connect with and experience God in Christ. There are a bunch of thoughts I feel I need to write down and share with you even if it’s difficult to cohesively do so.
Charismatic folks in some corners talk a lot about “wells.” Jesus talked about giving living water that would become a well within each person who receives it – I would say that the water IN the well is Jesus’s presence, communicated via the Holy Spirit. But as to the well itself, how it is shaped, how the water is drawn up out of it, that is the subject of this discussion. When charismatic folks talk about each of us digging our own well deeper with God, what they are talking about is how the place where you can find God in your heart or your soul gets deeper the more you interact with God, the more you walk with Him.
As I think about this – I think what is really being described here has a lot to do with our emotional history with God. As we walk through life, and as we turn our attention to Him in prayer, worship, devotional reading – or as we interact with Him by denying ourselves sinful inclinations and choosing to listen to His voice instead, we gain an emotional history with God. We have all sorts of places where are our emotions have related to Him – where we have been in awe of Him, or been in submission to Him, or been angry at Him and had Him assuage us, or been afraid and had Him rescue us, or just beheld his beauty and kindness and spent time praising Him and telling Him about it. We’ve had times of joy and creativity and been delighted as He gave us gifts and showed Himself to us in new and unexpected ways. We’ve had conversations with friends late into the night and we’ve had breakthroughs and disappointments – all with Jesus at the center of our orbit. In short, we’ve been relating with the Lord in and out of the seasons of our existence, and we’ve been writing (and He’s been writing) upon our hearts emotional memories, and emotional pathways – of our experience of knowing Him, into our hearts and souls.
This emotional history is something that we can tap into – very unconsciously, much of the time – to find our way back into experiencing Who He Is when we need a fresh view of Him. Every place our hearts have honestly touched Him in the past is a place which is forever bound to His presence – much the same way as what is described in the verse, “The heaven and the earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away”.
Just like God’s words never pass away, our hearts are the papyrus where not just words, but every interaction which we have truly experienced between Him and us in a place of intimacy are written. And once they are written on us in that way, they are permanent. You cannot rid yourself of things that are written in your heart by God – those places of intersection are forever renewed and changed and made One with Him. And much of that is touched emotionally.
So now, let’s talk about music, and worship. I’ve heard people criticize churches and music at churches for “stirring up peoples’ emotions”. I think it’s good to clarify that especially for people who are not adept and mature at experiencing God’s Spirit, that emotions can definitely be confused with an experience of God. But to say such a thing leaves people thinking that emotions and spirituality are somehow exclusive to one another, and that isn’t true either.
If you want to experience the Lord’s presence, being stirred up emotionally towards Him (whether by music, or an inspiring and edifying word from a speaker or friend, or a stunning passage of scripture) is not an unwanted thing. (By stirring up, I do not mean emotions always should go to a hyper or excitable place either, although those emotions certainly do have a valid place in our emotional histories with God – as well as more sedate and deep emotions.) But rather, as our emotions are authentically moved by things, our true innermost heart is moving simultaneously towards an authentic interaction with Him. Powerfully enticing people to feel something towards God is something the Holy Spirit specializes in doing – sometimes we call this conviction, sometimes sometimes we call it “bringing things to our remembrance” – and we often label it an “anointing” on creative people, as the emotions where their hearts have encountered His Presence in their own emotional wells pour forth, coupled with that Presence, and their songs or stories or art carry that forward to people whose hearts are limp and locked or occlude in order to be moved towards God once again.
This doesn’t mean that emotions themselves are what it means to experience God – but what people often describe as “pressing in” or “breaking through” is a time when their hearts are moved emotionally towards God under His anointing in such a way that suddenly, their innermost being encounters Him whom it has been moved towards. The moving inside us is emotions – emotions such as delight, or reverence, trusting Him with self-disclosure, or reaching for Him in earnest concern – prompted by a view of Him as beautiful, or huge, or glorious, or kind, or many other things that He shows Himself to be. But as our hearts are moved with emotion towards Him, the encounter afforded by our heart movement slamming into His heart is where we make an exchange – ourselves and our feelings encountering and touching His, resulting in His substance and His presence bursting through our souls like a beam of light – or a warm sense of awareness – or peace – or an encounter with revelation – or whatever He wants to present Himself as to us in that encounter.
Jesus abides in our spirits – as the scripture says, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” But the heart is the intersection between our minds and our spirits. If you want to be aware of God’s Spirit, you’re going to have to go through your heart to get there. And, contrary to what is generally taught, living from one’s heart does not involve checking one’s mind at the door (except where one’s mind is putting up too many objections to loving God to allow the emotions of the heart to be moved towards Him – then there is a huge disconnect that needs to be managed skillfully.) Rather, the thoughts we have in our mind affect greatly whether and how our emotions are moved towards God. Our minds ideally work in concert with our hearts, inspiring our emotions, not separate from them. “As a man THINKS in His heart, so He is.” The mind needs to be cultivated, trained towards God – for “the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Distractions, wrong ideas, objections, deceptions – these all overtake the mind and thus shut down the inspiration that the heart is meant to receive from it for building useful emotional interactions towards God. The first battle for our hearts and emotional life with God involves feeding our minds on what is good.
“Guard your heart, for out of it is the wellspring of life.” This verse has often been cheapened into merely being a warning to single women to not get too attached to the wrong man. But that’s not really what this verse should be understood as saying. The heart IS a wellspring of life – it’s the entire place of our meeting with God, of our life story with God. Guarding our heart is first and foremost about making sure our heart can function in a relationship towards Him. Where it can’t, He’s a Savior for those who call on His name – He is out to liberate our hearts to know and love Him and as He does so in relationship with us, He digs out the debris in the well and so has us and Him write even new emotional memories as we see Him doing things to give us help in the matter.. Where we have failed to guard our hearts and they’ve become hard or immobile or unable to feel or be inspired or relate to Him, is the very ground where He will write new emotional histories as we fight to rid them of the “little foxes which spoil the wines” and He writes a history of helping us do what we could not do without Him. “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” It is good to know our Savior who is both the Savior of our hearts and souls, and greater than them at the same time.
Once we have this heart history with Him, it becomes deeper and deeper and easier and easier to connect with him in subsequent moments of encounter. It is not all on us – we could have the most earnest emotions and never find Him, as “no one comes to the Son unless the Father draws Him.” But thankfully the grace of God means that the Father is always wanting to draw us to the Son. We need only to ask – to boldly come to His throne to obtain the help we need – and in that asking, we again afford ourselves the emotional history of humility, gratefulness, longing, waiting, reaching, ultimately finding Him in us anew as our hope fulfilled, as yet another emotional engraving of a place of encounter deepened between our hearts and God’s.
The body of Christ is also meant to be helpful to us in this, as we collectively edify one another by reminding one another of the works of the Lord, and His ways, and share our journeys with one another, in so doing provoke one another’s hearts towards Him again. We even share songs with one another, and our hearts being stirred with song together towards the Lord helps us be “being filled with the Spirit” again. (This is assuming the music is meaningful and deep and fresh enough to connect meaningfully with our hearts – if not, find a “new song” to sing to the Lord!) Songs help us remember the Lord and where we have walked with Him – to tap into that well of fresh encounter with Him. And thus, by whatever means, every “well” of intimate emotional experience we can return to in our own lives over, and over – a place of having known a journey with Him that will be an altar to revisit to see Him yet again.