When I was a teenager, Billy Graham came to town, and I and my church friends went down to the stadium to work at the crusade. My friends volunteered for the mass choir, but considering my singing ability, I chose to work instead as a counselor. In counselor training, they trained me how to share my faith using a little blue book called Peace With God. All I had to do was read the book to someone and it would show them everything about how to make a decision for Christ and become “born again.”
Many times, people would pray the pray the prayer at the end of the book. Often there were no shouts or tears or heavenly lights, just a bewildered look on the new believer’s face, wondering what happened next. They expected fireworks, but most of the time there was none.
No matter. We were taught an answer for that right now in the little blue book. After the prayer was a picture of a train, the engine was labeled “Fact,” the coal car “Faith,” and the caboose “Feeling.” The facts were God’s promises in the Word; with our faith we connected to it: so, feelings weren’t important. The engine can still run with or without the caboose, and so can we.  Feelings were not necessary for salvation.
It was a tidy presentation–accept the facts and you accept the faith. Don’t worry about feelings, even if they never come.
The older I get, the more inadequate that answer has become to me. No one accepts Christ by pure reason. Feelings lead us, too. Far from being a caboose, feelings are a necessary part, and they can lead us to the truth just as our reason can. Blaise Pascal wrote, “We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them.”
Passions—emotions—are critical to us for many reasons. Primarily so because God speaks to us through inner subjective means as well as outer ones. God’s work on the inside, the subjective witness of the Holy Spirit, is a necessary element in our lives.
God has the power not only to do miracles but to enter our inner, subjective world, changing our moods, impressions, likes, and dislikes. In the Bible, God speaks through dreams, visions, parables, and impressions in the mind. He did not give us the Bible by dictation, nor did He simply give us natural principles that we can discern. He used the passion and imagination of people to convey His message to the earth.
God is present with us and in us. He is constantly speaking to us, moving us in our hearts, shaping our emotional existence. He calls us to Him, and we answer the call. He inspires us to worship. He calls us to rejoice in Him with groanings too deep for utterance. Whenever we speak of a “call” to the ministry, pray to God to give us peace or courage, or look to God for guidance through a sign, we acknowledge that God still speaks through our feelings.
None of this makes sense to the purely practical minded. It’s only when we acknowledge God’s presence and power in our emotional lives and His ability to speak directly to our hearts that we understand what a daily walk with God can be.
Passions motivate us to action. Reason describes and understands, but emotions are necessary for motivating and making decisions. Knowledge, no matter how complete, is not enough to provoke actions unless it is accompanied by feeling.
If objective truth was the only thing necessary for change, then alcoholism, smoking, overeating, drug addiction, and speeding would disappear. We all know they are wrong, yet many do them anyway. Our bad habits and misdeeds spring from the dark recesses of the soul, from the same mysterious places that produce love, joy, and happiness.
Shane Hipps writes:
“The exaltation of reason is the greatest legacy of the print age. Printing helped fund the rapid acceleration of higher-order thinking and intellectual development. What an extraordinary gift that was to us. However, when it reverses, the emotions are seen as pesky little distractions that get in the way of good reasoning. The consequence is that people are reduced to merely cognitive, rational beings. The problem is, we are not just rational beings. The Psalms reveal a very different picture. These are the poems of the heart. And they show us that the emotional life is integral to our very being and life with God.”
God gave us the same passionate nature that He has Himself. He gets joyous, angry, jealous, and loving, all to a much greater degree than we do. Since we share a passionate nature, it stands to reason that God would use this emotional connection with humanity to communicate with us.
Christ had a deeply passionate nature while on earth. He was angry when he whipped the moneychangers out of the temple. He was sad when he shed tears at Lazarus’ tomb. He was anxious when He sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane the night before His death. To worship such a passionate Lord requires that we enter into worship emotionally. True belief must be accompanied by true desire.
If there is one word to describe Jesus’ relations to the people He encountered, it would be empathy, the ability to feel what other people are feeling. Our ability to empathize is what it means to love emotionally. By putting ourselves in other people’s places and experiencing their highs and lows with them, we take on the character of Christ toward them.
Jesus tailored his reactions to the moods of each person He met. He played with children, argued with Pharisees, wept with widows, and rebuked disciples. He never had a “typical” response to anyone. His reaction to each person was unique, based on the empathic needs of each one of them.
Passionate living comes naturally to some. For others, it must be cultivated. In later blogs, we will talk about how to cultivate a greater sense of passion.
Do you see yourself as being more passionate, or more reasonable?
What stimulates your passion for God?