Emotional Experiences Are Not a Sign of Spiritual Maturity
By nature and development of character over the years, I am not what you would refer to as an emotional person.
Now, you would think that emotions make up a part of what God expects of a man whom He has called into full-time service. For example, you cry with a parishioner who has lost a loved one, or has lost everything in a tragedy such as a fire or natural disaster, or other factors of life that rise up unexpectedly. You empathize with those who are down and out economically or socially, or you comfort a parent who has lost a child. You would surely believe that these are times where you let sympathetic tears flow and demonstrate to the afflicted that you care for them and want to assist them in their time of need.
After all, we read in John 11 where our Lord cried at the tomb of His friend Lazarus before He brought him back to life. I am sure that in the quietness of the day that there were times where the LORD shed tears over the fact that not everyone with whom He came into contact would receive His message of salvation. Paul shed tears when he told the elders of the Ephesian church farewell after nearly three years of pastoral care and teaching. There is no shame in shedding tears, so that’s not the issue with me.
When I write these articles, I demonstrate the fact that I show frustration and sometimes justifiable anger over what I see are abuses and injustices done to the body of Christ by some who claim to be its most stalwart defenders – as well as those whose words and actions demonstrate to me that critical thinking and the desire for the overall well-being of humanity is blatantly absent from their desire to get their own way in spite of what others think or say.
If anything, I get anxious and ask for relief from all of the garbage of society by asking the Lord to come back today if at all possible because I am just plain tired of all the evil that has seemed to overrun the world. I don’t, however, go “ballistic” over things and lose control of the situation like I see some commentators do on TV and the Internet. To me, these tirades I witness are just so much self-righteous temper tantrums to show that they support the cause or victim of the day, which goes away after a couple of days. TV reporters and celebrities and some politicians need to just plain grow up and realize that their tirade over an issue gets them nothing but laughter from the people they are trying to influence.
Those individuals whom I referred to as “snowflakes” in a previous article are prime examples of emotions gone overboard; they do not get my attention or respect, nor do they gain a sympathetic ear from me. Quite frankly, they needed to be spanked with a belt until they learn that nobody really gives a flip about how they feel in the larger picture of life. I know I don’t.
I come from a generation that knew that if they pulled the stunts with parents like kids do today, it would be fortunate if they were able to survive the aftermath of what could be the forerunner to a gruesome death. The major emotion expressed by my peer group when I was growing up was that of fear, namely from two sources. The best example I can recall comes from my time in high school. The high school I attended from 1974-1978 was a place where one dare not disrespect the teacher or a classmate. You wore dress shirts that were tucked in, pants pulled all the way up with a belt, and no tears or holes in the jeans.
Our parents and teachers emphasized that the best way to survive was to remember words that would get you anywhere in life for the better. They were, “Yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am, please and thank you.” That was an unwritten rule in our school; and for the most part, it worked.
Woe be to the smart aleck who believed he could get away with causing trouble. If the teacher couldn’t put the fear of God in him by paddling him, the unfortunate soul was sent to the assistant principal’s office where he would be greeted by another paddle and sent to detention.
If, for some reason, this only made the goofball more determined to see his inevitable death, he was sent to the principal’s office which we referred to as “the point of no return.” After the session of academic inquisition ended, the parents were notified, and they would have the pleasure of informing the little malcontent that they brought him into the world and they could take him out. No calling the cops for 911 to report parents. The cops would just laugh.
I was not the best student in high school, but I had enough sense to see that if I didn’t want to end up a casualty of deliberate ignorance and rebellion, I’d better keep whatever outbursts and emotions I might have wanted to express to myself, and enjoy the gift of life.
Now, for those of you who are reading this and are under the age of thirty, you might believe that I grew up in a time of parental and scholastic barbarity. The bottom line is that adults didn’t take any guff off of their kids and applied discipline when needed. There was a thing called respect and manners; and if you look back a generation or two, you will see that when I was growing up, teenagers didn’t go into schools and shoot their classmates, nor were there drive-by shootings. The public-school system was not run by a bunch of educators trying to understand the child’s feelings or emotions or explain away bad behavior by attributing it to “ADHD,” “ADD” or whatever. Usually a product called the B-E-L-T took care of that.
Discipline and responsibility were not just a part of the household and school, but when we went to church, we were expected to have a reverential attitude towards the service and the message brought by the pastor. You kept still or risked being thrown out by one of the deacons who knew you and your family and expected better behavior from you. There was no shouting, yelling, running around, singing choruses several times over, overhead projectors, screens, laser lights, praise bands, or pastors dressed in t-shirts and blue jeans, and to think of bringing in coffee to the sanctuary was tantamount to an unholy desecration of God’s temple.
Emotional outbursts were not a part of the worship experience, and raising hands was not part of my spiritual development. When we had church, it was quiet, dignified, reverent, a time of holiness, and certainly no emphasis on what the parishioner wanted in worship. We actually had the strange and unusual idea that we needed to please God and make Him the center of attention.
I didn’t have emotional experiences in church except a sense of a Holy Presence that enriched and cleansed us. I realize that things have changed in matters of worship, but to this day I refuse to lift my hands or sing along with choruses that repeat the same lines over and over. I want holiness, not chaos when I come to God’s house. I prefer hymn books where used, and sermons that emphasize the Word of God, not the issues of the day. Church is not about me.
I was never a “seeker.” No such term existed. Church growth was measured by what the LORD was doing in the lives of His people, how often we went visiting members and guests and took the time to invite our neighbors to come and worship with us. We didn’t use formulas or have seminars with vibrant trendy speakers to get us emotionally excited.
Here’s a novel concept to consider. We brought in preachers who were not afraid of talking about hell, holiness, grace, heaven, the glory of God, soul-winning and the need to live lives worthy of Christ. Old fashioned and out of date? Maybe, but the churches were full without having to resort to gimmicks and other venues. If I ever did express emotions in church during those years, it was a sense of joy that I was saved, and concern over the lost. I never did jump up and down or do anything that passes for worship these days.
As I’ve grown and matured in the faith and served in churches as pastor and staff member, it seems to me that in most places of worship there is an emphasis on emotional experiences as a sign of being filled and baptized with the Holy Spirit that I see in almost all denominations now. Is there anything particularly wrong with that? No. I’d rather see tears of joy over someone who has found peace with God than someone who sits there without so much as an “Amen” when the pastor emphasizes something that calls for the intercession of God in one’s life or world. Joy and happiness should be the end result of any kind of worship time when we get in contact with our Creator and Savior.
As you can probably deduct by now, I am not a charismatic, nor do I wish to be one. Like I said, I am not comfortable expressing a lot of emotion, and I don’t like to get emotional if at all possible, except when the occasion arises, and then not for long.
I have kept my feelings in check for most of my life, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon. However, I can smile and laugh when there is an opportunity for a joyous experience such as a birth, graduation, a salvation, a time when a prayer is answered and you see the fruit of it, and if I know the person well. In times of sorrow, I offer a warm embrace that lets that person know that they are loved by God and will be in my prayers.
I tend to be quiet in times of tragedy and listen to the person who has been affected. I believe that presence and prayer are better than shedding tears. People tend to remember that more often, and I have seen it demonstrated in my ministry. There have been times where things have gotten the better of me, and I was not afraid to cry openly. This happened just a handful of times in my life. I’d like to share some of this with you.
As of this month (July), it will have been thirty years since I have had to do the hardest thing in my life, and that was to pick out a casket for my daughter who died at birth. When we had to bury her in the earth of Louisiana, I broke down for several days, and my personality changed overnight to a more somber tone.
My wife and I spent the next year in an emotional wreck until we used our grief to establish a ministry for women who had lost a baby at birth or older, and offered support and love that they and their families so desperately needed.
It was at this time, now that I think upon it, that the Holy Spirit strengthened me and helped me to see that God would get the glory even out of something as heartbreaking as this. If there was ever a time where I could say with certainty that I was filled with the Spirit, it was at this point in my spiritual journey. Hope overrode any type of what could be described as emotional ecstasy.
God’s glory in the midst of heartache came to pass for me while I was a resident chaplain serving at one of New Orleans’ busiest hospitals. One of my areas of responsibility, besides the Emergency Room and Neo-Natal ICU, was to provide pastoral care for patients in the Women’s Wing. To serve as a minister in a hospital essentially calls upon you to be ready to be the representative of the LORD in any situation, which is not for everybody. It’s a place where you have to think on your feet and ask Him for the right words to say, if to say anything at all as the situation arises.
I was called to minister to a young couple whose child had died at birth. The placenta tore during birth and the baby didn’t make it. Needless to say, when I heard this report by the nurse, memories started flooding me; and for a second, I was overwhelmed. I gained my composure and thought on a direction from the LORD. My baby’s death was not in vain or without a sense of purpose. Now, as a minister of God, tragedies such as this would not be met with mere words of sympathy, but genuine empathy and a sharing of sorrows that concluded with the absolute assurance that this precious child was now safe in the arms of Jesus where nothing would ever happen to him again.
This little couple were just barely out of their teens, and now they had to face this, not knowing where to start. I walked in, introduced myself, and embraced both of them, telling them that for right now, there was someone in this facility who has walked down this path of sorrow and that I knew exactly how they felt. We shared tears, and then the little mother asked quietly if it was alright to hold their baby for the time.
I assured them that they could hold him as long as they wished. The nurse brought in the little bundle, who was perfectly formed except that his skin was turning a shade of grey. The parents spent time talking with their child, caressing him, and hugging him. I stood in a corner, silently praying for the love of God to overcome any type of cruel thought that the enemy might have wanted to put in their minds and for their growth together as husband and wife.
After an hour, the mother told the nurse that it was alright now. They were believers, and they knew that they would see this precious child soon and very soon. I spent a few more minutes with them and then left to go back to my office and ponder how good God is, in that this episode of life would not end in tears but in triumph, knowing that child, and mine as well, are in the courts of heaven waiting for us, and we will all gather around the throne and sing praises to our great God and Savior.
When I think on that episode and others in my life, the Spirit of God has graciously shown me that to be Spirit-filled is not so much emotion and experience as some see it, but a growing and maturing assurance that He is LORD over all, that we are to cling to Him always, trust Him to guide us, and to keep burning in our souls the promise that all things will be made new when Jesus comes back to set up His eternal kingdom.
As I see it, to be filled with the Spirit is not necessarily with a demonstration of languages, but to mature in one’s walk with the LORD, to be able to give a worthy defense of why we believe in Him, be ready to be used in times where people need comfort and a reason to keep on going, and that we have the answer in Jesus.
Yes, emotion and experience does have its place at times in our walk with God, but it shouldn’t be a standard part of our spiritual development. There is the importance of maturity, trust, faith, belief, and assurance in the will of God. His direction should be the important goal to achieve as we near the finish line and He says to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy LORD.”
When I see my baby, my parents, my grandparents, and the friends I outlived joining me in glory along with the Lord Jesus, I suppose by then I might be persuaded to lift my hands in praise and do some shouting. I don’t think anyone will mind, certainly not my charismatic brethren who can give me lessons on what they considered standard operating procedure while on Earth.
In all things, He is good.
To those of you who are going through a time of heartache or sorrow, remember that weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning. You can go ahead and rejoice now. I’m there in the midst of it with you, emotions and all.