Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Gospel According to 'Feel-Good'

Title: The Gospel According to ‘Feel-Good’ Factor - (Part 2 of Stuck-In-a-Rut series)
Date: 3 Feb 2011
Text: Mark 10:21-22
Written by: Conrade Yap

This is Part 2 of a series of 3 articles on Spiritual Growth. It deals with the frustration of being stuck in a rut. In Part One, we deal with frustrations that arise out of a quick-fix paradigm in our spiritual growth. Part Two deals with the fallacy of a feel-good mentality, and Part Three proposes an alternate understanding of spiritual growth.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
(Mark 10:21-22)

MAIN POINT: In Part Two of the Stuck-in-the-Rut series, I will discuss how Christians often unwittingly let ‘feelings’ become their executive director of how they behave. ‘Faith’ gets dethroned in favour of ‘feelings.’ Feelings can keep us stuck-in-a-rut. Faith frees us to commitment and love.
Executive Director: 'When I Feel Like It'
“I don’t feel like going to Church today.”

Ever experienced such a feeling? I have. In fact, when I start to think about how ‘boring’ some sermons can be, how monotonous the worship team is, and how ‘hypocritical’ some church members can behave, I shudder. I ponder about skipping church. I wonder if I can wiggle myself out of commitments that Sunday. Like counting sheep to battle insomnia, I number the excuses below to justify non-attendance.

  • “When I do not feel like it, why should I ‘waste’ my time doing it?”
  • “I find no more meaning to serve in a ministry that NOBODY wants to do.”
  • “Every year, it is always me. If I don’t quit, people will take me for granted.”
  • “Nobody in church really cares about my service. In fact, nobody seems interested to take up my portfolio.”
  • “I feel like quitting. It’s God’s Church anyway. God can take care of his own church.”
  • “Surely, no one can feel any difference if I don’t come. I am too insignificant anyway.”
  • “The pastor don’t care. The Church admin don’t care. The leaders don’t care. Even the bishop hardly cares. So why should I care?”
A) Feelings Matter
These sentiments can increase bitterness about serving in Church. Under such a mood, serving in Church seems more like a chore. It never ends. If I don’t ‘feel like it,’ why then should I serve? Perhaps, serving in Church with such a negative attitude only makes me a bigger hypocrite!

When I first joined the Sunday School as a teacher many years ago, I was a green-eyed young man, eager to share the Word of God with younger folks. Saturday evenings are sacrificed in order to prepare for Sunday mornings. Date nights are curtailed so that I can be attentive during the Sunday classes. Excitement soon becomes exhaustion. Exhaustion turns into anxious moments. Anxious moments lead to bitterness. As feelings wrap around my neck of faith, my heart lets “What should I be teaching next week?” degenerates into “Why must I be teaching every week?”

The fact is, ‘feelings matter,’ but the question is to what extent should we entertain them? We cannot allow feelings to become the COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF of all our actions. The king of our heart is not ‘feelings’ but Christ.

B) Giving Feelings Too Much Room

Feelings are important. So is emotional honesty. Unfortunately, it is too unstable for any long-term commitment. Feelings must be considered together with an intentional faith in action.

Looking at the parable of the rich young man again, we learned last week that he asks Jesus about a ‘quick-fix’ way to eternal life. Sadly, his response is less than adequate. Not only is he unable to meet Jesus’s standard, he practically gives up altogether. The Amplified Bible translates it even more dramatically.
At that saying the man’s countenance fell and was gloomy, and he went away grieved and sorrowing, for he was holding great possessions. (Mark 10:22, AMP)
The words ‘grieved and sorrowing’ tells us about the great reversal of ownership. Instead of the man possessing his things, the things have possessed him. In that light, what happens if we give feelings too much room? Feelings will have no problem in possessing us.

Some of us may empathize with this man. How many people on earth can surrender everything, and give all away in order to follow Christ fully? We are not very different from this dejected rich young man. Imagine Jesus saying to us personally:
If you want to follow me, go back and sell all you have. From your house and car, to your computer products, your cellphones, and all your favourite possessions; empty your bank accounts and designate all to charity. If you have stocks and shares, sell them immediately, and give the proceeds to the needy.
Perhaps the key problem is not so much the nature of these things. It is a measure of how dangerously connected our feelings are to these things. When our hearts hold on to these things, it is like trying to stay afloat on the raging waters with our hands clinging on to a bag of heavy gold ingots.

C) ‘Feelings’ Idolized

When our feelings toward earthly things are GREATER than our faith to obey God, we have an unbalanced spirituality. We allow ‘good-feeling’ to matter too much. Way too much. An obsession with hoarding our possessions turns us into possessive beings. We become selfish. We become self-focused. We make an idol of these things that prevent us from following Jesus. Worse, we turn into that idol.

Tim Keller in his wonderful book, “Counterfeit Gods” calls the heart an ‘idol factory.’ He writes:
In Ezekiel 14:3, God says about elders of Israel, “these men have set up their idols in their hearts.” Like us, the elders must have responded to this charge, “Idols? What idols? I don’t see any idols.” God was saying that the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.
(Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, NY: Dutton,2009, xiv)

Anything can be an idol. Feelings too. When FEELINGS become commander-in-chief, we obey whatever feelings dictate us. If we feel depressed, feelings tell us to cut off all contact with the outside world, so as to cocoon ourselves in our own room. If we feel happy, feelings direct our hands to give a High-5 to anyone we see on the streets. If we feel unwilling to take risks, feelings comfort us and convince us that there is always next time. If we feel afraid, feelings tell us it is ok to run away. If we feel that there are hypocrites in the church, feelings tell us that we should avoid mixing around with such people.

Unfortunately, fickleness is the major attribute of the god of feelings. When one feels good, how do we keep it up? Some people use drugs and artificial steroids to boost up their energy levels, in order to maintain this feel-good factor. When consequences appear, feelings tempt them to give themselves another booster jab to conquer the consequences. When feelings turn into an ‘ultimate’ thing in our lives, nothing else matters except to preserve our feelings.

D) Faith In God’s Timing

How can we escape this vicious cycle of good and bad feelings? Faith. Faith is the confidence that God knows best. Faith is the assurance that regardless of how we feel, God loves us unconditionally. Faith is the knowledge that God’s love is independent of our circumstances. Faith is knowing that God’s timing is always the best. We are called to be faithful.

Imagine what would happen if all bus drivers feel under the weather on rainy days? There will be no buses on the streets! If preachers do not feel like preaching on any one Sunday, there will be no sermons. If feelings take priority over commitment, it is like a bank manager telling a desperate client.
“I feel good today. So you do not have to pay back your house loan.”
Will the client be satisfied just to hear a good feel statement? Obviously not. He needs a binding contract. He needs a legal representative to ensure that the liabilities are effectively erased. For what if the bank manager feels bad? What’s stopping him to call in the loan during our most vulnerable moments?

A commitment is like a binding contract entered willingly by two parties. Faith in God’s timing is an example of a commitment to God. We obey God, and will exercise our commitment regardless of how we feel. When faith is greater than good-feel, here is how it looks like.

  • Even when I do not feel like it, I will still exercise my responsibilities.
  • Even when I fail to find meaning in my service, I pray my faithfulness will bring meaning in due course.
  • Even when people do not help out or serve, that does not mean I compromise my own gifts.
  • Even when other people do not care about the church, it does not mean I disregard my own covenant with God.
  • Why get distracted by people who are absent, when I can pay attention to those who are present?
  • Even if the world, the church, the pastor, and everyone else do not care about me, one thing is certain: Jesus cares.

I pray that during moments when we feel lousy, or spiritually unworthy, come to God. Let the comfort of the Holy Spirit remind us that Jesus cares. Always.

Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.” (John Wooden)

Feelings point us inside toward ourselves. Faith point us outside. Feelings puff up our self-importance. Faith keeps them in its proper perspective. Whether one feels good or bad, God always feel for us. May our feelings be always be directed to Jesus in faith.

Thought: Beware the heart that manufactures a lack of good-feel that leads to ill-will.


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