Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places was a popular country song back in the 1980’s (yes, when I was in grade-school, I was an avid country music fanatic and I’ve got the Alabama albums to prove it!). This song still strikes a nerve in me today because people still do this! People seek what they think of as love in so many wrong and God-less places. For un-regenerate, worldly people to act this way should not be surprising. However, Christians do the same thing, and that is surprising (to some extent) and it is also very sad. What is even more sad, perhaps, is that today, some Christians seem to spend their entire lives looking for Joy in all the wrong places.
Whether it is the recapturing the joys of when we are first saved or looking for a “hit” of joy, many Christians are simply seeking after the wrong thing…or, at least, they are seeking it in all the wrong places.
Addicted to Feelings
Many new believers have unrealistic expectations about their faith. Namely, they expect the “feeling” of joy to last unabated. You remember when you came to Christ or had a fresh “mountain-top” experience, don’t you? We’ve all had those joyous experiences that made us feel like spiritual super-men (or women). The feeling is quite a rush–so much so we feel as if we could walk from New York to England or cast Satan into the pit ourselves. This feeling of joy can become quite addictive, and it is quite dangerous–it can become our idol.
It is unrealistic to expect this particular feeling to last. When you look through the Bible you see almost every major person, from Moses to Peter to Paul and even Jesus Himself dealing with what I will call “dark” times. Being in a dark time does not imply being in sin (although that is possible), but dark times refers to times when you feel God is distant.
Did you notice I used the word “feel?” Feelings are the problem–feelings can deceive you and you can become addicted.
In Search Of Experience
In one of my favorite movies, Star Wars, Obi-wan Kenobi tells young Luke Skywalker: “Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them…stretch out with your feelings.” Unfortunately many Christians today live life this way–they look for that which will help in the boosting of their feelings.
This is one reason I think there is growth in the so-called charismatic denominations. Many charismatics consider the experience of speaking in tongues as the mark of the Holy Spirit (now, that is quite un-biblical and a topic for another time). For these charismatics, faith is confirmed experientially and emotionally, not rationally or scripturally. A large amount of credence is given to the subjective personal experience with the Holy Spirit as seen in tongue-speaking or some other “visible” gift of the Spirit. Sadly, what is lost in the feeling-driven culture is the objective truth of scripture. It is as if the objective Bible is interpreted through subjective experience. This paradigm is backwards because joy is measured by experience.
So, the result of the backward paradigm is that people search for experience after experience as a drug-addict searches for his or her next “high.” No emphasis is placed on the truth of scripture and all emphasis is on what you experience. So, the result joy-addicted druggies looking for their next fix.
What makes this problem worse is the experience-driven culture we live in. The next time you have a chance to really listen to a conversation, see how many times the conversation is actually a superficial conversation filled with nothing more than experience-swapping. Experience one-ups-man-ship is the mark of a superficial conversation between people only interested in themselves, not the other person.
On the other hand, some people choose to live vicariously (yet superficially) through other people’s experience (just look at the popularity of the celebrity-news shows and the paparazzi).
Experience-seeking Christians tend to to act in a way that suggests they believe “The Bible can deceive you, don’t trust it…stretch out with your feelings.” Experience drives our world but placing your faith in experience is fatal to your Christian life because it robs you of true joy.
Putting your Eggs in the Right Basket
Rather than put your faith in the fleeting “joy” of subjective, personal experience, place your faith in the truth of Scripture.
(1) Evaluate your experience through the truth of Scripture; Do not evaluate the truth of Scripture through your experience.
Many of us fight this. We have dark times. I’ve heard of someone thinking that God didn’t love them anymore because they had not had that emotional “feeling” that God loved them in quite some time.
For a true Christian, a feeling is not the proof of God’s love. A crucified and risen Savior is. If you read your experience through the light of Scripture you can easily come to the conclusion that God loves you precisely because He died for you. His death was a demonstration of His love for His people (see Romans 5:8). Since He publicly demonstrated His love for His elect, there is no need to doubt His love, even in the darkest of dark times.
Look at Job. God caused amazing pain in Job’s life. Did God not love Job? Of course God loved Job and that is demonstrated in the last few chapters of the book (ch 38-end) when God gives Job an unparalleled vision of Himself, His Majesty, and His power. In the darkest of times for Job, God was at work to reveal Himself. In our darkest of times, God is still there and is working to make us what we should be. Actually, the dark times, we can assume, are the times God is demonstrating His love the most. If He didn’t love us he wouldn’t discipline us in cases where we bring the darkness on ourselves through sin (See Hebrews 12:6) and He wouldn’t care to make us more Christlike–even through suffering.
(2) Work diligently to know the scriptures so that you can “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
We usually leave one of these things out, don’t we? Or, we place too much emphasis on one part…like “Heart.” Humans are emotional beings and those emotions are not necessarily bad. However, emotions can control us. Here is an example (and it isn’t a perfect one). Many children think that monsters live under their beds. Why? Because the world, for the most part, is still very new to them and they have not learned to fully separate reality from fantasy. Consequently, a child can have fantasies that a monster lives under the bed and this can scare the tar out of them.
As the child grows, however, the separation between fact and fiction grows and the child learns, objectively, that monsters do not live under the bed. So, while their emotions may still get a jolt at hearing a noise under the bed, the brain tells the emotions that there are no monsters under the bed and the emotions are quieted.
In the same way, Christians must so educate their minds with the truths of Scripture that we can evaluate everything through the lens of Scripture. So, when we are having an emotional response, we can evaluate that response, according to Scripture, to see if that response is, in fact, legitimate. If it isn’t the brain can step-in and control the emotions. Also, if you witness something that should cause an emotional response and, for some reason, doesn’t, you can evaluate the situation, again–according to Scripture, and respond with the proper emotional response.
So we can seek to always have a proper and biblically balanced response, the brain must control the emotions; the emotions must not control the brain.
(3) Seek your joy in God Himself, not the things He offers.
This is a tough one for us. John Piper nailed me with this one. It is easy to get lost in longing after the things that God provides–Eternal Life, freedom from sin, etc.–and loose sight of the Giver of the gift. Ask yourself this question, “If I get to heaven and Jesus isn’t there, would it still be heaven?” If you think heaven will be heaven without Christ, you are sorely mistaken. Heaven will still be heaven with Christ and nothing else. He is the ultimate Gift and, therefore, He must be our ultimate treasure. The things He gives to us are just icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, many of the so-called “health and wealth” preachers of today who want you to have your best life now preach and teach in such a way that makes people think that God exists to give us big-ticket items like 5,000 square-foot houses, expensive BMW’s, large plasma-screen TVs, and real-fast power boats. Nothing could be further from the truth. God exists for His own glory, not our creature-comforts.
(4) Seek your Joy in God Himself through the truth of the Scripture.
If you want to know what God is really like, you must read and know the Scriptures. Only then will your concept of God be correct. Also, we are not to pick and choose what like about God–God, as revealed in the Bible, is an all-or-nothing God.
I once had a friend who professed to be a Christian but said she didn’t think God would send anyone to hell. From reading the Bible, it is clear that people do go to hell and it is God who sends them there. It is simply not biblical to separate God’s attributes and pit them against one another or to remove a clear teaching of Scripture because it happens to offend our wrong, subjective, and experientially-based sensibilities.
Finally, take special care not to seek emotional highs as an addict seeks a fix. This practice leads to cheap, superficial faith and cheap, superficial churches devoid of true joy.
Rather than seek quick hits of so-called joy in our fleeting experiences, allow my dad, who is heavily influenced by John MacArthur, to suggest the way we should view joy:
True biblical joy is the deep and abiding confidence that my God is sovereign and that regardless of whatever circumstance I find myself in, He will cause everything to work to my ultimate good and to His glory.
The world we live in is a sad world–a world of despair, depression, lack of fulfillment, and dissatifaction. Man defines happiness as an attitude of satisfaction and delight based upon present circumstances–he relates happiness to happenings or happenstance.
Joy is something that cannot be planned or programmed.
Biblical joy consists of the deep and abiding confidence that I live this earthly life under the protection of a loving and sovereign God. Because of God’s sovereign care, I can rest in absolute confidence that God will, regardless of circumstances or difficulty, work all things together for His glory and my good as I remain obedient to His calling.
Biblical Joy is very different from worldly happiness. Biblical joy is always related to God and belongs only to those in Christ. It is the permanent possession of every believer–not a whimsical delight that comes and goes as chance offers it opportunity.
Perhaps you can conceptualize this concept this way: Joy is the flag that flies on the castle of the heart when the King is in residence. Only Christians can know true and lasting joy. A Christian’s joy is a gift from God. Joy is produced in the Christian by the Holy Spirit as the word is received and obeyed. A Christian’s joy is mixed with trials and it is rooted in God’s sovereign providence and a hope set on future glory.