When You Don't Feel Christian

“By this we shall know we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before Him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” 1 John 3:19-20

People who are paid to know this stuff say we are in “the post-modern age.” Whatever post-modernism is, and by definition it seems to enjoy being slippery, it does seem to be deeply colored by feelings. It is a mood, unburdened by the bothersome constraints of order or the Neanderthal notion of linear thinking. Feelings and emotions are important in the post-modern mind.

However, a feelings-driven faith, which no one would admit to, presents a variety of problems, for many times we simply do not feel very Christian. I read recently of a man battling cancer, a battle he eventually lost, saying that he was sick and tired of being sick and tired. As he was in the business of cranking out weekly columns of inspiration and encouragement, he lamented not being able to bring bright light to his readers from the darkness of his own experiences. He felt inadequate, unattractive, and incapable. In other words, he didn’t feel very Christian.

Neither does the man who is struggling to keep the family finances in some semblance of order. The raises can’t come fast enough, and the bills keep piling up. The children have no idea how much they cost, and even that thought only reinforces his own personal disgust. How could children “know” how much they cost? And what difference would that make?  All he knows is that words like faith, confidence, and love are pretty meaningless in his world right now. He does not feel very Christian.

I think young mothers face the toughest time right now. Maybe I’m being paternalistic, but these young ladies appear to face more challenges than any other demographic. They have the normal challenges of getting the children going in the morning, after changing sheets for one of them during the night. The doctor visits, dance lessons, year-round sports teams, carpool, etc., make her feel like a taxi. And she never gets a tip. And as for housekeeping? She does well to scrape off the kitchen floor a formerly soggy frosted flake that has dried into a substance only slightly less than diamond-hard. And she is doing all these things in a world where “a good man” is harder and harder to find. She doesn’t feel very Christian.

This problem is an ancient one. In John’s words sometimes “our hearts condemn us.” Our commitment waxes and wanes according to the latest run-in we have had with a bad day, or a disappointing church or minister, or a messy reminder of church history in general, or a devastatingly clever agnostic verbal riposte (and they do love to be “devastatingly clever”).

What do we do when we don’t feel very Christian?

Your first response is to not fling away from faith. As John wrote, “God is greater than our hearts.” Just stop, take a deep breath and remember that God must be bigger than your fears. He is more constant than your doubts. I believe it was Phillips who wrote, “The King is still in residence. His flag is still flying.” The thorny knot of problems you face has not defeated heaven’s forces or heaven’s rationality.

Second, remember the priority of your faith. It rests on solid facts, and can be supplemented by feelings. So your priorities are faith, facts, and feelings, and you must never get those three out of order. Again, because we live in a culture that caters to feelings, we have exalted the most vulnerable and misleading part of our experience. We pursue and try to manufacture the feeling that makes us feel best. That approach is a cheap drug and useless nonsense.

Often you have to go on believing even when it does not feel right or good. Trust the facts of what God has revealed to you during times when you saw most clearly. They have not changed. Your faith is your most cherished gift. Don’t allow any feeling to convince you faith no longer applies.

Finally, remember the literary context of 1 John 3:19-20. He wrote that we must keep the commandment to love one another. The reminder to love precedes and follows the two verses about confidence. When you struggle with bitter feelings, find someone to love. Or better find someone whom Christ can love through you. We feel God’s love most clearly when we are sharing it consistently. Grace in, grace out.

I’ve never known an honest Christian who would not admit to the problem of sometimes not feeling very Christian. Thank God He is stronger than my feelings and more certain than my doubts.

Dr. Terry Ellis

November 14, 2011