At church this morning, they mentioned that the 21st Desperation Conference took place this past week, and they described how so many of the 2000 teenagers who attended had dedicated or rededicated their lives to Christ and left the conference on fire for Jesus. I have to admit that I secretly wished that I could have gotten my two adult children, who are not followers of Christ now, to attend that conference when they were teenagers. It could have altered their faith journies to the point where maybe they would be in the faith now and would be experiencing the peace they are so desperately seeking elsewhere (in all the wrong places) right now.
Anyway, the talk of this conference reminded me of my own “Damascus Road” conversion experience (Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Christ on his way to Damascus to persecute followers of Christ there, as recounted in Acts 9:1-22). when I was 16 years old. I’ve been on fire for Jesus ever since then, which is now a very long time ago. Over those years the flame has sometimes been very brightly ablaze, like it is for those teenagers right now. But I have to admit that sometimes, it has scaled back to nothing more than smoldering embers.
Speaking with a friend this week, an axiom came back to my mind that really applies to my whole life, meaning that it is not limited just to my faith journey. In my (many) years of experience, I’ve learned that feelings follow faithfulness. Meaning that even when the feelings aren’t there, if you are faithful in doing what you know in your heart is the right thing to do, the feelings will usually follow.
Allow me to explain (well, since this is a blog post and not a conversation, I’m going to explain without waiting for permission 😊). The best way to elaborate is with a couple of examples.
Since this blog is focused on myfaith journey (and all of our journies), I’ll start with an example close to home in that space. Over the years, there have been some times–all too many, I’m sad to admit–when I did not feel like going to church. I didn’t have the feelings I thought I needed for the proper worship of our Great and Loving God. Thankfully, though, most of the time I went to church anyway. And most of the time, a beautiful and magical thing would happen: in the midst of other believers worshipping, the feelings would come. I almost always leave church feeling like I have been swept up into God’s presence, pulled onto the holiest ground, generally referred to as heaven on earth.
God is working in and through and around us to bring His Kingdom to this planet. I know that if you watch the news or surf social media, it won’t really seem like this is happening. But in those moments where the feelings have followed my faithfulness, I have sensed that it is happening. God is near. He inhabits our praise. And He also walks with us in the brokenness we bring into church and that which we drag out with us.
For those many times this has happened, I am so thankful that my faithfulness led me to church so I could feel and enjoy the presence of God, which always reminds me that we know how this story ends. Spoiler alert: God wins. In the end, there will be no death or loss or pain or tears or divisiveness, or even dentists. It is good to be reminded of this, especially on those darker days when I don’t feel like going to church.
Let me shift now to a more secular example to add and further emphasize another point. These days, I hike or walk at least 4 miles every day, pretty much regardless of the weather. During that time, I listen to the Daily Audio Bible, other audiobooks, and praise music, and I pray (yes, with my eyes open, while hiking or walking). It is consistently the richest part of my day. I look forward to it and cherish it while I’m doing it. I feel out of sorts if I ever have to miss it.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Before it became part of who I am, it was the constant struggle that many of us are probably familiar with: I have to work out at some point. I should go exercise now. Some days I just didn’t feel like it. I was too busy or too tired. The weather was too hot or too cold. I could go on and on with excuses, and if you can relate, you could probably add some of your own.
Over time, however, I got better and better at making myself go exercise even when I didn’t feel like it. How did I do this? Sometimes I would offer myself a little reward if I would go–a nice dessert, for example (counter-productive, I know, but hey, until it becomes ingrained in you, you often have to deal in little trade-offs). Sometimes I would remind myself how good I will feel afterward–sunshine, fresh air, and exertion are a great team for relieving stress! Again, you probably can think of sample deals you have made with yourself to get yourself to the gym (or whatever form of exercise you prefer).
And here’s the cool thing: after so much struggle, after so many negotiations with myself, after so many times of going out for a run, walk, or hike even when I didn’t feel like it, it has now become something that adds joy to my life.
That leads me to another point: sometimes we must pass through obedience to reach joy.
I trudged through many walks to get to where I enjoy them and anticipate them eagerly.
We can feel God’s pleasure flowing through us when we do what God wired us to do. He made us, among other things, to spend quality time with him, which I think is part of what brings me joy in my hikes or walks.
He also wired us to be good at some sort of vocation, which for most of us translates into our job and career. And although most days I don’t feel like getting out of bed to go to work, I do it anyway. I can think of many other things I would rather be doing, but I don’t do those things. Instead, I focus on the task at hand, serving in my job as though I were serving God, because I am serving Him. Working for a living isn’t a great source of joy, but I have to admit that when I use the skills and abilities God has blessed me with, I do feel the satisfaction that comes from God working through me to achieve things that nobody else could. And that satisfaction dances around the edges of joy, and occasionally even tiptoes over that line.
Here’s the bottom line: a lot of times, if you keep (or start) doing the things you should do, those things can often become something you want to do because of the joy you experience from doing them. This pertains to faith-related activities–like going to church or praying–as much as it does to secular life activities like exercising and going to work. It applies to relationships as well–if you are faithful to friends and loved ones, doing the right thing by those people even when you don’t feel like it, the feelings will follow and you’ll be reminded why that person holds a cherished place in your life.
So one path to joy can be as simple as this: remembering that feelings will follow faithfulness.