Apr 30, 2014
Last week a reader asked an important question. Here’s my summary:
Does God really promise that if we fight the fight of faith, he will give us joy, peace, and hope?
Aren’t some people physically incapable of having these feelings?
And don’t the commands to pray without ceasing and never give up in prayer imply that God might not give us these feelings until heaven?
When we talk about “feelings” we are referring to affections and desires like joy in Christ, peace built upon on Christ, and hope in the glory of Christ.
So the question is, does God promise to give us these sorts of feelings in this life?
One reason my answer is Yes, is because that’s what Jesus promises.
Take John 7:37-39 for example —
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Jesus is talking about heart-thirsts for joy, peace, and hope. And he promises that everyone who believes in him will receive so much thirst-quenching water that they will have rivers of living water flowing from their soul.
But when will this outpouring of joy, peace, and hope in Christ happen?
In the verse 39 Jesus says it will happen when we receive the Spirit. And the New Testament says we receive the Spirit in this life, when we first believe in Christ (Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2).
So here in John 7 Jesus promises that all who believe in him will have their heart thirsts quenched in this life.
Another reason my answer is Yes, is because of Scriptures that describe all believers as experiencing certain feelings.
One example is 1 Peter 1:8 —
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…
Here Peter says that all the believers reading his letter DO experience joy that is inexpressible and full of glory. Which means they are experiencing this feeling in this life.
Or take Romans 5:5 —
…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
It’s one thing to read and believe the truth that God loves us. That’s crucial. But when God pours his love into our hearts, we move from reading and believing to experiencing and feeling.
And Paul assumes that all his readers have experienced this outpouring of God’s love. Which means this is a feeling that believers experience in this life.
This does not mean we live based on feelings. The fact that Paul commands us to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) shows that our experience of this work of the Spirit fluctuates. So we don’t build our Christian lives on feelings, but on the truth of God’s word.
At the same time, it is the truth of God’s word that calls us to pursue this experiential work of the Holy Spirit. So we base our Christian lives on the truth of God’s word, and on that basis pursue the biblical experience of the Spirit.
Also, it’s important to understand that these feelings of joy, peace, and hope can coexist with God-centered sorrow and lament. That’s why Paul says that believers can grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
So, with those clarifications, my conclusion is that God does promise to give believers Christ-centered joy, peace, and hope in this life.
But there was another part to their reader’s question —
Are Some Physically Incapable of This?
I don’t know much about this. Maybe others who know more can contribute to this discussion.
But my guess is that since emotions involve our brains, and there is such a thing as brain damage and mental illness, it’s therefore possible that some are physically incapable of having these sorts of feelings.
This would be a heartbreaking exception to what I stated above, and people in this condition would need to be encouraged and prayed for with much love and wisdom.
But if someone feels no joy in Christ, that does not necessarily mean there’s a physical problem. If you are able to feel joy in other areas, like when your baseball team wins, then I would guess you are physically able to feel joy in Christ.
So Why Don’t We?
There can be physical factors, like lack of sleep, or exercise, or eating right.
But besides these, the main reason we don’t experience the feelings God promises is because our sin blinds us to the reality and glory of Christ.
This spiritual blindness was healed when we were first saved (2 Corinthians 4:3-6). But since we still have indwelling sin, that blindness can come back, which is why Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18).
And God promises that when we turn to Christ by faith alone (not self-righteousness), with genuine confession (not pretending), asking for more of the Spirit’s work, and setting our hearts upon the truth of God’s word, he will once again heal our spiritual blindness so we see and feel his glory in Christ.
This might happen quickly. But sometimes God chooses to have it take some time. That seems to be what’s going on in Psalm 13 and Psalm 42.
During these times we should pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and not give up in prayer (Luke 18:1). But those verses do not imply that prayers for this work of the Holy Spirit won’t be answered until heaven.
And even when God chooses to not answer these prayers quickly, it’s because he loves us. It’s because these delays will bring us deeper humility, greater hunger for him, and higher joy when the outpouring comes.
And he has promised that it will come, in passages like Hosea 6:3 —
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.
So press on to know the Lord.
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And here are some related posts you might find helpful –
- What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
- What Every Believer Can Experience Of The Holy Spirit
- What If I Do Not Experience The Holy Spirit?
- Samuel Pearce And God’s “Heavenly, Glorious, Melting Power”
(Picture is by Ian Sane from fight.com; it’s been slightly compressed.)