It happened to me again the other day. I was visiting with a brother in Christ about life. He had this gleam in his eyes, and his words seemed to spill out, as if his tongue couldn’t keep up with his enthusiasm. As he talked about truth, he gestured with quick, sharp thrusts of his hand; as he poured out his desire for others to know Jesus, his stare got wet and misty.
The whole time, all I could think was “Wow… am I really a Christian?”
It’s been a long time since I felt that way on a consistent basis. Don’t get me wrong; I’m an emotional person, albiet one whose natural proclivities seem to lie on the darker parts of the spectrum of feelings. I am still moved by the truths of God and the beauty of His creation. But it’s not like what this guy seemed to be experiencing. He was on the proverbial mountaintop; I seem to spend much of my time living in the equivalent of Nebraska.
I have no interest in discrediting his feelings. While the part of me that was lobotomized by church camp conversions and revival services struggles to trust that such emotions are genuine, I have known great saints who cannot help but fight back tears of joy when they speak of the gospel. I believe that this is an experience people genuinely have… its just that “people” in this case often doesn’t include me.
There are days when this bothers me. I look at the way some people seem to experience Christianity, and it’s so vivid that I feel like a black-and-white movie. What’s wrong with me, I wonder. Have I not experienced this thing that they have? That’s when all the ghosts of my past come back to haunt me. All the times that I’ve heard talks about being “sold out” for Jesus and faked my way through worship songs, raising my hands not out of some uncontainable joy but rather in a plea that God would somehow make me feel the things those around me seem to be feeling.
I won’t deny my need for emotional sanctification. I am a born-and-bred cynic; the hope which Paul calls Christians to have is something I wrestle for, and I know that joy is often lacking in my life. However, I don’t think that’s the end of the story.
The fact is that, while I long for the day when I can have such a genuine emotional depth, I am a Christian. I don’t have the mountaintop experiences anymore, at least not often, but there’s something I’ve discovered. God isn’t just waiting for me up there. He walks with me in the corn fields on the plain, and he even meets me in the shadows of the valley. While I don’t “feel the Spirit’s presence” with the same vigor I did during youth group worship times, I find that He is present with me, regardless of my feelings, in the hundred little pangs of conscience, comforting moments and small encouragements that get me through the day. I don’t have the high anymore, but neither do I have the crash… and, in many ways, I’m okay with that.
I want to get all of this out there because I know a lot of Christians who are in the same place. One of the persistent problems in the way we do ministry is that we elevate one personality as more desirable to God than another. Maybe its the extrovert, or the task-oriented, or the logician. Maybe it’s the feeler. I’m all for validating the way all these personalities can contribute to the kingdom (I happen to have some of them), but it gets poisonous when their contributions are elevated above others. God loves introverts, the unorganized, the relational, and the thinker too. Christianity is something which changes you as a person, yes. But I have the emotional baggage of being told that, to be a Christian, I need to be another person entirely – incidentally, a person who looked a lot like the personality of whoever was doing the telling.
God demands obedience, but God demands this obedience of unique people. Diversity isn’t a bad thing; it’s a part of what it means to be a creature – a glorious, complicated creature. True obedience is learning how to live out a life centered around, based upon, and shot through with love for Christ. It’s about you, with all your giftings and failings and strengths and weaknesses, knowing God’s love, and about you learning to show this love to your brothers and sisters and to the world. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; if Christ has called you His, you don’t have to be like anyone else.