“If you only do what you feel like doing, you are not a believer, you are a feeler.” -Bill Johnson
Ever do something you didn’t feel like doing only to discover later that you were incredibly grateful you did it?
Piano lessons were like that for me. As each Monday rolled around, I dreaded going. It wasn’t like I didn’t practice or that I wanted to quit, but as a young middle-schooler, I could always find twenty-five other things I’d rather be doing.
I’d slide sulkily into my mom’s car and moan about how much I didn’t want to go. Funny thing though. While I was there, I did well and actually enjoyed it. My teacher was cool, and he always encouraged me. I left feeling like a million bucks.
Until the next Monday. And we’d do the whole thing all over again.
Every week was the same. Until I finally wised up. One day I thought, “Come on, Jeff. Why whine and complain every week about a piano lesson when you love it and are actually pretty good at it? It just doesn’t make sense! So…just stop it!” And I did.
We do this with God too, don’t we? And with church.
I’ve found this happens a lot. Think about it. Exercise is like this. I hate exercising with a perfect passion, but of course, I typically feel energized afterward and am fairly stoked that I made the sacrifice. How about apologies? We avoid them like the plague, but if we can ever get the nerve up to humble ourselves, it’s like the weight of all the world is lifted.
Abraham understood our plight. If you recall, he had an assignment he wasn’t too pumped about—from the Maker himself. Genesis 22 lays it out.
God approaches his servant, Abraham, and resolves to test him by asking him to take his one and only son, Isaac—the son of promise—the one he loved so deeply—the only one truly capable of carrying on the family name—and sacrifice him as a burnt offering unto God. Sounds exhilarating.
Seriously? And I thought my problems were bad? I can’t even fathom how I would feel if God asked me to do something this outrageous. And yet, astonishingly, the Bible tells us, “Early the next morning, Abraham got up, saddled his donkey, called for his two servants and his son and started up the arduous mountain road.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine spoke to my wife and me about his feelings. Yeah, after 25 years of marriage, three kids, a couple cats and a dog or two, he was ready to call it quits. Unfortunately, he’d made some poor choices and now faced an increasingly broken marriage. And he was done. Just done.
As he shared his story, I’ll never forget his distressing words. “Jeff, I just don’t love her anymore. And I don’t want to be fake. I shouldn’t stay with her if I don’t have feelings for her, right?”
My first thought? Wow. So noble. This guy wants to be authentic. He doesn’t want to fake the funk with something as serious as love. He wants to be true to his feelings. How honorable.
Wait a minute. Not so fast.
There’s a growing misconception—in our mega-enlightened world—that feelings precede actions. Isn’t that how we do things? We wait to act on something until we feel like acting? And, if we don’t feel like it, we just don’t do it. We’ve come to believe this is the natural way of doing things. And as a result, we are essentially ruled by our feelings. Our cravings. And then we consume that which we crave. No questions asked.
If we have a hankering for a McDonald’s hamburger, we eat one. Likewise, if we don’t have a taste for broccoli, we reason it’s just not our style.
Yet we disregard a very important point. Fact is, God wired us just the opposite—with a natural bent toward craving what we consume rather than consuming what we crave. Yes, it’s true. Once again, this is something I initially learned from author and speaker, John Bevere. It just doesn’t work the way we think. We don’t consume what we crave. We were actually designed to construct our cravings by first choosing what we consume. This is the way God created us. Not to follow our feelings, but to create and nurture them.
If I wait until I feel like getting up out of bed, I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop hitting the snooze button. If I wait until I feel like eating my veggies, I’ll resort to chicken fingers with ranch dressing all of my days. And if I wait until I feel like praying to my Father, I’ll likely only surf the heavenly airwaves in a crisis.
Believe it or not, studies prove that people can proactively change their taste in food—their likes and dislikes—by what they choose to eat and not eat. I’ve seen it. Kids who don’t like certain foods can alter their palates after being ”forced” to eat things they didn’t initially desire.
Is this possible? Can we actually tweak our taste buds?
Sure. Isn’t this a common understanding with things like alcohol and coffee? The acquired taste? Where we develop a taste for things only after choosing to consume them consistently over time? Few enjoy their first beer or cup of black coffee, but with a little determination, a craving—even an addiction—can easily be cultivated. What if we applied this principle on a grander scale, but for the good?
Honestly, I get so tired of hearing people say, “Nah, I don’t eat rabbit food. It just doesn’t agree with me.” Really? Interesting. Many hold to the belief that they don’t like vegetables, and as a result, they don’t eat them. But what if the issue is not taste at all? What if the reason we don’t like to eat our greens is simply because we don’t eat our greens? What if the truth is that parents around the world have deprived their children of maturing taste buds just because they didn’t want to make their kid “suffer” by eating a celery stick? What if by taking action—to do something that is not a natural desire—we discover we can actually transform our naturally desires?
Most people say they have to believe it to see it, but truth is, faith works the other way around. If we want to see it, we have to believe it. Action always comes first. Believing before seeing.
Remember our opening Bill Johnson quote? “If you only do what you feel like doing, you are not a believer, you are a feeler.” This is what separates true believers in Jesus from unbelievers.
Do we imagine under any circumstances that Abraham felt like sacrificing Isaac? That it was part of his natural personality to kill his one and only son? Of course not. In fact, he had to disregard his feelings to prove that he had faith. He had to put feet to his faith to prove his faith was real—to God and to himself. To prove that his faith and trust in God was not based solely on empty emotion. See, it’s one thing to say we have faith, but we really won’t know until our faith is put to the test?
The angel of God said to Abraham, “Now I know that you truly fear God.” And equally as important, Abraham discovered this about himself too. How did they discover it? Because actions speak louder than words. And actions produce change in our cravings that build character.
Take my friend. Though his words about his wife seemed respectable—in an odd sort of way—he had it all backwards. This is actually when I first started pondering these issues. I remember hearing the Holy Spirit whisper to me that night the very counsel I gave to him.
“Love is not a feeling. Love is a decision. Isn’t that how you kindled the relationship with your wife in the first place? Sure, you had an initial attraction, but you took action and began cultivating love for her in the form of date nights, special presents, tender ‘I love you’s’, and late night marathon phone conversations. Isn’t it possible the reason you don’t have feelings for your wife any longer is not because you somehow magically lost your attraction, but because you stopped cultivating it?”
“People don’t just wake up 25 years into marriage and say, ‘Wow, look at us—not sure how we ended up with a loving relationship after all these years. Must have been a whole lot of good luck!’ No. It takes work. Commitment. Dedication. Selflessness. And perseverance.”
I continued. “Just think. If you were to go home and, by faith, begin doing the things you did when you first starting falling in love, you would absolutely begin to awaken your love for her all over again. See, feelings don’t precede actions. Actions precede feelings, and feelings follow actions.”
C.S. Lewis says it this way. “When you are behaving as if you love someone, you will presently come to love them.”
“But Jeff, I don’t want to be fake!” True. Then don’t be. Don’t fake it to make it. Faith it to make it.
Ever notice? Just when you don’t feel like praying—if you step out and pray anyway, time has a way of turning seconds into minutes into hours—even before you know what’s happening. Same thing can be said with musical worship. Rarely do I jump for joy when someone says, “Hey guys, let’s get together and worship!” But as I step out in faith to sing, to lift my hands, to focus my mind on giving God glory, something happens. My emotions toward God are stirred up. My actions taken in faith—apart from my feelings—stir up genuine emotions and true love for God. And as a result, I now find myself passionately operating in the very thing I had little aspiration for to begin with.
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
Reading God’s Word is like a feast for our souls, but many of us simply haven’t developed a taste for it. We say, “It’s boring,” or “I just don’t understand it.” All the while, we have developed a powerful appetite for the things of the world. We must realize there is great joy and tremendous spiritual nourishment ahead if we will only consume God’s Word by faith instead of waiting for our feelings to rise up extemporaneously. If we can learn to treasure his Word by faith, it will come alive to us as we begin to foster a true hunger for it. And, additionally, we will also begin to lose our appetite for the things of this world.
Isn’t that what this popular verse is getting at: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21
Most people assume it’s their heart that directs them toward what they should treasure, but the truth is the reverse—in order to truly awaken my heart toward something, I must truly begin to treasure it first—by faith. Then and only then will I find my heart treasuring what it should.
This is the essence of faith. This is the essence of the Kingdom.
How do we love our enemies? How do we die to self? How do we forgive those who deeply wound us? How do maintain peace in our hearts in the midst of all the world’s great chaos? By feelings? No. By faith. And whatever we do by faith will certainly, eventually evoke true and powerful emotions that flow genuinely and supernaturally out of our beings.
Truth is, if we wait until we don’t feel afraid, we will always be afraid. And if we wait until we don’t feel depressed, we will always be depressed. But if we declare our courage despite our fear, and our purpose in the face of our depression, we will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we read God’s Word by faith, pray by faith, and worship even when we don’t feel like it, we will begin to live boldly as the true supernatural men and women of God we were created to be.
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