Is it Inauthentic to Read the Bible & Pray When We Don’t Feel Like It?

Is reading the Bible or praying when you don’t feel like it kind of fake? Shouldn’t we wait till we have true feelings to be close to God? Shouldn’t it be authentic?

Values Trump Feelings

Consider what would happen if we applied the same logic to everything else in life. If I only stayed true to my wife when I felt like it, I would have blown our marriage by now. In fact, we often do things we don’t feel like doing: going to work, disciplining our kids, or having a difficult conversation with a spouse or friend. Why do we do these things? Because, in those instances, we have a value greater than our feelings. Our value trumps the feeling. This is also true in Christianity. We may not feel like praying or reading the Bible, but that shouldn’t lead to abandoning Scripture reading, meditation, and prayer. Why? Because we possess a value greater than feelings. That value is worship. We believe worshipping God–knowing him, enjoying him, receiving and applying his wisdom to our life–is more important than anything else.

What Is Authenticity?

But isn’t it inauthentic to pray and read the Bible when if you don’t feel it? If I read the Bible or pray, particularly I don’t feel like it, isn’t that just fake? Well, would you say that about the police officer who puts himself in the line of fire when he’d rather be at home with his family, or the mom who patiently corrects her children when she actually feels like screaming and pulling her hair out? Would you charge a friend with inauthenticity because they sat down to confront a friend about their alcoholism when they didn’t feel like it? Authenticity can’t be measured by feelings alone. What, then, determines authenticity?

Authenticity depends on what you want to be true to. It’s relative. It isn’t inherently noble. What determines the nobility of our authenticity is the thing we trying to be true to.

If you want to be true to your company or personal work ethic, you’ll go to work whether you feel like it or not. If you want to be true to friendship, then you’ll have the hard conversation with your friend. If you want to be true to Jesus Christ, you’ll talk to him, and listen to his Word, whether you “want” to or not. Worship trumps feelings. Worship is Spirit and truth, not truth and feeling (John 4:24). This side of heaven, our feelings will come and go, but with the Spirit’s help we can be faithful and true till heaven reaches us. If you are a Christian, then you’ve said the overarching value of your life is the worship of God, the Father, Son and Spirit.

Truly Authentic

Reading the Bible and praying, then, is actually one of the most authentic things you can do because it reminds you that you are more than your feelings; you are Christ’s. You believe Christ has given you a more authentic way of living, in and with him, more than anything else can offer. Reading the Scriptures then, reminds us of the truth, helps us live in line with our true Self in Christ. The person who lives this way will, over time, discover deeper joys, develop sturdier character, and become more authentic (not less). Why is this? Because Scripture and prayer bring you near to the overarching truth of your life over and over again. They form worship.

Does the How of Evangelism Really Matter?

Think about the last time you tried to share the gospel. What was going through your head? Were you angling to find an opening to mention Jesus? Or perhaps you were more intentional, looking for an opportunity to lay out a “gospel presentation” over lunch or coffee? This kind of evangelism focuses on what we have to say, not on what others are saying.

This can make our evangelism unbelievable. 

All too often we look to download gospel information instead of considering people’s objections. If we’re honest, we are often content with “name dropping” Jesus in a conversation because our evangelism is more about us and less about them. Saying Jesus’ name to a non-Christian gets us a √. Saying what Jesus did in the first century, on a cross, gets us a √+. This kind of evangelism is more about clearing our evangelical conscience than compassionately sharing the good news with fellow sinners.

This evangelism is unbelievable because it is motivated by unbelief in the gospel. Our hidden belief is that doing evangelism makes us better with God. Or better in front of spiritual peers we esteem.

The Self-Righteous Approach

The Lord certainly uses defective evangelism (Phil. 1:15-18), but that doesn’t mean we should promote it. In fact, the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), watch our life and speech (1 Tim. 4:16), walk with wisdom toward outsiders (Col. 3:4-5), and live with others in a understanding way (Rom. 12:17-18). These texts all add up to tell us how we share the gospel matters.

The gospel can be easily dismissed because of the self-righteous manner of our gospel communication. When I was in college, I often felt guilty if days went by without sharing my faith. I was driven by performance. As a result, I’d end up sharing the righteousness of Christ with others in a self-righteous way. I would think to myself, “If I share the gospel, God will think better of me.” But that actually contradicts the gospel.

God thinks perfectly of us, not because of our right performance, but because of Jesus’ righteousness performance! When we are caught in the performance act, we may come off wooden or uncaring. People need to not only “hear” the gospel but also “feel” it in our speech. Good evangelism results in gospel stereo—Christ-shaped speech and action.

The Sheepish Approach

The gospel can also be dismissed due to the sheepish manner of our evangelism. Sometimes we are indifferent to evangelism because we don’t want to come off as preachy. I was sitting in a Starbucks when a gentlemen asked me what I was doing. I replied, “Working on a sermon.” Oh, great, here it comes. Yep, he replied by waving his hands back and forth, across one another, saying “Don’t preach to me, don’t preach to me!” All accompanied by a nervous chuckle. How would you respond?

I responded by saying, “You don’t have to worry about that.” Really?! I left the poor man with the wrong impression of gospel preaching—that it mounds up not relieves guilt. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus absorbs our guilt and sets us free. That’s just what he needed to hear, just not in a “preachy” way. My sheepish indifference left him stranded in guilt.

People interpret the gospel by how we say the gospel not just what we say.

But it’s not enough to critique self-righteous and sheepish evangelism. We must reconstruct a biblically faithful, culturally sensitive, and personally discerning way forward.

I propose Gospel Metaphors. You can read more about them at UnbelievableGospel.com

Books on Character (& Virtue Collapse)

In working through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I’m trying to better understand our present moral collapse. Virtues have turned into values, and sins have morphed into mistakes. The new center for morality is the individual, not God, which is quite scary. Christians aren’t the only ones with a “sermon on mount.”

Here are a few books that have been helpful. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

The Road to Character, David Brooks

Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool, Jennifer Jacquet

Losing Our Virtue, David Wells

Back to Virtue, Peter Kreeft

“Sight Unseen” The Hows and Whys of Invisibility, Kathryn Shulz

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, NT Wright

Resurrection and the Moral Order, Oliver O’ Donovan

 

 

A Good & Hard Good Friday

Good Friday is good because it interrupts our weekly liturgy reminding us of the bounty of grace won for us at the cross.
Good Friday is hard because it reminds us of the sheer innocence of a spotless Lamb who meets utter horror—Jesus slain for our sins.
Goodness, Jesus is worth pausing to adore on Good Friday as we move toward the great hope of Easter Sunday. After all, we can’t have one without the other.