In the Churches of Christ, we are often a thinking people. Rarely are we accused of being overly emotional. At least, that is the cliché.
Personally, as a working minister, I sometime wish our congregations would do a bit more thinking, but here I show my bias. I often prefer the way of the mind rather than the way of the heart.
So what do you do if you are like me and you often take a very intellectual approach to the faith? What might you do if in your Bible reading and preparation you start sliding towards cold academic study and find your love and zeal for God and his Word on the wane?
Here a five suggestions from a recovering (self-confessed) intellectual:
1) Remember that, like your mind, your emotions and affections matter too. Remember, the first and greatest commandment is not to know the Lord our God—which is, of course, assumed—but to love the Lord your God. And that includes with all your heart (Matt 22:36–37). Jesus quotes Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18 to sum up the entire moral teaching of the Old Testament (all the law and the prophets) in the principle of love (Rom 13:9; Gal 5:6, 14; James 2:8). Love for God is first and supreme and must engage all the powers and activities of our being. Love for other people is second and must be an extension of our love for God.
2) Secondly, we should read all things, Scripture and everything else we encounter, being on the lookout for evidences of God’s value, not just evidences of his truth. Satan probably knows more true things about God than I do. But he will not own that God is supremely valuable and satisfying. Satan values himself above God. God’s presence gives no joy and no satisfaction to the devil whatsoever. Therefore, I will try to meditate much on Scripture so that “these words” will be “in my heart” (Deut 6:6). Each day repeat to yourself truth you read in the Bible or heard from the preacher of the Word—and preach it to yourself until it stirs your heart to love God and see his value above all else. Treasure up God’s words in your heart as the divine medicine to the lies and seduction of the gods of this world (Deut 11:16–18). The aim is to see the millions of reasons why God is a treasure, not just the millions of evidences that God exists or has certain attributes (even though those things are a joy to study as well). All of our theological refinement should be for the sake of doxological embrace and enjoyment.
3) Admit that sometimes a commitment to intellectualism is a form of control. Which leads now to the third thing that I would say—namely, that the goal of enjoying the beauty of God in all of our reading of Scripture is impossible on our own. In other words, you can’t make yourself value God. That is why the psalmist cries: Open my eyes that I may see wonders in your Word (Ps 119:18). Our love is but a Spirit-worked response to his glorious grace (1 John 4:9–10, 13, 19). So what do we do? We pray, pray, pray. We ask God to remove the spiritual blindness that hinders us from seeing God’s glory and beauty in the Word. We ask for him to take control. We ask that in our intellectual pursuits God will be glorified, not us. We remind ourselves that God has to work this in us.
4) Read authors who have understood God deeply and felt him powerfully and have written about these affections. I recommend beginning with Jonathan Edwards or C.S. Lewis. The point is, you need to find the great lovers of God and take a 101 course in Christian spirituality that displays both intellectual and emotional depth.
5) Finally, remember that a shared joy is a doubled joy and God has called us to be witnesses. In other words, there is joy to be found in the sharing of Christ. God does not love hoarding. When we turn on our affections and express them to other people, God is pleased and our joy is intensified. If you are like me, and have a family with children at home, then teach the Scripture to your children in family worship (Deut 6:7). We must not let the Word touch the surface of our family’s life but penetrate through pointed application. Read the Bible with your family each day, discuss its meaning and application, and then talk about it all day long as opportunity permits. The best way to love God with all your might is to bring the Word of Christ into all your life through the means of grace being blessed to you by the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have a family at home, share in your local church, in a study group, or another venue where you can be a witness for Christ.
Matthew Dowling is a former biologist turned preaching minister who is broadly interested in systematic theology, particularly theology proper, Protestant Scholasticism, confessional Protestantism, the English and New England Puritans, and the work of Stephen Charnock. He is the preaching minister at the Plymouth Church of Christ in Plymouth, Michigan. He blogs at www.matthewdowling.org.