What’s at Stake in Your Emotions
From Gospel Translations
When the psalmist Asaph cries out in Psalm 73:25–26,
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,
there are no words that could glorify God more than that. I wonder if you believe that. Experiencing God as your desired portion so highly, intensely, deeply, thoroughly that all the other goods of the world are as nothing glorifies God more than any other emotion or state of your heart. Jesus told a one-verse parable that goes like this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
You’ll notice it does not say that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, for which a man sells everything he has to buy that field. It’s way more radical than that. People sell things. People do all kinds of sacrificial things in life for all kinds of ulterior motives, with no delight in the treasure, no sense of satisfaction in Jesus.
Jesus slams the door on that. In his joy he sells everything he has. Have my wedding ring. Have my heirlooms. Have my books. Have my sermon archive. Take it. I get Jesus. There are millions and millions of Christians who think they’re Christians, and do not think that way, don’t feel that way. It’s a decision they made. It’s a commitment they have. It’s a duty they do. They do the right stuff. What do they do with the Psalms?
The early Christians magnified God by delighting in God more than everything. Picture yourself in their situation: Your comrades are in prison, and you know that, if you go public and visit them and take them the food they need, they might identify you with them, and you get in trouble as well. O God, make us like this:
You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)
That possession is Jesus forever in the eternal happiness of fellowship. So, when you’re headed for the prison, you look over your shoulder, and they’re trashing your house, burning down your house. It says they rejoiced. But where is Christianity today? Complaint, complaint, complaint.
What do you think these early Christians did? What did they sing as they looked over their shoulder? They’re on their way to love their brothers and sisters in prison. Their houses are being trashed and burned. Their persecutors are saying, “Go home, Christian. Get out of here. We hate Christians.” What did they sing?
They might have sung “let goods and kindred go” from Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” But they didn’t live in the sixteenth century, so what did they sing? Perhaps they sang:
Whom have we in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that we desire besides you.
Our flesh and our heart may fail,
but God is the strength of our heart and our portion forever.
“My house, my books, my computer may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. I’m going to the prison, singing.” That’s crazy. Oh, that we would be Christians. Oh, that our churches would be filled with Christians like this.
What is at stake in human emotion is the glory of God. If you don’t delight in God, you dishonor God. And the more you’re satisfied in him, the more he’s glorified in you. It is no more optional for us to pursue gladness in God than it is for God to pursue glory in us. They are both absolutely essential, and in the redeemed, they happen together. God pursues the magnifying of his beauty in the satisfying of your soul in his beauty. That’s why he made the world.
It has to happen or you perish. You must be born again. No person can do that. No human being can do this. So the Psalms clarify for us how essential the spiritual emotions are for authentic, God-glorifying worship and living. Our emotions are not optional. I hate the talk that it’s icing on the cake, or a caboose at the end of the train, or somehow marginal, when it’s central. You die without them. You must experience a miracle.