I think my least favorite part about growing up charismatic was the desperation.
My entire existence boiled down to this perpetual standard of “hunger”. How desperate was I for God?
Sometimes, I felt genuinely desperate, and ironically, those were the “good” times, because I could tell I was being genuine. Other times, I couldn’t quite muster up that emotional longing, but I sure would try, all the while berating myself for not being genuinely “hungry for more of God.”
I remember one time, I even came up with this surprisingly wise philosophy, where I reasoned that if I wasn’t longing for God, I could at least long to be longing for Him. And maybe… if that didn’t work, I could long to long to be longing for Him.
Why so intent on this hunger/longing/desperation?
Well… because that’s the only way God was going to move… to bring this thing called “revival” to a world that was on it’s way to Hell.
The word on the pulpit was that if I didn’t want our loving God to perpetually roast everyone for infinity and beyond, we needed to get millions of people SO desperate for God to move, that He would oblige.
But even more than that, I think the answer was that I really wanted to be God’s best friend. I wanted to be the one He picked to release His supernatural power and reconcile the world to Himself.
And I hated myself for not wanting that even more than I already did.
It’s Easy To Catch Fire In A Dry Season If there is one phrase that’s been coined in the Christian world, it’s the “dry season”.
For Evangelicals, the “dry season” typically means they are struggling to enjoy their Bible reading time or they don’t feel very emotional during worship or they haven’t thought about God in a few days.
It’s similar for Charismatics, but we like to really raise the stakes, because in our eyes, our inability to summon the Holy Spirit into our midst is what is waylaying global “revival” from taking place.
It’s interesting to me that concepts like “being on fire for God” or “revival” are not even Biblical, yet they make up the core tenants of our day-to-day theology… particularly in our youth ministries. When our kids are just beginning to deal with identity, sexuality, independence, and other crucial components of real life, we tell them to ignore all that because what they REALLY need is simply to be “on fire for Jesus”.
Most of these kids realize the ridiculousness of it all and take off.
The unfortunate ones stay forever. They keep trying to be desperate. They keep trying to catch fire. And if the dry season lasted forever, they would eventually drop out and start exploring real life.
There are these really great/inconvenient-in-this-situation things called Endorphins, and when we are sad, stressed, or in pain, our brain tries to shift course by releasing a fresh batch of these guys, making you feel better.
So in other words, when we are sad, anxious and stressed, our brains responds by releasing a bunch of “good feels” all up in us.
And you’ll never guess what one of the most effective activities for releasing these endorphins is…
Yep, when we sing together in big groups, our brains release a crap ton of endorphins plus a healthy dose of oxytocin (which triggers warm feelings of trust and intimacy).1
And in these moments of elation and intimacy, we charismatics suddenly feel that all that desperation was worth it – that this rush of good feelings that we like to call “the Spirit moving” is the direct result of our anxious pleas and prayers.
But it turns out, it’s just really easy to catch emotional fire in a dry season. We build up anxiousness and stress throughout the week and then show up to church for our worship service, ready for our weekly dose of endorphins and oxytocin.
And if we really get desperate – if our “dry season” lasts for a month or two or three… then it takes something really special – like 10,000 people all singing together at a conference – to get us that high we need. Fortunately for us Christians, we don’t disappoint when it comes to conferences.
A Matter Of Priorities Now let me stop here for moment and clarify something.
I don’t have anything against worship services. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with getting together and singing. In fact, I just made a scientific case for why we SHOULD be getting together and singing.
I’m not even saying that the endorphin rush is the only thing contributing to our experience in worship.
But consider this for a moment.
Jesus never once asked anyone to worship him, yet I can count at least 29 times where He said “Follow me.”
And what did one experience when they followed Jesus?
There’s nothing wrong with singing or having a worship service, but in many charismatic churches today, the “mountain top” of the Christian experience is an emotional worship service. Doing something Jesus never asked for is the pinnacle while we categorically ignore the majority of his teachings.
This is why we can have prominent Charismatic leaders supporting politicians who embody the exact opposite of Jesus, because we aren’t actually following Jesus. We have simply created a new set of traditions and slapped the “Christ” brand onto them.
6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.
– Mark 7:6-9
We like to think we are special and new, but really, we just have new traditions.
But again, the problem isn’t the music. The problem is all the stuff we ignore while we focus on our worship services. The problem is how the worship services serve as our counterpoint to our seasons of “dryness” and desperation.
Spiritual Vs. NaturalThe trouble isn’t that nothing real is happening or that everything in our lives is manufactured. The trouble is that that we insist on making that divide. In the charismatic church, we insist on differentiating the “natural” from the “supernatural”.
You aren’t just saying affirming things to that person. No, we need to call that “prophecy” and spiritualize it, because to us, there is nothing inherently valuable in simply speaking positive things over each other.
This also means we need to get really scared anytime someone outside of our exclusive group taps into anything we claim as our supernatural dominion.
For example, when non-Christian groups claim healing is happening, we like to claim “false” or maybe even “demon” without the slightest investigation! Or even worse, when scientific studies reveal that the placebo effect achieves actual results for a percentage of participants – aka a certain percentage of people who believe they are being healed will actually be healed regardless of the reason they believe they are being healed or the legitimacy of the healing method – that’s when we really freak out!
If it’s not 100% divine intervention, then to us, it has no value, and so everything has to be natural vs. supernatural.
Unfortunately, we are often aided in this perspective by our counterpoints – those without a mystic bone in their body. We see people who are incapable of appreciating or gleaning from anything they don’t understand, and we think that is the only alternative. We see people who can’t really enjoy anything because to them, everything is rooted in some meaningless mathematical equation.
But that’s not our only alternative.
Breaking Free Of The Cycle The reality is that there is no divide between the natural and the supernatural. There is just reality. There is a little bit of stuff we know, a ton that we don’t know, and a bit more we can learn every day.
And that reality is fascinating. It’s beautiful. It’s lovely. Every little piece is meaningful.
We spend so much time in the church demeaning it, belittling it, and trying to replace it with “mountain top” emotional experiences, that we begin to think of normal life as “the valley”.
That’s not wholeness. That’s not abundant life.
Desperation is not a fruit of the spirit. To truly abide in the spirit is to be at peace – to rest in our identity as beloved sons and daughters.
Desperate for weeks —> Euphoria for a moment —> Back to desperation = THIS IS NOT HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY
There are moments of joy in every healthy relationship. There are moments of pain and doubt. But when a relationship is a dramatic seesaw between heartbreak and euphoria, we don’t say, “Well they are just really hungry for more of each other.” We say, “They are dysfunctional and codependent.”
It’s time that we stop training people in the church to turn their spirituality into a dysfunctional relationship. And it’s time that we start training people to be independent, emotionally healthy adults who don’t need to conform to all our beliefs in order to share their lives with us.
I’ve discovered that there is far more love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to be found outside of the desperation cycle. And I didn’t need to reject the baby to rid myself of the bathwater. I still consider myself charismatic, because I have had many meaningful experiences in my life that hold no scientific explanation.
But those experiences were not meaningful simply because I couldn’t explain them… or because the best available explanation was “God”. They are meaningful because they are meaningful to me, just as many things I can explain are equally meaningful.
So why am I writing any of this?
I guess there are a couple of reasons:
~ Jacob Mcmillen
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