For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 1 Corinthians 14:14-15
After my last relapse, I went to a Christian treatment center where we were taught the 12 steps, but we also had church and prayed to God instead of a generic higher power. It was a charismatic leaning organization and so, the church services were high energy, emotional events. I didn’t expect it, but many of the other inpatients responded emphatically to this environment, pouring out radical displays of emotion as they sang, jumped, shouted, danced, and spoke in tongues. You won’t be surprised to know that I was in back – quietly sitting on my hands, observing it all.
Honestly, I was skeptical of the emotional display – with good reason. I watched and waited. Those who’d been the most expressive during the church services were the first to act in a completely contrary manner outside of the service. Many of them didn’t make it through treatment and most of them were not at all serious about finding recovery. I don’t know what happened after their discharge, but outside of the church service they didn’t seem interested in sobriety or faith. To them though, I think they truly felt they had a genuine spiritual experience while they sang, shouted, and danced. It just didn’t last long or translate into actual transformation.
This is the danger of a purely emotional experience of faith, which Paul warned of in today’s passage. In it, he said that a dramatic outpouring of a mindless spiritual experience is unfruitful. For the expression to be useful, there must be an introduction of the mind, or rational thought, understanding, and truth. Faith may be an emotional experience with a radical outpouring of our spiritual side, but if it doesn’t make any sense to anyone else and that’s all we have, it’s not enough. We must pray, worship, sing, and express with our spirit and with our brain.
It’s easy on Sunday mornings to get caught up in the fantastic music, mood, and lighting. It’s easy to sing along, feeling like I’m genuinely worshipping. When I sing words like, I will follow God forever, I must honestly think about those words though, asking if I’m living that out. Or, is it just an emotional experience on Sunday morning? Spiritual, emotional expression is part of faith, but if that’s all we have, then, according to Paul, it’s worthless.