Granted, many people will disagree with me on this point, but I tend to prefer hymns over praise choruses. There are some good choruses out there, but I find that most tend to be pretty thin and repetitive, and some even have pretty mediocre theology.
That’s not to say that all hymns have stellar theology either. We just ran across one recently by William Cowper where the second verse asks: what happened to the fire that the author once had for the Lord? How does he get it back?
Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
I remember asking myself this question many years ago. I probably asked it multiple times. I think there is a place for it. There can come a realization that you’ve become distracted by other things, that your relationship with God has become something almost tacked on to your life instead of encompassing it. I have had numerous times when I thought that perhaps God had sort of taken a remote place in importance to me or that I’d sort of habituated myself, sort of patterned my life in a way that didn’t include him in some significant ways.
But I think there are also times when we ask this question where we’re looking for something that maybe isn’t what we need. I often hear this question asked by those lamenting that the passion they once had for God is gone. The issue is, is that passion really what God wants from us? Is it what’s best for our maturing? For building a real relationship with him and becoming people like Jesus?
So often, I feel like the question really gets asked because we felt so alive, so excited and passionate about God at first. Something special happened when we first turned to Jesus, and the freedom or relief or awe felt wonderful, but gradually, the feeling faded. We got used to feeling that freedom, to the source of awe, to being who we had become. That’s pretty natural. I can’t keep reminder notes anywhere in the house for more than about 24 hours before I start ignoring them because I’ve already seen them sitting there before. We just get used to things.
Once we’re used to it, though, that spectacular feeling fades with it. The excitement is gone. But the truth is that God hasn’t disappeared. Are we wanting the excitement that we felt, or are we wanting God? They’re not necessarily the same. Some people run through relationship after relationship, marriage after marriage, because they love the infatuation and rush that comes with starting a new relationship, but that devalues the actual people they’ve been relating to. They care about the feeling more than the people. And how sad for those people… and for them.
Sometimes we fear that when our feelings of excitement and passion fade, that means that we just don’t value God as much, but I’m not sure I believe that either. I don’t think it means that we don’t care as much, just that we care differently, and that’s not bad. Children care about their parents differently when they’re kids as compared to when they’re adults (as compared to when they’re teenagers and many don’t care much at all). Relationships change because we change. Sometimes those changes are good, sometimes they’re bad, and sometimes they’re neither good nor bad, just a natural progression of life. The change in how it feels may give hints to whether it’s good, bad, or neutral, but those hints may also be wrong. It can be very easy to think, “This feels good, so it is good!” or “This feels bad, so it must be bad,” but that’s too simple. Sometimes the bad feels great (C. S. Lewis once commented that of course sin feels good; otherwise we wouldn’t do it!) and sometimes the good feels bad (Jesus on the cross, anyone?), and sometimes what feels good or bad isn’t either one; it just is.
Passion fades, but love is different. We have to get used to how love works, and that takes a long time. Sometimes passion comes back in, and sometimes it just isn’t there. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe times when passion isn’t there, God is even calling us into something deeper than we’ve known or experienced. I hope I don’t short-circuit that, trying to bring back a feeling that isn’t as important as the person anyway. It’s okay to be without passion; God’s still there. Maybe even more than before.