“I’m fine” We’ve all said it, even when it’s as far from the truth as possible. “I’m fine” We’ve said it even though we’ve just balled our eyes out in secret. “I’m fine” It’s a coping mechanism that portrays an image of strength, but in reality it’s a mask that hides the crumbling emotional life of a broken soul. Maybe you’re like me, growing up in the UK it’s expected that people keep a stiff upper lip. Emotions can often be spoken about in negative terms. Sadly, it’s not much different in the church.
Depending on your church background you might want a ‘safe pair of hands’ in the pulpit. That’s code for ‘someone who won’t make me too uncomfortable and who follows the rules’. I’ve been in those circles, I’ve also been that preacher. But it all changed a few years ago.
2 years ago I was preaching as a visitor at a church near me that I’d never spoken at before. That same week I had found out that my friend had died and I was asked to take his funeral. As I was preaching about the immeasurable love of Christ in Ephesians 3, I cried. I cried in the pulpit for the first time. I made it through the sermon and I got back in my seat and I wept and I didn’t care who saw.
Ever since that day I probably tear up in most sermons. If you don’t know me well you probably won’t notice. But that’s not the point. The point is not crying, or physically showing emotions in the pulpit. The point is exemplifying to the congregation what a biblical emotional life looks like from the from of the church.
In preaching we let the tone of the text dictate how we preach it. In a sermon the Lord’s people need to know that the message has been through you and done a work in you before it reaches their ears. It’s easy to tell when a preachers is talking about a text. They say the right things and it is good. But it’s a whole different story when a preacher has been challenged, encouraged, ruined, built up and taken to their knees by a passage.
In prayer we need to give examples of what it means to pray for things that excite us, things that hurt us and things that break our hearts. Charles Spurgeon said “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” That doesn’t strike me as a man who casually prayed that people would know Jesus, but a man who pleaded in prayer for the souls of the lost to find hope in the resurrected and reigning Saviour.
Living behind a stiff upper lip promotes the “I’m fine” culture that often leaves people silently suffering behind masks. Maybe this is more of an issue in conservative evangelical circles, or reformed circles, where a serious and solemn approach is often the norm. That isn’t bad, but we need to get over ourselves. The church isn’t going to fall apart if you shed a tear in the pulpit. The Lord’s people won’t loose confidence in you if you show some emotions from up front. We need to get over the fear of emotions and instead model to the church what a biblical emotional life looks like.
Maybe the conservative evangelical world has swung to the extreme in order to counteract the over emotionalism is other Christian circles. That’s not how you teach people well. You need to model what good and biblical emotions are, and not only the nice and comfortable ones, but the whole range.
Our emotions are a gift from God that can and should be used to glorify Him. Help people see how that can be done, show them what that looks like and be vulnerable. It isn’t hard and it certainly will help the church. Let your emotions point you and others to God. Having a stiff upper lip puts the responsibility on people to ‘power through’ that is not healthy and it is not what the Bible encourages.