I started drinking coffee in the 5th grade. My parents did it and my older brother started doing it, so I figured I should give it a shot (no pun intended). And like most kids, college girls and girly men, I killed it with an irrational amount of cream and sugar. It was something like two parts milk, one part sugar and just enough coffee to change the color, so I didn’t feel like I was just drinking a glass of warm sugar milk. I did this pretty much every day until I was a senior in high school. Then I met Josh. He challenged me to leave the milk and sugar behind and experience the coffee in its pure state, “as it was meant to be experienced.” It was a slow weaning process, but by the end of the year, like an LU girl with a Josh Harris book, I had kissed cream and sugar goodbye. Incidentally, that’s also when I realized that the coffee I had been drinking at my parents house was terrible (no offense Mom and Dad) and I began to find that there’s an entire world of better coffee out there for the tasting. Eventually, I got a job at Starbucks and achieved the status of “Coffee Master.” Which few people ever attain to, probably because there’s no pay increase and no one really cares about it. But I cared. And I got a sweet, black apron because of it. Like a snobby Frenchman with over-priced wine, I took my coffee very seriously and had become something of an expert. Even distinguishing between different coffee growing regions, elevations, and roasting methods. I’ve mellowed out quite a bit since those days, mostly because I can’t afford to keep buying expensive coffee all the time. But I don’t regret the journey at all. I consider my overall experience of coffee to be much richer and fuller now than it was before.
In the same way, there was a point in my life as a follower of Jesus, roughly the same time as the black coffee thing, that I began to leave behind my surface, touchy-feely understanding of God, the gospel, and the Christian life as a whole. I began to voyage into the depths of theology, philosophy, and an overall more intellectual approach to my entire faith and worldview. I’ve been there for many years now and I’ve grown into a much deeper understanding and appreciation for grace and the gospel than I ever could have thought before. I absolutely love where this journey has taken me. But lately, God has been showing me that there is somewhat of an imbalance in my faith. That, while it’s important to stretch your mind and your intellectual understanding, some things need to be experienced and enjoyed to be truly understood. God is one of those things.
For all of my deep understanding of how God’s love extends to humanity, I’ve allowed very little space to just stand in awe of how it extends to ME. When was the last time I was just floored by the idea that the God of the universe values ME? That He wants to spend time with ME? That it brings Him joy to hear ME sing to Him, regardless of my pitchiness?
There’s a tricky balance to the Christian life. On one hand, you have Paul in Hebrews 6 saying, “…let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” There is a need to grow beyond a simple, child-like understanding of God and into maturity, which is desperately needed in our surface culture. On the other hand, there is a tendency to leave affection on the curb when you do so and lose the child-like part of faith that Jesus said was necessary. It’s like a constant battle to engage both your heart and your mind simultaneously and I find that people tend to swing to the extremes or just back and forth like a pendulum.
As someone who leads worship songs in church on a regular basis, I have to wrestle with this balance a lot. Since, these days, it seems that so much worship music is like a cream and sugar factory, pouring out all kinds of sweetness and feelings, with little to no attention to depth and accuracy. You could cover Boys II Men songs for your entire set and some people wouldn’t notice the difference. So, don’t get me wrong I believe accuracy and depth are very important, especially with our worship. But maybe this tension has caused me to swing to the other extreme, always analyzing and dissecting songs for theological consistency and depth and unconsciously remaining somewhat distant from the heart of worship itself – a loving, passionate response to our loving, passionate God who, even at this very minute, is pouring out undeserved grace and love on my life.
It’s not that I’ve over-intellectualized the gospel and have left behind the emotional aspect entirely. Only, I’m realizing that there’s a mystical and mysterious element to our spiritual life that just needs to be experienced and enjoyed and not dissected. As I’m writing this I’m drinking coffee with cream and sugar in it. It’s been a few years since I last experienced this and I have to admit, it’s not that bad. Sure, if it’s all I ever experienced, I wouldn’t actually know what coffee really tastes like and I wouldn’t be as satisfied with it as I am now. But sometimes you just need to enjoy the taste of something sweet.