Spirituality

How not to be a lukewarm Christian

It's not about chasing after feelings, it's about directing your will, your whole life long

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My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways.

-Proverbs 23:26

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.

-Romans 12:9-12

The first Bible verse that ever really resonated with me was Revelation 3:16: Therefore be either cold or hot, for if you are lukewarm I will spit you from my mouth. I was 15 and felt passionately about everything in life—except Jesus. Since Mass didn’t give me butterflies in my stomach and I didn’t prefer praying the rosary to watching TV, I was convinced that I was lukewarm. I prayed and prayed and prayed to be passionate about the Lord, by which I meant filled with all the feelings.

What I didn’t understand was that faith isn’t about feelings. Just like love, faith is a choice. Living from retreat high to retreat high won’t make you a saint any more than going on one romantic vacation after another will make your marriage divorce-proof. Because feelings fade, no matter how hard you try to feed them. What lasts is the will, the decision to live for the beloved (or the Beloved) regardless of how you might feel at the moment.

C.S. Lewis put it well: “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” It’s not the art of changing your mood but of refusing to let your mood define you.

So when the Lord speaks against lukewarm Christians, it’s not because he wants you to feel more strongly. He’s calling you out on your choices. The call of Proverbs to give him your heart is a challenge to give not just your emotions but your whole self to the Lord. It’s a cry against Christmas-and-Easter Catholicism or Sunday-only Catholicism or even every-day-but-not-all-of-me Catholicism.

God wants all of you. He wants your Sunday morning and your Saturday night, your bookcase and your bedroom, your career and your checkbook. He wants your past, your present, and your future, a blank check written of your life. He wants your sins as well as your virtues, your fears as well as your strength.

God isn’t interested in halfway Christians. Not unless they’re moving toward him. And with all the passion of my 15-year-old heart, I knew that I wasn’t all his and that wasn’t okay. All I saw were the feelings, but there was much more that I was holding back. I still am. I still want control, still want people to think I’m amazing, still want to be right all the time. I hear him calling me, “Give me your heart. Sweet child, give me your heart,” but the call to be all his is too much and too vague.

Enter Paul. Paul knows what it is to feel strongly, what it is to be halfhearted, what it is to want to belong to the Lord and to be unable to let go of everything. Paul gets me. And he doesn’t just say, “Feel more! Be holier! Pray harder!” He’s specific.

This list is meatier than almost anything else in Paul’s epistles, packing a lifetime’s worth of growth in virtue into a few run-on sentences. Paul doesn’t say, “Be nicer,” he says, “Anticipate one another in showing honor.” Whom can I honor in a deliberate way this week? “Hate what is evil”—how have I compromised my values with the television I watch? “Endure in affliction”—what difficult relationships have I given up on where the Lord is calling me to double down on love? “Do not grow slack in zeal”—where can I speak the name of Jesus more boldly?

This passage from Romans is a marvelous examination of conscience for the lukewarm. If you, like me, have been hearing the call to give him your heart, take Paul’s advice this week. Don’t take it all—if you try to do everything at once, you’ll succeed at nothing. Pray over this passage and pick one area where the Lord is asking you to be wholehearted, not to feel lovey towards him but to choose to act the way you wish you felt.

Giving your whole heart to the Lord, as it turns out, has nothing at all to do with emotions. It has everything to do with deciding today, tomorrow, and every day after, to be his, whatever the cost. That’s a passion worth praying for.

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Meg Hunter-Kilmer

Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes for her blog, Held by His Pierced Hands, and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults and leading retreats and parish missions.