How are we to deal with a cold heart when we find one sitting in our own chest? How should we respond to a lack of spiritual motivation? I believe we need to think biblically and theologically about this very real challenge in our lives.
Effort of the flesh does not work. It is common advice. Do the right thing and don’t worry about your feelings. Your feelings must not drive you, choose by determination of the will to do what is right. This is all very well, but it doesn’t hold up theologically. The will is not an independent faculty of the soul that can switch on and take charge when our hearts are cold. The will is in bondage to the affections, so what are we to do when there is a problem in our affections, a coldness of heart? Forcing ourselves to do the right thing with a wrong heart is unwise. Effort of the flesh leads either to sin (the fruit of the flesh in Galatians 5), or pseudo-success (external righteousness with a dead heart is the hypocrisy of Pharisaism). Paul argues strongly in Galatians 3:1-3 against the notion that we can mature or increase in sanctification by the power of the flesh.
Deadened motivation is an issue of the affections. What does Paul contrast with flesh effort? It is response to the Spirit, a faith response. Our affections cannot be fixed by an effort of the will, that is getting it backwards. Affection is only overcome by affection. To put it another way, why do we love God? We love God because He first loved us. So when I sense the temperature dropping in my heart, my response cannot be to look to myself (flesh effort). I have to look to Him (faith response). I need response, not greater responsibility. I need to delight again, not diligently stir up duty within. So how do I address motivational issues in my own heart? I simply lay myself open to the attractive power of the love of God. What does that look like practically? Well, typically it means spending time in His Word, perhaps listening to worship music, pondering creation or praying. Isn’t that just “doing the right thing and letting feelings follow?” Not really. It may look similar on the outside, but it’s about being responsive to the love of God, not responsible to achieve my own spiritual motivation.
Tomorrow I will add a couple of thoughts to further clarify what I’ve described here.