Some of us (me included) naturally approach life first from the head. We studied hard in school, and when a problem comes up now we try to figure things out. All of that is fine except when your relationship with God stays only in the head. It’s important to move beyond a spirituality that is only intellectual, to move God from your head to your heart.

Some branches of Christianity tend to emphasize the intellectual aspects of faith almost exclusively. Biblical truth is preached. Your journey of faith is characterized by learning propositional truth and how much you know the Bible. Children are taught Bible memorization. When you have a problem, the “Christian” thing to do is look for a Biblical truth to counteract a wrong belief. Your heart is not very much involved because, as Jeremiah said, it’s wicked (see Jeremiah 17:9).

Other branches of Christianity tend to place much greater emphasis on the heart aspects of faith. Services emphasize music, emotional worship, and ministry. Preaching, while Biblically based, is more about dealing with the issues of life. Children are taught to experience God through prayer and music. When you have a problem, the “Christian” thing to do is ask someone to pray for you. Your head is not very much involved because you can’t trust reason anyway, so “they” say.

This is not a critique on various branches of Christianity. There are dangers on both “sides.” But if your relationship with God has been limited to propositional truth, beliefs, and cognitive intellectual “work,” you’re still missing out on so much. God needs and wants you to move beyond a spirituality that is limited to your intellect.

God Desires both your Head and your Heart

Your whole being – spirit, soul, and body – was created by God. That includes your heart, your feelings, your emotions. God created you as an integrated whole. It was only after sin entered that emotions and intellect became separated. Now as we experience God’s redemption we must allow Him to impact every aspect of who He created us to be, including the emotional part of our nature. Having one (intellect or emotion) without the other is dangerous. Focusing on Word alone will leave you dry and miserable. Having emotion alone will leave you foundationless and unstable. You need both the Word (known intellectually) and the Spirit (experienced in your heart) to grow up spiritually.

Christianity is not anti-intellectual, as some claim. God is clear; “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18) We absolutely must know Biblical truth. And yet that’s not enough; “Even the demons believe – and tremble!” (James 2:19). Jesus didn’t come to make pronouncements; He came to be God with us (Matthew 1:23).

The heart is what is most important. And if God doesn’t have that, He doesn’t have you. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). If you have limited knowledge of Biblical truth, spend time there. But if that’s been the only part of your spiritual endeavor, don’t stop there. There’s much more He wants for you.

My Own Story

I grew up knowing a lot about the Bible. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the Bible through. Studying the Bible was part of my schooling for 16 years, and I was in church every week. I knew and did all the right things. I was a poster child for “living right.” I’m glad I lived that way; it kept me out of jail and a lot of other sad places. But I was miserable. Empty. Something vital was missing. I was dead inside, and it showed. I was scientifically trained as a physician, and I was good at it. But my default mode of approaching God was to do so intellectually.

For me everything changed on a very significant night. I had been searching for God’s answer to my brokenness, and that night it happened. I was acutely aware that something inside of me became alive that had not been alive before. It’s not that my mind had been turned off previously, but what God now did in my heart was not coming from my intellect. I felt things, but “emotions” is much too tame a word to describe what was happening. I met Jesus personally, and my spirit became alive.

That was over 25 years ago. My brokenness didn’t go away in an instant, but my life did begin to dramatically change. God’s voice began to make sense to me. I had to learn about spiritual warfare and a lot more. But more than anything else, I began to experience living Fully Alive – not only intellectually, but physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well.

What You Can Do

If your Christianity has been primarily an intellectual pursuit, perhaps you’re feeling very dry and are hungry for something more. Here are a few suggestions to help you along a path forward.

  1. Read the Bible for spiritual food.

There’s a difference between reading the Bible for study or information (learning), and going to God’s word for spiritual food because you’re starving. Study is important. Many people have far too limited an understanding of the Bible. Don’t stop studying! But also learn to take God’s word into your soul for spiritual nourishment.

Imagine yourself in the story you’re reading. Or let your frustration or anger or excitement express itself with David in the Psalms. Or hear Jesus speak the same words to your heart as He did to people in the gospels. You’ll find so much more wholeness and growth as you do this.

  1. Pray also with your heart.

Yes, pray with your mind, but also let your heart cry out to God. “I will pray with my spirit, [and] I will also pray with my mind” (1 Corinthians 14:15). It’s both-and. Express your needs. Ask for forgiveness. Tell God how great He is. And then also let your emotions flow out in His presence. When you’re feeling something in “real life,” go to God with it.

And please don’t get all super-spiritual when you start praying! If you’re frustrated or angry, yell at God if you need to. When you’re grieving or lonely, cry in His presence. When you’re confused, let it all flow out before Him. Bring the non-intellectual parts of you into God’s presence too.

  1. Stay long enough to listen.

Once you’ve expressed your emotional self to God, don’t rush away. Stay there and get quiet. God doesn’t often add His voice to a cacophony of sound in your head. Let your mind and heart be still – out of exhaustion if nothing else. Stick around long enough for your mind and heart to run out of “stuff” to say and do. And then listen (See Psalm 46:10).

When your heart is still God can speak. That may be in church, in your prayer closet, or outside in God’s nature. Sometimes He comes with a quiet presence; “I’m here.” Or you might sense Him speaking to you with conviction and an invitation to change. Sometimes He comes with comfort and healing, or He might send you on a mission for His kingdom. And you’ll never understand what He has to say if you rush away too quickly.

If you want your walk with God to deepen, to incorporate every aspect of who you are, make sure you are bringing not only your head but also your heart into your Christian experience. God is eager to embrace those parts of you too; after all, He made you that way!

Your Turn: Has your Christian experience been incorporating both head and heart? Which aspect do you need to incorporate more? Leave a comment below.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Your Christianity must not only embrace your intellect; it must incorporate your heart also.  Tweet that.

Want to Know How to Pray Powerfully?

Our email devotional series 30 Days to Powerful Breakthrough Prayers will help you learn the strategies and tactics that actually work! 

This series provides daily Scriptures, application steps, and daily prayers you can actually pray that will allow you to experience breakthrough in your own life.