Christiaan Huygens discovered a strange phenomenon in 1665. The Dutch scientist, who had invented the pendulum clock, found himself in a room staring at two of them side by side. He had made both of them at different times, yet he noticed an unexpected coincidence: the pendulums were swinging in exactly the same rhythm.

Huygens checked them repeatedly over a few hours to see if their synchronization exhibited any variation at all. It didn’t. Even when he deliberately started them on separate beats, within an hour they would be swinging in unison. And it didn’t seem to matter how many clocks were placed in the room; whether two or twenty, they all ended up on the same beat. It was clearly beyond coincidence. Somehow these nonliving objects were influencing each other.

Since then, scientists have been able to identify this principle of “entrainment” throughout the natural world, especially in living creatures. Fireflies in southeast Asia, for example, will light up simultaneously, thousands at a time, with no advance cue from a leader. When several are separated from larger groups and placed in another environment, they begin lighting up in different rhythms, but before long, they’re perfectly in sync. And there’s more: Brain waves between people having an empathetic conversation tend to synchronize with each other. Sperm cells somehow tend to swing in unison as they swim toward an egg. Children on a playground tend to develop a rhythm in their steps that matches the movements of others in their group. More than ten thousand cells in your heart are independent pacemakers that tell the rest of the heart when to beat—and, like the fireflies, every cell is capable of marching to its own drumbeat. But they don’t. They influence each other and synchronize just like “coupled oscillators” everywhere.hearts

I remember reading somewhere that two hearts placed in a jar next to each other will eventually develop the same pulse. I’m not sure how that works—how hearts in a jar continue to beat, and why two such jars would ever have occasion to sit next to each other—but that picture fits this principle of entrainment and illustrates a great spiritual truth: Hearts that are close in proximity feed off of each other’s rhythm. They learn to beat the same way at the same time.

We see that dynamic in our personal relationships with other people. When you spend a lot of time with someone, you begin to resonate with that person. Your concerns and interests draw closer together and, in the case of siblings or marriage partners, you often think in the same patterns. Where a real connection has been maintained, what’s important to one becomes important to the other. You frequently know how the other feels about a given issue without even asking because you already know they feel the same way you feel. Even when your feelings aren’t identical, there’s a strong empathy for the other’s sentiments. Your hearts have developed the same rhythms.

It seems to me that this dynamic ought to apply to our relationship with God too. If the Creator has emotions—and according to scripture, he clearly does, including joy, grief, anger, compassion, hate, zeal, and more—and he made human beings in his image with similar emotions; and if he calls us into relationship with him on nearly every page of scripture, culminating with a very intimate ceremony at the end of history; then our time spent with him ought to transform the way our hearts beat. His loves, delights, and joys ought to rub off on us, along with his anger, displeasure, and grief. At some point in the relationship, we ought to be able to know how he feels without even asking because that’s how we feel too. In fact, it makes sense that this melding of hearts is a better definition of discipleship than mere learning and doing, because neither of those aspects prompts a change in the rest of the soul. Emotional bonds, however, prompt a change in our whole being. It’s the one attribute of our personalities that can spontaneously synchronize with the others.

I don’t know how you feel about that, but it encourages me and opens up a whole world of possibilities. My desire to learn about God and to follow his will suddenly thrives in a warm, personal climate. Instead of being pushed upstream in the hard work of spiritual discipline, my appetite is whetted. Instead of the obligation of service, I have the pleasure of a relationship. Deep intimacy with my Creator becomes a tangible encounter rather than a distant hope. Best of all—and legalists and systematic theologians may not approve of this—I feel free and have fun right in front of God and everybody. And this, I can finally say, looks a lot like abundant life.

I believe this is the key ingredient that’s missing from most people’s relationship with God. There’s a reason some of us so often wonder why God is distant, why our prayers seem to be bouncing off the ceiling, why we feel so empty when Jesus clearly promised an abundant life. We were designed to throb with the heartbeat of God, but we keep worrying about whether a pulse is even appropriate. Discerning the difference between his heart and ours is too difficult, so we suppress whatever heart is in us. And that’s anything but life.

What’s the solution? Embrace the emotions of God. Learn to feel as he feels. Liberate yourself from the kind of theology that tells you your feelings aren’t as relevant as understanding truth and practically applying it. Don’t make the mistake of elevating your feelings above those other aspects of your discipleship, of course, but don’t underestimate their importance either. If you want to commune with God, you’ll have to have emotions: his. You’ll want to develop a God-saturated heart. And that means giving place to whatever feelings come from him.

Excerpted and adapted from Feeling Like God, © 2008 by Chris Tiegreen. Tyndale House Publishers.

Click to tweet: We were designed to throb with the heartbeat of God, but we keep worrying about whether a pulse is even appropriate.

Click to tweet: If you want to commune with God, you’ll have to have some emotions: his. 

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