Read Isaiah 40:26-31
LIVING STONES THEOLOGY:
MAINTAINING OUR SPIRITUAL PASSIONS
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
(Children's Message: Use a flash light to demonstrate the difference between a diffused light and a focused light by removing the parabolic mirror, letting the children look at the light (should not be difficult), then replacing the parabolic mirror (children will have difficulty looking at the light). This will be the second point of the message.)
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
This morning we looked at the negative side of God given spiritual passion. We looked at the pain that it can cause when our passion is not well received, when it causes us to question ourselves or God, when we discover that passion is relationally expensive, and when we experience the painful dynamics of having our character tested, stretched, even broken from the dynamics that surround our passion.
We also discovered that the most common way that people respond is by either letting their fire go out, losing their passion, or by breaking the relationships that are hard on their passion. We concluded this morning with the realization that God wants our spiritual passions alive and well, and he also wants us to do all within our power to maintain our opportunities of influence, so that we can make a difference. The burning question then becomes, how can we maintain, even grow our passion, when we know that whether we like it or not, this world and some people around us will certainly try to put it out.
The following are three Strategies to keep the Fire Burning:
Make sure you have a fire-place.
All of us know that a Fire place = a safe place to have a fire. Its a place where you can put logs together, and not only can they heat each other, they can encourage each others heat, and that all can be done in the context of safety.
Christians need a place where their passion can burn brightly, where their passion is encouraged, where the passion of one person can enflame the passion of another. That's one of the reasons why Jesus set up the church. The church is God's gift of a fire place to passionate Christians. He gave us the church to be for us a safe place to burn. There is a general rule of thumb: Christians who are living with a passion for Christ in a world that resists that passion need the church, the church where love for Christ is openly expressed, where they can let their first love fly.
When I talk about the church as God's gift of a fire place to us, understand that the church for us can come to expression on a number of different levels. Often when we think of church we think of all of us getting together in worship on Sundays, but the church as a fire place is much more. It includes small groups that may focus on particular expressions of God given passion. If your passion is prayer, then you need a group where there are people whose passion is prayer. If your passion is expressing your love for Christ through music, then you need a group where singing to God is a passion. If your passion is talking to others about Christ, Christian or non Christian, you need others around you who share this passion, where you can heat each other up so to speak.
As a church, in our gatherings whether large or small, we need to make sure that we are a safe place for God - given passion. Make sure you have a fire place...
Focus you fire.
One of the things that I have noticed about people who become very passionate, especially at the beginning of their passion, is that they like to stick their fingers in a lot of pies. In their excitement for Christ, they see this & that has to be done yesterday, and that that should be done today, and that other thing that should have been done yesterday, but since it wasn't we'll have to do that one today too. And not only that, they notice where others aren't doing what needs to be done so out of their passion they choose to do what others should be doing. And then the church compounds the problem by making a special point to invite every especially passionate person into any and every possible activity, after all, we are a volunteer organization, and volunteers with passion get a lot done.
The problem is though that when passion is spread thin, it has little impact, it makes very little difference anywhere. And if you have a God given desire to make a difference somewhere, and you give your best and work your hardest to make a difference only to discover that people remain unaffected, unchanged, they hardly even noticed, to say the least, it is disheartening. If you think of a flashlight, hold a burning light unfocused, it is not difficult to look at it. It makes little difference. But take a reflector, like you would find in a flashlight, and focus the lights energy in one direction and the difference it makes is sharp and bright. We may have sung as children "This little light of mine." We need to learn to focus our limited light in ways that we will have big impact.
If passion is a God given desire to make a difference somewhere, then choose the somewhere with some care and then make the greatest difference that you can.
We have a God given responsibility to Wrestle with weariness.
There is a very basic reason for this: Fire consumes! We know this well from the experience of life. When you throw a log in the fire it may burn brightly, it may produce a lot of heat, but over time, in the process the log is consumed and turned to ashes. Whether we like it or not, the passion of God within us is like a fire and as God uses us to make a difference in this world, we are consumed. I believe that is part of what David was refering to in Psalm 69:9 when he said "Zeal for your house consumes me," words which Jesus also quoted in John 2:17. David even makes it more clear in Psalm 119:139 where he says "My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words." Passion, like fire, consumes, therefore as Christian's we need to fight the weariness that results from God given passion. I believe the heart of the cure is suggested in Isaiah 40:30,31
"Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. The will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:30,31
Gordon MacDonald in his book Renewing Your Spiritual Passion views this passage as another expression of the fourth commandment "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy - six days you shall labour and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God." And this command, if you remember the 10 commandments well is founded on the fact that God created the world in 6 days, and he rested on the seventh day and he made it holy. This is God's prescription for habits that keep us from breaking under the weight of weariness. In the above mentioned book, Gordon MacDonald suggests 6 habits that help us maintain our energy and focus, our passion in ministry. I share them with you this afternoon.
The habit of Re-valuation is the simple practice of stopping at the end of our work and recognizing the value of our accomplishments. Just like the Lord who at the end of each of the six days he worked on creation stopped to review what he had done. He saw it and behold it was very good. God stopped to reflect on the value of what he was doing, not just once a week, but at the end of every day.
This too is a discipline that I have found to be helpful in my life. I know that there are many people like me. They give there best but one criticism of their activities can outweigh ten affirmations that the Lord is using them. And it seems the way our human mind works, we remember the criticism way to long and we forget the affirmation all to quick. Weariness, tiredness of spirit does not set in near as quick when we remember to focus on the accomplishments of our passionate work. And so if you were to look at this large date book that I carry around and make notes in, you would find that I have started in the last few years saving the little cards of encouragement, I have written down quite often the comments of positive responses to my work because I for one, to keep weariness from setting in, need to keep my focus on what I am accomplishing.
The habit of Rhythm very simply this means that we are called to maintain a pace and rhythm in life that is sustainable over the long haul. Any person who has been involved in a strenuous physical activity such as running will know that setting that right pace and rhythm is essential. If the rhythm is broken, so to, the effort will be broken. Each of us needs to maintain those habits that are essential to life, eating, sleeping, working, playing. This truth is affirmed in scripture clearly in the fact that the Lord made every seventh day a day of rest. God knew that we need the rhythm of work and rest in our lives.
The habit of Rest! The reason why I want to highlight Rest in this list is because passionate Christians all to often forget they need it. When some of us as a group went to Chicago to the Willow Creek conference, among many of the things that struck me was one comment that the senior Pastor Bill Hybels made. He said "Ministry can be addictive." How true! I suspect you have noticed it in your life to. When we are doing what our heart desires to do most, when we know that we are being used of God, when we see all the needs out there that need our attention, we sometimes get so involved in ministry that we forget about our need for rest. Remember, passion, like fire consumes. And if in our addiction to ministry we ignor our own needs, eventually the price will be paid.
The habit of Remembering that the source of your God given passion is God himself. You may be able to identify with me in the need for this habit or discipline. Sometimes, when we are doing our hearts desire, and being used of God, something happens. We get so involved in ministry, in helping others, that we forget about God. And experience tells us that we can do that for a short while, but over time, forget about God and the power from which ministry flows starts ebbing away, getting drained because the source of that power is God. When we forget the source of our passion, we are in danger of losing our passion. Habits of drawing near to God in secret are habits that God sees, and Jesus tells us they will be rewarded openly, for all to see.
The habit of Renouncing. People who are ministering in their area of passion and at risk of weariness need to choose to focus their energies. This means that though there may be many opportunities to get involved in this or that activity, though this world may tell us that we have not lived until we have done this or that, though friends or acquaintances or the Jones may urge us to get this or buy that, passionate Christians need to renounce some things of this world that will distract them from obeying the Lord in their area of passion. We will have heaven to accomplish, to enjoy, some of the things that we renounce now. There is a cost to putting our hands to the plow, and the one who looks back, Jesus says is not worthy to be my disciple.
The habit of Recreation By recreation I do not mean entertainment though entertainment can be helpful at times. By recreation I mean rebuilding, recreating. Christians need to find fresh fuel for the passion on a regular basis. That may involve fellowship with others of like passion. It may involve education in the area where God has given us a desire to serve. It may involve reading books or listening to tapes. God wants us to fan into flame the gifts of passion that he has given to us and we do that by building on to our area of passion.
People of God:
God gives to us passion which he wants in our hearts to burn steady and long so that we might influence others for Christ. Do you have a fire place in the general sense of the church and the more specific sense of a group of friends who join with you in the passion for ministry?
Do you focus your fire? One time a fellow pastor told me not to try take down an entire barn with a pellit Gun. But hitting small targets with a pellet gun can be very effective.
Do you wrestle with weariness. I encourage you as you look forward to this summer to practice the habits of Revaluation, Rhythm, Rest, Remembering the Lord, Remouncing and Recreation.
"Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." I Thessalonians 5:19-22
Renewing Your Spiritual Passion by Gordon MacDonald, 1986
What you do best in the body of Christ by Bruce Bugbee, 1995
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.