LIVING STONES THEOLOGY:
WHEN SPIRITUAL PASSIONS BECOME PAINFUL
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Jeremiah 20 NIV
1 When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord's temple. The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, "The Lord's name for you is not Pashhur, but Magor-Missabib. For this is what the LORD says: 'I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will hand over to their enemies all the wealth of this city--all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.'"
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
I would like to emphasize one thing very strongly this morning. God gives us Passions!
That needs emphasis because our mosaic culture, passionate people are trouble makers. Since Christans ought to be peace loving people, they ought not be passionate. But the truth is God gives Passion!
We live in a culture where we are told regularly by others: "Don't go overboard with this religion stuff." "Don't be a fanatic." "Don't be so radical!" Our culture definitely likes "Mr. Luke Warm." Often our families tell us not to get too serious. Our friends let us know in subtle ways that they expect us not to be so serious about issues. But God gives Passion. And God loves his passion in our hearts. God's passion in our hearts is not designed to bow down to the opinions of those around us. This was very clear in the life of Jeremiah...
Jeremiah had been appointed by the Lord to prophecy the destruction of the kingdom of Judah. Too long the nation had refused to listen to the Lord and had gone after false gods and false sources of security. And so Jeremiah was given the job, by the one true God, to tell the people of Judah, whom Jeremiah loved deeply, that the Judgement of God was coming. In chapter 19, the Lord told Jeremiah to compare the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem to a clay pot which would be unrepairably dashed to pieces on the ground. To say the least, the message that was burning with a God given fire in his bones caused him trouble and this passage in Jeremiah that we read together is a passage about that very intense pain - passion pain, so intense that toward the end of this chapter, Jeremiah wishes that his mothers womb had been his grave site. This pain was so intense that he became suicidal.
In this passage are at least four transferable reasons why God given passion can become very painful. Concepts that if you are or have been passionate for the Lord (or for some other cause) you will understand very well this morning.
Passion becomes Painful when:
When our passion does not resonate in the hearts of others, especially to the point of being resisted.
Notice what happened in the Jeremiah's ministry. He cried out with tears that Judah was going to be judged. But Pashhur the priest, the chief priest just for the record, did not like what he had to say, it didn't resonate in his disobedient heart, and having the position of power and authority that he had, he had Jeremiah beaten and placed in stocks, cultural equivalent of prison. Jeremiah came with a heart desiring Judah to turn to the Lord and this is the response he got. Jeremiah's response was prophetic anger, as he had done before, he burned with anger at the hurt and prophesied the death of that chief priest and his family. Jeremiah's anger simply demonstrated how painful this God given passion had become.
If you have ever had a God given passion, if you have ever had the Spirit of God lighting a fire in your bones that has got to be expressed, then you know all too well how the un - affirming or negative responses of others toward you can not only bring great pain, but it can also snuff out the passion before it has a great impact.
I suspect in times past many of us have seen some young people get very excited about their new found relationship with Jesus Christ. They liked to talk about the Lord. There was a burning passion to know the Lord better. And if they were very excited, even if nobody actually said it, many Christians thought it - "He or she will come off of cloud 9 eventually." And 9 times out of 10, what happens within a few months, the young person comes off of cloud 9 and sure enough, their faith becomes as listless as the faith of all those around them. You know why? Because some spiritually insensitive and disobedient Christian clods have come along and let them know in no uncertain terms that their spiritual excitement is not understood, appreciated or wanted in the Church community.
"We don't want radicals or fanatics here!"
Yes I did just use strong language because when it comes to any form of Christianity that does not resonate with or resists Spiritual passion, God uses strong language. He says "because you are luke warm - neither hor nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth." The kind of Christian faith that pleases God is passionate, it is radical, even fanatical if that is the term you would use for a person who is passionate about what they believe.
Spiritual passion becomes painful when others don't resonate with it, when others resist it.
Passion becomes painful when we question its source.
Again, notice Jeremiah's words: "O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long, everyone mocks me."
We can here between the lines of Jeremiah's strong words "When you called me to be your prophet, I didn't bargain for this!" When Jeremiah was called, the glories of Elijah the prophet was still well in the nations memory. And the prophet Isaiah had lived a scant 60 years earlier, and though he had some strong words he was well received. Why now when Jeremiah spoke the word of God did people have to respond like this? Jeremiah felt that there was something very wrong with God, the source of his passion.
You may well have experienced this dynamic or at least seen it in some around you. We saw this repeatedly in the late 1970s when the Spirit of God was placing fire in the hearts of a lot of Christians in North America. Many of those Christians became quite passionate about spiritual gifts, some of them spoke in different tongues, as the scriptures clearly teach, and they went around the fellowship circles of the church excitedly telling others about how wonderful and edifying this spiritual gift was. And you will well remember the response that they got...
You know what happened! A bunch of God's children who had received an exciting gift from God, and were passionate about it, started to question their experiences, painfully questioning where these gifts were from. It wasn't long before the passion disappeared!
Passion is painful when we start questioning it source.
Passion becomes painful when it causes the loss of significant relationships.
Listen to Jeremiah's cry: "I hear many whispering "Terror on every side! Report him! Let's report him!" All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying "Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him."
Jeremiah's friend, his allies, his covenant brothers, his family, turned against him . His passion pain was compounded by the pain of losing those whom he loved, those who were part of his personal security in life.
Let me say with absolute certainty to you this morning, God given passion is relationally expensive. Jeremiah had friends who turned to hating him. Jesus, who longed for the fire of God to burn in the hearts of his people knew that when it did burn, it would divide families and cause the loss of relationships that people value deeply. And he said to us; Do not be surprised if the world hates you - "keep in mind it hated me first." John 15:18
God given passion, the kind of passion that God treasures in our hearts is expensive, it will be misunderstood, it will be rejected, it will cause us to be spoken about in very unfair ways by others. Nevertheless, the passion is the work of the Spirit of God within our hearts.
Passion becomes painful when the dynamics around our passion distort our personality.
Notice Jeremiah in verse 14-18. This man who in the strength God gave him, without hesitation, spoke the word of God, found himself questioning the value of his own life! Verse 18 suggests that he became suicidal. Elijah too had the same thing. After his incredible victory on Mt. Carmel, when Ahab and Jezebel resisted him and vowed they would take his life, Elijah also wished that he could be dead. Both of these men, powerfully used by God, impassioned by the Spirit of God, found in the conflict that they seemed to fall a part.
There is a reason for that. When I use this statement, minister refers to any person who desires to be used of God by helping others. The process of ministry tests the personality of the minister. If you think that you are a strong Christian, try ministering to others. Try giving till giving hurts, try influencing peoples lives when your presence is not wanted, and you will discover that your strength was actually all weakness, that your boldness was only skin deep, and the wisdom you thought you had was quickly overwhelmed by the complexities of life. The apostle Paul knew this dynamic all to well. In the often conflictual settings that ministry brought him, he tells us in Corinthians that he was perplexed on every side, he even like Elijah and Jeremiah despaired to the point of death, but all this happened, including his thorn in the flesh, so that he would realize that the strength that God gives is made perfect in weakness. When we serve, and go through these testings by God. it is painful, it can be confusing, it can be disheartening, it is sometimes depressing.
God given passion can bring us a lot of pain, that's why there are basically two common responses to passion pain...
Two common responses when Passion brings pain:
Response #1 Let the fire die.
Simply put, to avoid the pain that passion can bring, we let go of passion, we numb our spirits, we callous our hearts to God's word, we try convince ourselves we don't care any more, we start going through the motions when the motions seem so empty, so lifeless. Christianity becomes rituals, routines. The spark the fire is gone but we are still part of the community.
This morning, you may be a person who has let the fire go out, for the sake of keeping relationships and maybe keeping the door to influence others open . But sometimes we wonder if the influence will be worth anything anymore, after it has been "luke warmed." In the process a very significant part of ourselves dies inside!
Response #2. Break relationships.
If passion burns within, to avoid pain, some people just leave. Sometimes Christians go to another church where others will affirm the fire that God has put in their hearts. Maybe to a more vibrant worship or a charismatic group, where their passion is not questioned. Or they will leave to start life over. Having noticed that their passion breaks some relationships, to avoid the pain, they break with the community to start all over elsewhere. Or to avoid coming apart like Paul almost did a few times over, drop the people and quit the ministry. It simply isn't worth it!
Or is it?
God gives us personality, experiences, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and burning firey passion so that we might influence others. Last week we defined passion as the "God given desire to make a difference somewhere." But when we break relationship, we loose the right to make a difference. Is it worth it?
It is God's will that we keep the fire burning!
It is God's will that we do our best to keep the right of influence until it is clear that our best attempts at influence are fruitless.
Join us again this evening. You have heard about how passion is drained or destroyed. Come this evening to hear how it can be maintained even when the going gets tough.
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.