Passion appears to be a force that moves people beyond ordinary human activities. Some seem to have had it all their lives, others find it grows on them. Sometimes you have it for a while and then lose it. One thing is for sure – you know when you have it and quite aware when you don’t.
As soon as I was old enough, I received a chemistry set for my birthday. I loved creating concoctions in my bedroom and successfully destroyed a number of pieces of furniture and my bedroom décor in the process. As soon as I entered high school I joined the chemistry laboratory and became an assistant for 5 years. I even got paid to set up the equipment in the morning for classes and then tidy up afterwards. Chemistry consumed me, so without a second thought I took it as my degree subject at university. On arrival at university, I met some radical Christians and very soon I fully engaged in the Christian union. I was encouraged to take on some leadership roles and exciting things began to take place with many coming to Christ (not down to me, I was watching in amazement). This had the result that every year I got less excited about chemistry and more excited about serving the Lord in missions. Then in my 3rdyear of study I came into contact with YWAM and all these years later I am still here.
People who rise to the top of business, sports, academia, science and politics usually arrive because they are fuelled by passion. When you read a passage of scripture like 2 Corinthians 11, you realise that Paul had incredible passion towards God and for the ministry he was called to, otherwise he wouldn’t have persevered through the following circumstances:
Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty- nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have travelled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
We have had many amazing passionate missionaries come through our retreat centre over the last few years. Sometimes I come away having heard about all the sacrifices and challenges they have walked through and inwardly feel “these people are the real missionaries!” I wonder if it counts to say – “I have been 38 years in YWAM, pushed broken down vehicles on every continent, eaten pasta and peanut butter until I can’t face it anymore, feel at home in airports even if I don’t have money for a cup of coffee, don’t feel comfortable in a meeting unless there are at least a dozen nationalities present, and have lived in more homes than I can remember!”
Why do we lose passion? For many reasons, including: being over committed to work, being too responsible, having our lives out of balance, experiencing all kinds of disappointments and failures, going through trials and ongoing conflicts, or having many questions and not enough answers.
Gordon McDonald outlines 7 conditions that threaten spiritual passion in his book, ‘Restoring your spiritual passion.’ Men especially are often not aware of their lack of passion until one day they wake up to the realisation of a life crisis. So thinking, evaluating, asking questions and just being aware of where we are at, is a huge step on the way to restoration.
The drained condition: You can’t do work of a spiritual nature without energy going out of you. If you are drained, it means all your resources have been exhausted. Elijah the prophet, was a mighty man of God and prophesied to the king that there would be no rain and a drought ensued. God then opened up the opportunity for Elijah to challenge the worshippers of Baal and after an intense time of prayer, the people witnessed the miracle of Elijah’s soaking wet altar going up in flames. After the ordeal, Elijah was exhausted and had an uncharacteristic response to a threatening letter from Jezebel. Instead of standing up to her after the great victory, he ran in fear for his life. His resources were empty.
Remember how Jesus recognised that someone had touched him in the crowd because power had gone out of him. Ministry will drain us of energy even when it is fulfilling work. Jesus also knew how to pace himself. It wasn’t possible for him to breakfast in Jerusalem, lunch in Damascus and supper in Antioch! These days we expect too much, schedule too much and experience years in months. I wonder though how effective we really are? General Booth of the salvation army at one stage of his ministry shared, “I wonder whether I could not get something to do in London of some kind, some secretaryship or something respectable that would keep us going.” The best of us can come to this drained condition simply because we have been doing too much.
The dried out condition: Having exhausted our resources, if we carry on giving out and not taking anything in, we are not only drained but become dried out.
William Sangster (1900-1960) was one of the great British Methodist preachers of the 20th century. He preached in London during the second world war and brought faith and hope to so many. He shares at one stage of his life – I am a minister of God and yet my private life is a failure in these ways:
- I am irritable and easily put out.
- I am impatient with my wife and children.
- I am deceitful in that I often express private annoyance when a caller is announced and simulate pleasure when greeting them.
- From examining my heart, I conclude that most of my study has been crudely ambitious. That I wanted degrees more then knowledge and praise rather than equipment for service
- Even in preaching I fear that I am more often wondering what the people think of me, than what they think about my Lord and his word.
- I have long felt in a vague way, that something was hindering the effectiveness of my ministry – my failure to live truly the Christian life.
- I am driven in pain to conclude that the maid in my house for 3 years has not felt drawn to the Christian life through me.
- I find slight envies in my heart at the greater success of other young ministers.
The life of pastors and missionaries are set up for this dried out condition because they are ‘on call’ 24/7. There are so many people looking for help, support, encouragement and prayer. All our time can be scheduled and somehow we feel that it is selfish to say ‘no.’ However, if we are going to be in ministry for the long haul, we have to create some healthy boundaries.
The distorted condition: One of our great enemies is the vast number of good experiences and opportunities. Good things keep us from doing the best things. The world’s values can so easily pollute our thinking without our realising it. Our minds are affected by negative talk, the focus on materialism, the challenge to compromise, the political correctness and tolerance to every religion, the advertising that says we aren’t complete without the latest gadget, car or outfit and on and on it goes.
The disciples are in the boat with Jesus. They have seen him perform miracles and the whole country is going crazy with excitement about his message. Whole towns have come out to hear him and see the miracles. The disciples have enjoyed some of the limelight but now they are alone on the sea and Jesus is sleeping. A storm has suddenly arisen and they are in a bad way – experienced fishermen are fearful. In their panic they wake up Jesus and say, ‘Don’t you care that we are perishing?’ Where did that come from? Do you find yourself saying some similar words when you are in difficult situations? We can get our faith and attitudes all distorted and don’t realise what is happening to us.
Aaron had seen God do amazing miracles to bring them out of Egypt. God had provided for them every day in the wilderness with manna. He led them by a fire at night and cloud during the day. Moses had just gone up to spend time with God on the mountain and bring down the commandments and what does Aaron do? He makes a golden calf for the people to worship! Talk about distortion. What strange things have you and I done, that are totally ridiculous in the light of what God has led us through and how he has spoken to us?
The devastated condition: This is when fatigue sets in that originates with people and events vigorously opposed to what one stands for. When life is a constant battle, it takes a lot of grace and perseverance to keep going. Paul describes a sense of pressure so intense, that he became weighted down exceedingly beyond ability so that he was in despair of living on (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). How many times did Moses go back to the Lord with his frustration and fatigue in leading the stiff necked and hard hearted Israelites? If you are someone who especially likes a sense of harmony or peace this can be very difficult. I have experienced this kind of fatigue, when I have had difficult situations or conflicts to deal with. When my own leadership values are challenged, I have lost sleep and struggled to know what to do in order to see reconciliation and effective ministry continue.
The disillusioned condition: When we believe in something, give our time and energy to see it happen and then it doesn’t work out, we can feel like our dreams have died and the result is we are deflated.
Moses had lived in the palace most of his life and now at the age of forty felt he had to do something against the oppression of his people. He began to dream of liberation for them. One day he was incensed by the treatment of the slaves by an Egyptian supervisor and ended up killing him. Other Israelites accused him and Moses ran from his father, the Pharaoh, in fear of others finding out. His dreams were dashed and he ended up in a back water in the desert for the next forty years. Many of us are working in tough fields and don’t see as much fruit as we would like. When this goes on for years, disillusionment can easily set in.
The defeated condition: Life can sometimes be tough. For one reason or another we fail, commitments don’t work out, we miss goals, we struggle with breaking habits and generally become weary. It’s where you feel defeated as a person perhaps even from deserved consequences and don’t feel like you can carry on.
Jesus had said to Peter that he would deny him three times. But Peter responded and said “Not me Jesus, I will never deny you”. Of course we know what happened when he was accused of being a follower of Jesus in the courtyard. Perhaps from fear of what would happen to him, he denies his Lord. One look from Jesus and he breaks down weeping. He is a defeated Peter. To make matters worse, after the resurrection, he isn’t even successful in his own trade of fishing and spends the whole night working but catches nothing. Meanwhile, Jesus the carpenter, has caught fish and is cooking it on the beach. Peter struggled with Jesus asking him, “Do you love me?” because it brought back his denial. He knew Jesus had forgiven him but needed to overcome his defeated state and forgive himself. He went away restored to feed his sheep.
The disheartened condition: Our perspective can sometimes be warped to where we begin to gain a view of people, events or institutions that causes them to appear to be far more powerful than the God of our faith.
After the excitement of seeing the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt, 12 spies are sent into the promised land. They discover that the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey – it’s a beautiful land, very fruitful and so they bring some spoils on their return. However, as they report to Moses and the people, they have heavy hearts. They share that the people of the land are giants, they live in strongholds and they see no way of beating them. They bring a negative report – they have no faith, no vision, no remembering of all that God has done to bring them this far. There are so many stories through the bible emphasising the fact that we so quickly look at the natural world and miss out on the supernatural. We are to live by faith not by sight.
After looking at all these conditions that can threaten our passion, where are you at personally? You may be hitting rock bottom like the prodigal son, you may feel frustrated to the point that you can’t take any more, there may be difficult circumstances, deserved consequences but whatever it is, you have to come to your senses and be more aware of where you are at. You may have come to the conclusion that your present life is not the abundant one that we are meant to be living in. Perhaps you recognize that you have veered from your purpose and you’re not taking up your spiritual inheritance. One thing you know is that there is more to life than you are experiencing.
So what can we do to regain our passion?
Aha moments: We don’t get our passion renewed from self effort. What we cando is to create an environment or place ourselves in an environment where it is easier for us to hear God speaking to us. There is no specific formula and no special timing. It’s a matter of waiting on God and trusting for an encounter that changes us. We need these encounters on a regular basis. So what kind of environments have brought renewal for you in the past? What enables you to focus? What inspires you? What has led you to having one of those aha moments? Now pay attention to experience God.
Let it go: Sometimes the hardest thing to do is let something go that feels important but has become a hindrance or obstacle in moving forward. In order to have a peaceful environment, we can’t let other people’s issues hinder our relationship with God. Perhaps like Peter we need to forgive ourselves and let the failure go, or say no to the perfectionism or sense of over responsibility. Letting go of what binds us, frees us to new connections with the Lord.
Community encouragement: Isolation has two sides. Sometimes being separated from others brings us to our senses with what we are missing. At other times we can shrivel up inside when we are not talking, sharing and interacting with things that impassion us. Being involved in large gatherings of believers can give us a bigger picture of God, a sense of family from the body of Christ and a reminder of the calling over our lives. Talking to others with similar passion stirs our own hearts in a fresh way. Direct involvement with hands on service may remind us of what we are really made for.
Sacred space:It’s important to make time and specifically set it aside. Sacred space will look different for all of us. What’s the best place for you? Sitting in a special chair, walking in a favourite spot or having coffee in a local café? We live in a noisy world and we have to be intentional to shut the noise down by experiencing some ‘Silence and Solitude’. In the quietness we need to listen for his still small voice, then be brutally honest and take the action steps that the Lord is requiring of us. There is a need for patience as these kind of experiences don’t just drop in our laps. There can be a moment where everything comes together, but more often than not, there is a growing awareness of our need, a softening of our heart and a teachableness that brings us into renewal.
Body, soul, spirit focus:It’s a mistake to think in only one category. We are whole people and our body, soul and spirit are all linked together. What is going on in one aspect of our life affects the others. Fitness in our body can encourage a fitness in our spirit. A time of growth and intimacy in a meaningful relationship can affect our life with God. Knowing a God given sense of divine purpose in our life can bring vitality to our soul and body. So we need time to think, feel, pray, interact, relax, reflect, exercise, meditate, evaluate, work up a sweat, dream and decide actions.
Resourceful people. We may have come to a place in need of renewal of our passion all by our own decisions but we often need others to help us out of it. We need mentors, coaches, spiritual directors, friends, pastors, or whoever is willing to give us some time. These resourceful people just need to be a few steps ahead or have something specific to invest in us. It’s amazing the affect that someone who loves us and believes in us can really make in our lives. The right word of encouragement, the moral support, the quality time and presence can make all the difference in the world. These people have to be sought out because they don’t tend to volunteer their time and energy (generally anyway). Pursue them and make the most of them by being prepared and doing your homework.
Spiritual rhythm renewal: Change brings fresh motivation, so it’s good to switch things up a bit. Do things differently. Add new disciplines to your daily rhythm. If you use a specific devotional, try something new. If you have been reading through the whole bible, ask the Lord what passages, books or letters to focus on for a season. Use triggers to help you remember to pray, read, meditate, process, study, journal, etc. Certain times, activities and spaces in the day can remind us to follow through with our spiritual rhythm agenda.
John Wesley speaks to us from his life and experience: “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry because I never undertake more work than I can go through without calmness of spirit.” Colossians 2:6-7 encourages us: “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Can you think of a time when you were more passionate? When? Why? Press in to see that passion renewed once more and to live out that abundant life we have been promised.
Until next month