Listening to a championship athlete discuss their training regiment can be quite illuminating. Rare is the person at the top of their sport, who does minimal training and wins consistently, on talent alone. Living in Ohio most of my life, I was privy to story after story of athletes who paid the price to become the elite in their athletic field. Perhaps the most impressive to me, is that of Lebron James.
WOW!!! In four verses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul reveals our passion. His “earnest expectation and hope” (his desire or passion), is that he would magnify Jesus life and message in his life. He fully expected that magnification would happen in good times and bad, the pleasure of Christian fellowship or the pain of persecution, whether he was living or heading to his death at the executioners chopping block. For Him to bring glory to Jesus was his singular purpose and he would pursue it with passion as expressed in “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. That is passion, but where did that passion come from?
Make no mistake about it, servants of the Lord can forget who they “used to be” when in ministry or growing up in the watered down American version of the faith. In that environment it, as we become more proficient (or so we think) or have attained a certain rank, it seems we expect things will become easier. This kind of thinking is foolish and the opposite of scriptural instruction for those who live godly. Before we know it, as times get tougher,our prayers begin with complaints instead of humility and they continue with a laundry list of things we need God to do, in order to see our “God ordained plans” through to implementation. Sadly, for many, our wells of living water become dry, because we are no longer actively thankful for God’s mercy, grace and love towards us. This is a huge problem for gratitude builds to overflowing love for Christ, which leads to our being continually filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21).
If we are to have passion commensurate with our purpose and program we must look at our well of gratitude, yet there is something even more necessary to our having passion, and it is something only Jesus could have done and the apostle Paul reveals this truth to us.
Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The word of God uses the phrase “lay hold of” and “apprehended”. These are terms familiar to us in the way of law enforcement. Paul’s passion arose from his arrest by none other than Jesus, where Jesus enforced God’s will. Recalling his life, prior to Christ, Paul was an enemy of God and a criminal against the kingdom of Christ Jesus. He approved of the death of the brethren, their deportation and separation from fellowship and family. Yet on the road to Damascus Jesus appeared to Him. Paul was stone cold busted by the Law Giver Jesus the Christ. Make not mistake about it, from the moment Jesus declared “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting…”, Paul was stopped in his crime spree against the church.
Paul was apprehended by Jesus. Yet in stead of execution and everlasting death for his crimes against God, he was given mercy and grace. He was captured by the love of God, arrested by the compassion of Abba. His encounter with Christ made him God’s captive and apostle of Christ’s love. His passion began to heat up, and heat up till it boiled over in an intense pursuit, to lay hold of Jesus Christ, as he had been laid hold of by Jesus.
Passion is an interesting word that is defined much easier as it is seen in action in a person. One can declare until their tongue dries out, that they a passionate about something, but until that word is seen in extraordinary efforts its not passion, but pathetic rhetoric. Paul pursued our purpose through the program of disciple making, because he was passionately pursuing Jesus, as in an effort to prove his love. We see this pursuit in others through out the scripture, yet very clearly in Psalm 63.
Psalm 63:1-3 (NKJV) O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You.
Psalm 63:7-8 (NKJV) Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.
Paul understood what it means to pursue Christ with passion that seeks to grasp the un-graspable God. He knew how that pursuit would wear out a soul, needing the right hand of the Lord to lift it up. Make no mistake Paul’s passion was to apprehend the person of Jesus Christ, for only in grasping the Lord, will the heart of man find the life. Paul reveals this Philippians 3:10…
Philippians 3:10-11 (NKJV) that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
We should take note that Paul’s passion was for Jesus, not a for our purpose or even our program. We often fall into the trap of encouraging saints to have a passion for souls, but this is misguided. The person whose passion leads them to pursue Christ, will also lead to the burdens of Christ’s heart. Those who pursue Christ with all their heart, will become those who witness to Christ’s greatness effectively. To encourage a passion for souls, when most have little passion for Jesus or effective display of that passion, is to let the cart proceed the horse. Our hands are not able to hold Jesus and other passions. Paul knew this all to well, therefore, he had to let go of all other things. He did, and considered anything not in line with his passion for Christ to be rubbish.
It is the same for us. Passionless Christianity talks a good game but does not live passionate actions. Passionless Christianity comes from forgetful souls who are depleted of gratitude. Passionless Christianity is hallmarked by those who hold on to this life’s religious, material and relational expectations.
As we consider the passion it takes to walk in our purpose to call the lost out of darkness and to His marvelous light, by living out the God ordained program of making disciples of all nations, let me ask two questions for prayerful consideration. 1) How is your well of gratitude? 2) What is it you are holding on to that makes grasping Jesus more difficult than it should be?