Passion is one of the most misused words in the English language. Too often, it is confused with lust, excitement, or turmoil, an easy word to use when emotions run high. The one thing we know for sure about passion is that it is a desirable thing: we know that we should somehow have a passion, or feel passionately, about something in life. The problem is, that passion never seems to last very long. The most beautiful scenery, the most wonderful works of art, the most intense and loving of relationships, can become almost banal if focused on for too long. We simply get used to them, and the day-to-day exposure to them takes away the effect they once had on us. If we are honest, we must admit that even our love for the Lord has its mountains and valleys, we are not always as passionate about him as we can be.
Now this is very natural: it may be that a fallen Mankind is incapable of maintaining a level of passionate interest in anything for a sustained length of time. This is true, not only individually, but collectively too. The Church has needed revivals throughout its history, in order to restore to it the joy of its salvation. Revival, that other much-abused word, is the renewal of passion for something. One can have a religious revival, or a cultural revival; a revival of a language, or of an art form. We are almost like clocks – we slowly wind down, and the dreariness and distractions of everyday life take their toll on our passions.
There was a time when I would feel very guilty about losing my passion for Jesus. I would convict myself about not having the same love for reading Scripture that I once had. The idea of prayer held no appeal for me whatsoever. I was confused: I thought I was backsliding, that somehow I should feel as passionately about them as I had at the beginning. I would think of the verse from Revelation and conclude that I had lost my first love. It took some time for me to gain a sense of balance about this (balance, not compromise).
I looked in the Scriptures and saw example after example of this same process in the lives of the men and women of God. Abraham went out from his home in passionate faith, not knowing where he was going. But he also came to a point where he questioned God, unsure about everything. The only thing that kept him going was faith: believing that God knew what he was doing, and that what he was doing was founded in his love for Abraham.
The story of Job is that of a man who knew despair and trials almost beyond his ability to endure. He stormed at God and demanded vindication. David is my favourite of all: no-one can read his Psalms and not see the highs and lows of his walk with God. He knew victory over Goliath and defeat over Bathsheba. He had the high of being anointed by Samuel as King, and the lows of being chased by Saul through desert and exile. He knew the glory of reigning in Jerusalem, and running for his life from his own son. In his songs we see a man who often had to talk himself into remembering the love of God and the righteousness of the King of Kings.
I find a secret there: he had to remind himself. There was no great passion in his heart for the things of God at that point, it had to be stirred up again, it had to be revived. People want things to stay constant and sure; but it is not a constant and sure world, and we are so easily swayed by emotions and events. At times of great passion, the high times, we are like the apostles on Mount Tabor, the mount of transfiguration: “It is good to be here, let’s build a house and stay here forever!”. But Jesus made it clear that we have to leave that place and go back down the hill to where the world is waiting to frustrate and challenge us.
Unfortunately, we can then move to the opposite extreme, and lose all passion and joy. Then we are like the apostles on another mountain, the Mount of Olives. There they stand, looking up at the sky, shocked and dismayed by the sudden disappearance of Jesus into the clouds. Feeling alone and abandoned, they needed to be jolted back to reality by angels! “Why do you stand looking up into the sky? He will come back, just as you’ve seen him go away”. Time, once again, for them to leave the mountain and return to the world to be frustrated and challenged once more.
So we must beware of both highs and lows. The times of great joy and revival are not going to last forever. We will be refreshed and renewed, but then its time to go back to the world, where we are needed as witnesses of what we have seen and heard. To try and build a house and live in those times is to deny reality and to speak foolishly, as Peter did. But if we think that this great emotional joy is forever, then we will be devastated by what we will ultimately have to face. When Christians find themselves in concentration camps, or persecuted, or in danger of losing all because of their faith, they overcome and find joy in their circumstances, because they know that this, too, is part of God’s inheritance. Their passion for God is not confined to times of emotional highs: it is deeper than that. Just as a passionate musician will face both the highs of performance, and the hardships and discipline of rehearsal and long hours of practice, so the Christian needs to understand that passion for Christ involves both dancing with joy, and simply standing in the day of trial.