A 10-year-old girl said something that has had me thinking about passion ever since.
Interesting word, passion. It gives us compassion, passive, dispassionate, and a host of related concepts. At its core, from the Latin, “passion” means “to suffer.” It’s opposite, passive, or impassive, means “unfeeling.”
I was teaching cartooning to children in the afternoons following vacation Bible school. At one point, I had to take a phone call and turned the class over to my teenage grand-daughter who was assisting me. Ten minutes later, I told the children about the call.
“One of the editors of a weekly Baptist paper in another state called about using a certain cartoon. I found the drawing in a file and scanned it into the computer and emailed it to her. Next week, that cartoon–which is still in that file cabinet in my office–will be seen in 50,000 newspapers in homes all over that state.”
Then I asked the question on their minds but which none dared to raise.
“Now, how much money do you think I made doing that?”
Some kid said, “Thousands.” The rest had no idea.
“Zero,” I said. “Not a dime.”
“Very few cartoonists make much money doing this. Almost all have to have ‘day’ jobs to pay the rent.”
“So why,” I asked, “do we keep drawing cartoons when it doesn’t pay much money?”
That’s when the 10-year-old girl raised her hand and said something I had never really thought of.
“You do it for the passion.”
Wow. Exactly right. Pretty insightful for a child, if you ask me.
I confess to having a passion for certain things in my life, from my grandchildren to cartooning to writing. I’m interested in a lot of things that cannot be said to be my passion. These might include the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Astros, my car, and the clothes in my closet. I care about them, but do not lie awake thinking of them.
We preachers often tell our congregations that “the meaning of this word in the Greek is such-and-such” as though we have just solved the riddle of life. The fact is, the root meaning of a word can be of little or no help whatsoever in telling us what we need to know about a word.
If the root of “passion” is “to suffer,” we would veer off track if we then asked, “What makes us suffer in our lives?” No one I know uses passion to mean suffering.
(However, I remind myself of the grand works of music and art commemorating the sufferings of our Lord as “The Passion of Jesus.” So the word is honorable with a noble tradition.)
My Greek professor in seminary, Ray Frank Robbins, used to remind us, “Words do not have meanings. Words have usages.”
The “usage” of “passion” is more related to a compelling drive, an inner urge that keeps us at something sane people would have quit long ago.
The thesaurus lists a hundred synonyms for passion, including zeal, ardor, eagerness, fervor, hunger, enthusiasm, mania, obsession, and energy.
Sean Payton has a passion for football. In season and out, colleagues say this former coach of the New Orleans Saints football team (and now with the Denver team) is first in the office in the morning and the last one to leave at night.
Consultants tell businessmen and pastors alike that to achieve the highest level of success, one must have a passion for growing his business or his church.
Let’s speak to that, pastor.
What is your passion? What drives you? What springs you out of bed in the morning and still has you going late in the evening when normal people would be watching television?
Pastor, you may have many loves that do not qualify as your primary life-passion.
Pastor Eddie comes alive on the golf course. That round or two on the fairways is the high point of his week.
Brother Michael is a counselor. Have a distraught couple sit before him pouring out their troubles and he is in his glory.
Dr. Bob is a Holy Land freak. He has traveled to Israel a dozen times and is getting up a group to go back at this moment.
Reverend Tom loves the original languages of the Scriptures. Lock him in the study with his Hebrew and Greek Bibles and a notebook and he’s fine for the rest of the day.
Brother Jim loves to preach. At those times when he has had no pulpit, he has been miserable and hard to live with.
Every aspect of life and every detail of the ministry will find someone who has lasered in on it with a passion. There are people who are passionate about reruns of Archie Bunker, about coffee, about old vintage cameras, and about neckties, if you can believe it.
I know preachers who are zealous about studying the old pulpit masters, some who are driven by the need to reach the lost, and others who are obsessed with eschatology, the doctrine of last things.
Flying planes, arguing politics, running for office, growing a huge church, raising the best tomatoes in town, and writing books. The passions that drive preachers are as varied as they are.
I’ve known a few along the way who would rather study and discuss and even argue theology than eat, one or two who can take apart a computer and put it back together and who are up on all the latest hi-tech doodads, and at least one who can tear down a car and rebuild it without consulting a manual.
Those are all good, I suppose. It’s not for me to say. They may be good when kept in proper balance in one’s life.
But it’s not enough.
The driving passion in a pastor’s life has to be Jesus Christ, otherwise he is going to fail miserably.
“For me, to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21)
That word from the Apostle Paul explains what kept him going in spite of the cruel reception he often received from the world and the harsh treatment given him by many of the Lord’s people. (See II Corinthians chapter 11 for Paul’s account of what he has endured for Jesus’ sake.)
“…and to die is gain,” Paul continued.
If to live is golf or flying or studying, then to die is loss. If living means watching television or puttering in my garden or keeping the best lawn in town, death ends it.
In my case, death will be the end of writing articles and drawing cartoons. And for a while at least, the end of fellowship with my grandchildren. If those are my obsessions in life, then death means great loss.
But if Jesus Christ is my passion, the center of my being, the One who rouses me out in the morning, drives me through the day, and fills me with joy in the evening, then dying simply means more of Him.
The well-known statement of Philippians 1:21 is not the only place Paul left his testimony of Jesus’ central role in his life.
In Philippians 3, Paul counts everything but loss for the excellency of knowing Jesus better and better.
He has been buried with Christ, so that just as Jesus was raised, he himself might have new life (Romans 6 and 14:7-9, II Corinthians 5:14-15, and I Thessalonians 5:10).
He has been crucified with Christ so that Christ lives in him (Galatians 2:20).
In fact, Paul says his life is Christ (Colossians 3:4).
For the Lord’s people in general and the pastor in particular, this means a hundred things, including the following:
—Jesus is Lord over all of my life.
I’m always at work bringing everything under submission to Him.
That struggle, incidentally, never ceases in this life. About the time you think you’ve got all the interests in your life tucked into place, the Holy Spirit will call your attention to some wayward interest activity that had escaped your attention.
—Serving Jesus, obeying Him, is what I’m all about.
I’m not remotely close to being able to say what our Lord did in John 8:29, but it still remains the gold standard:
“I always do the things that please the Father.”
Obedience to His will defines us. Our constant prayer–before every act, in every service to Him, every meeting at the church, everything!–must be, “What will you have me to do?”
—Anything that does not yield to Jesus’ rule in my life has to go.
My pastor told our congregation recently that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives is like a sculptor at work on a statue. At first, he cuts away huge chunks of rock that are in his way. As the work progresses, the parts he removes and discards become smaller and less obvious. Eventually, he uses sand-paper and polishing cloths to take care of the rough places only He sees.
“Search me and know my heart,” David prayed. “Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
—My life of devotion to Jesus is not a staid, settled thing that would bore a librarian and drive a teenager to revolt, but in many ways a crazy love affair that drives me to do more and become far more than I ever imagined.
The Lord we serve is notoriously unpredictable (Psalm 115:3). His ways are light-years beyond ours (Isaiah 55). His will for us is literally out of this world.
He is the God of the farthest galaxies and, at the same time, Lord of the tiniest newborn baby.
Who would not be in love with such a One?
This One knows every cell in my body, every thought in my head, every act in my past, and still treasures me enough to die for me. Who would not love Him?
He has seen and is intimately acquainted with my failures, my lies, my betrayals, and my waywardness. But instead of condemning me for them, He went to the cross and paid the debts such iniquity rang up. Who would not love Him?
Far from banishing me as I deserve, He calls me into His service and fills my life and uses me–whether at the computer, at the drawing board, in the living room, the prayer closet, before a microphone or in the pulpit. I get to see lives changed as a result. Who would not love such a One?
“O my Lord. It is the sadness of my soul and the tragedy of my life that I do not love Thee more. O forgive me. Increase my passion for Thee. May the things of this world grow increasingly dim in the light of Thy glory and grace. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”