I know what it is to bore myself with my preaching.
It’s not putting words into the Lord’s mouth to say that one thing the Living God utterly despises is limp, weak-as-tea ministry rendered by insipid, bored disciples who would rather be doing anything in the world than that.
I have been guilty of this. And if you have been in the ministry for any length of time, my guess is you know about this kind of failure also.
You possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My Name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:3-4)
The church at Ephesus was doing a hundred things right and one big thing wrong: they had lost the heart for God they had at first. They preached and taught, they ministered and served, they prayed and witnessed. But their heart was not in it any longer.
And that negated the entire thing.
Remember how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)
If you think that sounds like what the Lord said to another church down the road a few miles, you would be correct.
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)
Lukewarm religion. Passionless Christianity.
The worst kind.
If being passionate about Jesus Christ means to care most deeply for the Lord, to focus on Him completely, to be willing to devote great amounts of time and energy to pleasing Him, then what would passionless Christianity look like?
A lukewarm, passionless faith in Jesus Christ is characterized by half-hearted devotion directed heavenward, powerless ministry rendered passively, thoughtless prayers offered mindlessly, and worthless offerings given begrudgingly. It cares little for the Lord and not at all for people.
This kind of Christianity is the curse of the modern church. No one is drawn to Christ by its display. There is no magnetism, nothing that attracts, and plenty to repel.
In the final days of the Old Testament period, God was angry at His people for the sorry state of their worship. The prophet Malachi told them their sickly offerings were an insult to Him (1:7) and the wickedness of their personal lives were polluting His altar (1:12). The character of their worship sickened the Lord and repulsed outsiders (2:8-9). Their mournful prayers were shams (2:13) and the priests’ sermons were dead on arrival (2:17).
God had had it up to here. He was sick and tired of it.
“Therefore, this decree is for you priests: if you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart to honor my name,” says the Lord of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings. In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart.” (Malachi 2:1-2)
Take it to heart. Did you get that?
Our Lord Jesus told the people of His day, “Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.'” (Matthew 15:7-8) He was quoting Isaiah 29:13.
The heart. It’s all about the heart. “Put some heart into it,” we say. We mean energy, enthusiasm, that something extra that makes the difference.
You can tell preaching that is only going-through-the-motions from the kind that originates in the heart and is driven by compassion. You can tell singing that wells up from the depth of one’s being from the kind that is professionally performed but without warmth or caring.
God wants the hearts of His people to be in all we do in His name.
A Heartful Worship
Our word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek “en” meaning “in” and “theos” for “God.” To the originators of this word, God Himself provided that extra something that made a speech divine or a gift eternal or a touch heavenly.
Jesus called for us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
He didn’t invent the concept of loving the Lord with all our hearts, but borrowed it from the prophets. Samuel told Israel of his day, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, get rid of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths that are among you, dedicate yourselves to the Lord, and worship only Him” (I Samuel 7:3).
“Abijam walked in all the sins his fathers had done before him, and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God like the heart of his father David” (I Kings 15:3).
“(Jehoshaphat) did what was right in the Lord’s sight. However, the high places were not taken away; the people had not yet directed their hearts to worship the God of their fathers” (II Chronicles 20:33).
“(Amaziah) did what was right in the Lord’s sight but not with a whole heart” (II Chronicles 25:2).
Partial obedience. Going through the motions. Half-hearted ministry. Lip service.
Such service to God does Him injustice, bears a negative witness to the world, abandons those who come to us expecting to be helped, and delights the enemy of all that is good and holy.
The preacher James, half-brother of our Lord, called this “double-mindedness” (James 4:8). He said, “An indecisive (double-minded) man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).
The Apostle Paul knew it to be the powerless thing it is. “(In the last days, people will be) holding to the form of religion but denying its power” (II Timothy 3:5). He described the Christianity of a sizeable portion of the church membership today.
Recognize yourself in any of this? I do.
I have prayed prayers that did not rise beyond the ceiling.
I have given offerings that were more from duty than love.
I have preached sermons long on scriptures and short on compassion.
I have shared my faith out of a legalistic sense that I would be in trouble if I didn’t.
I have attended meetings and counseled people and studied the Bible when my heart was on another planet.
I have been convicted by Scripture which commands us: Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically; as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23)
We know the source of such passion.
At the risk of oversimplifying the matter, I’ll just put it point blank: when I spend time on my knees, when I daily and consistently yield myself to the Lord, when I bring everything in my life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then, when I rise to go forth to serve the Lord, the passion is present.
The passion–the enthusiasm, the spirit, the energy, the caring; the zeal, the unction, the power!–arrives when I obey and not before. If I sit in my recliner waiting for a liberal outpouring of the Lord’s Spirit to energize me to get up and go forth, I will never rise.
It is in the obeying, in the going forth, that the Lord empowers.
It will surprise everyone except the preachers among us to know that many ministers do the work of the Lord in the flesh. They study without asking the Father. They pray without really connecting with God and remaining long enough to receive His answer. They counsel from their own wisdom, give from their own resources, help from their own strength.
I have been there and done that.
I once confessed a period of backsliding to the church I pastored. I told them, “Some of you wonder how I could have preached when my heart was in rebellion against God. I did not say a thing I did not believe; I said a great deal I did not feel.”
God wants your heart in it, preacher.
And He is the source of a new heart.
That’s what David prayed for. Purify me…and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Turn your face away from my sins and blot out all my guilt.
God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me…. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious your ways and sinners will return to you. (Psalm 51:7-13)