"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot." With these words in the final book of the Bible, Yeshua challenges His end-time followers to a life of passion. David the Psalmist was a man of passion whose flaming heart for God spilled out in his lyrics. "I will praise you with my whole heart. Blessed are those... who seek Him with the whole heart. I entreated your favour with my whole heart. I cry out with my whole heart." The prophet Jeremiah described his passion for God as "a fire shut up in my bones." And his urgent longing for Israel's salvation caused him to beseech God. "Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people." (Jeremiah 9:1)
Is God's character that of a weak, pasty skinned medieval painted Christ? Or is He a consuming fire, overturning tables in the Temple court? Have we missed something essential in our construction of religion? After all, this is the Author of Song of Songs. Looking at the lives of Abraham, Hannah, Daniel, Stephen and many more---the picture that emerges is that God responds rapidly and with large rewards to those who approach Him passionately. How shall we then live?
Passion to Change the World
When I sought to change the world in the late 1960's, I threw myself into each successive "answer" I found. Whether it was demonstrating for peace, playing blues rock music, "turning people" on to marijuana or creating a country commune, I poured myself out in a full-on attempt to alter myself and the society around me. After a dear friend's funeral, Yeshua appeared to me in my emptiest, most desperate hour. From then on I gave Him my passion, knowing that He alone is worthy of total sacrifice and total faith.
So I can identify with the Apostle Paul, Sha'ul the rabbi from Tarshish. His career began as an intensely dedicated persecutor of the early Messianic Jews. After watching Stephen's stoning with approval, "He made havoc of the kehila, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison." (Acts 8:3) It's no wonder that Yeshua confronted him on the road en route to persecuting more believers in Damascus. Shaul's sudden encounter with the Messiah forced two questions from his lips: "Who are you, Lord?" and "Lord, what do you want me to do?" The answers shaped the rest of his life and became part of ours through his writings and missionary journeys. Interestingly, his very name (sha-ul) means "asked."
Passion becomes Mission
This passionate Jew was dauntless and relentless in his pursuit of knowing God and making Him known. The process through which Rav Sha'ul passed in finding the Messiah and being prepared for ministry leads from passion to mission. Beginning at Acts 9 these steps can be observed. They are steps each of us can apply to our lives.
I. Passion He began as a zealous Pharisee, giving himself totally to what he believed. For us, this is the raw passion for life that God gives each of us.
II. Revelation Yeshua revealed Himself to Sha'ul as Israel's Messiah and Lord. The truth had come not through his intelligence, but was a discovery granted by God. This discovery is the starting point for every one of us.
III. Humiliation Sha'ul's sight was removed during that arresting experience, leaving him helplessly dependent on others. He did not eat or drink for three days. His pride was broken. This is a vital step in our personal path from Passion to Mission. God exalts the humble.
IV. Transformation The future apostle then received his sight, was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and immersed in water. He became a new man by God's amazing grace. We must have the eyes of our heart enlightened, be empowered by the Spirit and rise up from sin's grave.
V. Mission Yeshua described Sha'ul/Paul as "a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake." Acts 9:15, 16 He has created you for good works which were already ordained (Ephesians 2:10).
His passion to persecute was immediately transformed into a passion to proclaim the One he had persecuted, "preaching the Messiah in the synagogues that He is the Son of God." And the Lord was pleased with Paul's passion for Him, for he "increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Messiah." Acts 9:22
A Passionate Athlete
A story of passion that inspires me is that of Lance Armstrong. Armstrong made bike racing history on July 27, 2003, when he captured his fifth Tour de France victory in a row. But that does not tell the full story. In 1996 the Texan was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and given a 40% chance to live. After endless, wrenching months of surgery and debilitating chemotherapy he gutted his way back into the most gruelling event in all of sports. It is a marathon (capital M) bicycle race of 2125 miles (3427 km) that takes place over a 23 day stretch. This year it looked as if Armstrong was finished midway. Facing sickness, dehydration, crashes and equipment failure Armstrong fought his way back to a truly heroic victory. After the crash one of his trainers said that he saw "the old fire" in Lance's eyes as he pushed passionately to make up the lost time.
Taking hold of your life's mission
How do you respond to discouragement, defeat, disaster, delay? Our passion for life, or lack of it, will determine the way we respond. Our passion for Yeshua is the measure of our life in God. The Apostle Paul said "For me to live is Messiah, to die is gain." He prayed that "I might 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." Philippians 3:10, 11
The man from Tarshish was passionately determined to "lay hold of that for which Messiah Yeshua has also laid hold of me." (Philippians 3:12) Yeshua's agonizing death for us is called "The Passion." Why? Because, as Paul here understands, the Messiah poured out His entire life in order to take hold of our lives for the exquisite purposes of God. What is your passion in life? What is your mission in life? For what did Yeshua take hold of you? Is Yeshua's passionate suffering captivating your heart and stirring you to new heights of sacrifice? Or are you bogged down in the morass of daily duty, survival and the voyeurism of a modern entertainment-dominated society?
These are the days of which it is said that the love of many will grow cold. But they are also days that will include heroic witness, sacrificial friendship and even martyrdom. How will we respond? With passion or detachment? Will we say passionately with Shaul "To live is Messiah, to die is gain. I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua my Lord."