The Ingredient for Greatness: Passion
He came barrelling out of the mountains of North Carolina way back in the early ‘30's. For the next 50+ years preaching, pastoring and writing were his primary occupations. He preached with such spiritual power and passion that thousands were converted.
By the time I heard him, he was well up in his years. That was in the early 1980's, just a year or two before he died, but even though he had to almost be propped up in the pulpit when I saw him preach at Moody Bible Institute, Vance Havner still preached with such genuine conviction that God used him powerfully.
That’s just the kind of man he was: Quick, witty, passionate and powerful. It was Vance Havner who said:
Too much of our orthodoxy is correct and sound, but like words without a tune, it does not glow and burn; it does not stir the heart; it has lost its hallelujah. One man with a genuine glowing experience with God is worth a library full of arguments.
As a pastor, you know I’m saying “Amen” to that. What the church needs today is not more people in the building, but more passion in the pew! But I could stand here all morning and give you a passion pep talk, only to have you leave and never change. Some of you, especially those who have been believers a while, might leave saying, “That’s all well and good preacher. I know I’m supposed to be passionate about my Christian life, but I’m just not. Long ago the hot desert of this world evaporated the living water of my spiritual passion and I just can’t seem to prime the pump anymore.”
Now that’s significant because I must tell you that passion is crucial to the great Christian life. There may be some believers who claim to be good enough Christians who can milk-toast their way through their earthly experience, but there aren’t any truly great believers who do it. Great believers have passion!
Yet so few people who call themselves Christians have it. You might be here today a little mystified. If I were to ask you in private how intense you are about Jesus Christ you’d have to admit that your heart is not hot for God, but for the life of you, you don’t know why. I want to give you a hint this morning. I want to suggest three types of believers who struggle with passion and whom God just may want to speak to through this message.
First, there’s the sinning beleiver who just can’t stop. He’s beseiged by one sinful habit or another and he is frustrated by his failure. He may tried many times to change, only to fall again. With each failure and each repentance, his passion has ebbed away and his heart has only hardened. He’s lost his passion. If that’s you I want you to listen. There is hope for the sinning believer who just can’t stop.
And there’s also hope for the selfish believer who just doesn’t care. He used to. He used to give his talent, his time, and his treasure to reach the lost, but he doesn’t anymore. His life has gotten all wrapped up in himself. He’s very unhappy because his desires are constantly crashing into the reality of his life and his passion is wrapped up in getting those things that he thinks he needs. He’s got passion for himself, but very little passion for God. If that’s you this morning, I want you to listen. There is hope for the selfish believer who just doesn’t care.
And there’s also hope for the satisfied believer who just doesn’t try. This person may be you. You hear me talk about really walking with the Lord and you’re not even tempted. You hear Tony talk about going on a mission trip and you think, “What for?” You hear us talk about giving sacrificially to the ministry and missions and you glaze over or rebel. You hear us appeal for nursery workers and you won’t even make eye contact because you don’t want any part of service. You’re the satisfied believer who just doesn’t do anything. I want you to listen today. Even though you might not even want to change, I praying that God will start a hunger in your soul that you cannot get away from. I am praying that you will begin to ache for a passionate Christianity that you may have never known.
And you might be saying, “Rusty, I know that I need to be intense about my walk with the Lord. I know that I need to grow in my passion, but how can it be done. What is it that brings intensity in to a believer’s life? Well, Paul writes about it in Phil. 3. There he says in v 12
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. 13 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, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
That’s intensity! He’s now sinning; he’s not selfish, and he surely isn’t satisfied. Paul tells them how they can be passionate. First he tells them:
DIV 1: INTENSE CHRISTIANS HAVE POWERFUL MOTIVATION
Now this passion for Christ has to have a motivation. It cannot be faked. O, you may be able to paint on enthusiasm for a while, but after a while the smile wears thin and the glad-handing grows hollow. Real passion is motivated. Well, if that is true, what does motivation look like and where does it come from.
Well, the motivation that brings real passion manifests itself in dissatisfaction. That’s what Paul says. He begins v 12 saying, Not that I have already attained or am already perfected. The opponents of Paul who were trying to cause trouble in the Philippian church would have evidently taken issue with this statement. They claimed to have reached a state of blessed perfection in which some even went so far as to say they had even enjoyed the very arrival of heaven itself. They claimed to know everything and to have it all together.
Not so with Paul. He says, I have not arrived; I have not been perfected. Specifically, Paul is saying that he has not arrived at knowing Christ and fully experiencing Him. He has tasted Him and he has had this wonderful relationship with Him, but there is so much more to know and he understands that he’s not there yet. There is a holy dissatisfaction on the inside of him that hungers for more of God.
Did you know that is a major characteristic of people who are passionate about knowing God. They have a hunger and that hunger drives them to action, just like it did Paul. He goes on to say, Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on . . . That verb “press on” is in the present tense and it describes an ongoing pursuit that is a strenous attempt to reach the goal which is not yet within one’s grasp.
And what is it that he is straining for? He wants to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. That tells us where this holy dissatisfaction and this powerful motivation comes for. He is trying to lay hold of the thing that Christ has given Him and for which Christ laid hold of Him. One commentator says it like this:
Precisely because he has not yet arrived at the goal specified in vv. 10–11, he is “pursuing” it with all his might, which in this first instance is expressed in terms of “taking hold of” the very thing for which Christ first “took hold of” him. While Paul is indeed pursuing the eschatological goal with all his might, that is only because Christ was there first, pursuing him as it were, and “apprehending” him so as to make Paul one of his own. Paul’s point, as always, is that Christ’s work is the prior one, and that all his own effort is simply in response to, and for the sake of, that prior “apprehension” of him by “Christ Jesus my Lord.”
My passion for Christ, then, flows out of a dissatisfaction, a hunger in my heart that makes me strain to possess the one who put that hunger in my heart in the first place when He laid hold of me and called me to become part of His family. Which just brings me to two applications:
First, the reason that some believers have no hunger for God and, thus, no passion for Christ is that they have never been called. They have never laid hold of God, and He has not laid hold of them and they are not truly saved. They may even hang out at church and look spiritual, but they have no passion for God. Listen to me teenagers: Just because you grew up in a Christian home and are in the youth group does not mean that you really know Jesus. Just because you went to camp and had your heart emotionally touched by something that happen does not mean that you really know Jesus. He must lay hold of you. You must respond to His calling! Do you know that you know that God has laid hold of your heart?
Quaint, bizarre, eccentric, peculiar—those words describe a little, wiry coal miner named Billy Bray, of Cornwell, England. Before his conversion in November, 1832, Billy lived a vile life. After finding Christ, he became a flaming evangelist and lay preacher.
On a mountain near his home lived a cluster of non-Christian families. Billy, after working underground all day, would emerge from the mines and set out for the mountain, where he visited door-to-door, evangelizing the families. Soon every inhabitant was converted, and a church house was built.
The Church of England sent Rev. W. Haslam to shepherd the families, but when Billy heard the new parson preach, he was upset. Haslam didn’t seem to know the Gospel. Billy felt the pastor wasn’t truly a Christian himself, and he told him so.
Haslam was shaken. The next Sunday as he stood to preach, he announced his text, Matthew 22:42: “What think ye of Christ?” As he began delivering his message, he felt himself trusting Christ as Savior. He was converted while preaching his own sermon.
Billy heard of it and came for a visit. When Haslam came to the door, Billy asked, “Converted, kind sir?” The man said, “Yes, thank God, I am.” Billy was so happy, he threw his arms around him, lifted him up, and carried him around the room shouting, “Glory, glory, the parson’s converted! Glory be to God.”
Mrs. Haslam, hearing the commotion, entered the room, and Billy cried, “Be the missis converted?” She replied, “Yes, thank God.” Billy started toward her, but instead of picking her up, he just grinned ear to ear and said, “Oh, I be so happy I can hardly live. Glory! Glory be to God!”
You see, there’s a holy difference in the heart and the attitude and the passion of someone who God has laid hold of. I want you to hear me. I am not trying to plant doubt in your mind about your salvation. I’m really not. But I tell you, my friend, if you have no passion for Jesus, there’s a problem and it may just be that you’ve never really been saved.
People who have no passion for Christ may have never been called and then people who have no passion for Christ may have never been committed. That is to say, they have not “strived to lay hold of Christ”). You see, your Christian life is as much a matter of perspiration as it is a matter of inspiration. Growing in the Lord and having a passion for Him flows out of work and discipline. I’m sure that all of us, who actually have a quiet time, fervently wish we’d always jump out of bed at 6 am in the morning absolutely ecstatic about the opportunity to spend an hour in the Word of God and prayer. We might wish it, but just how often does that really happen? Rarely! It takes discipline. The balance to saying that God initiates our salvation and our calling is this truth: we are responsible to discipline ourselves to grow in Him. We work out what He puts in. That’s exactly what Paul says in this very book back in chapter 2. He says in 2:12
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
You see, I am working out what He is working in. Now let me just give you three practical things that you can work at in your Christian life to increase your spiritual passion and your holy hunger for God. First of all, if you are to live a passionate Christian life:
Your priorities must change. You can’t have Jesus in third or fourth place in your life. He can’t come behind your son or daughters travel soccer team. He can’t come behind your place on the river. He can’t come behind your own financial plan. You can’t take His money and give it to something or someone else. If you are to be a passionate believer, your priorities must be disciplined.
Your priorities must change and then your time management must change. A passionate believer disciplines his Monday evenings so he can come to GROW visitation. A passionate believer doesn’t give God the chronological leftovers of his life. A passionate believer disciplines himself not to become overcommitted even to church activites, but then he follows through on the commitments he makes. God becomes his timekeeper!
When you are passionate, your priorities change, your time management changes, and last, your study habits change. A passionate believer doesn’t excuse his laziness when it comes to his quiet time or his Bible Study. He is a student of the Word of God and he doesn’t just fill up his head, he puts biblical principles into practice in his life. He is committed, and there flows out of his commitment a sense of passion for his walk with Christ. Intense, passionate Christians have a powerful motiation. But also,
DIVISION 2: INTENSE CHRISTIANS HAVE SHORT MEMORIES
I love v 13 of chapter 3. Paul says there, 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. Paul tells us there that he is focused on something but it is not the past. He says I forget those things that are behind me. You know that is so important to being a really passionate believer. The past has a way of sucking the passion right out of your heart and if you are to be intense as a believer, you’ve got to let go of it. What do I mean when I say you must let go of the past.
Well, specifically, you must forget the good in your past that brings you pride. It’s so easy to try to live on yesterday’s quiet time, or yesterday’s spiritual success, but trying to survive on yesterday’s accomplishments robs you of your passion and, often, leads to defeat.
I still remember when I was a high school sophmore at Jacksonville our football team rode the athletic skills of a star athlete named Leander Green to the state championship. It was our first round game and we came out in the first half with stars shooting out of our helmets. On the first kickoff, we received the ball and ran it back. Without even taking time for a huddle. We went to the line of scrimmage, caught the opposing team off guard, and threw a bomb for a touchdown. That’s the way the half went and by the time the horn sounded for half-time, the Jacksonville Senior High Cardinals strutted into the locker room leading the game 20 to 0. Needless to say we were on top of the world and thinking that we had this game in the bag. The second half arrived and we discovered that we had one problem: We were still living in the first half. Thinking that we had them on the ropes we relaxed. Because we lived in the past and not in the present, we blew a 20 point lead and lost 21-20. Our memories were just a little too long!
Christians are sometimes like that. They live in the past of what they used to do. Talk to them about their walk with Christ and they’ll become historical. They’ll tell you about the great experience they had in their teen years, or the way they lived for God back before they retired, but if you could really take their spiritual temperature, you’d see that their hearts are cold and their passion is low. Living in the past has sacrificed their present and they have no passion for Christ. If I am to really be intense about my Christianity, I must forget the good in my past that brings me pride.
And then I must forget the sin in my past that brings me guilt. Guilt seems to be passe in our society. It is so rare to find anyone who feels they’ve even done anything wrong . . . at least that’s the way it seems on the outside. The truth is that many of us carry around mountains of guilt that gets redefined in angry outbursts and bouts of unbearable stress. Especially for the Christian, guilt is debilitating. It will suck the joy and the passion right out of your heart. I’ve seen it first–hand. I could take you to people I’ve counseled who, no matter how much I tell them of God’s forgiveness and grace, just can’t seem to believe it. You know something that all of those people have in common? That’s right: They lack passion for God. As long as I live in the guilt of the past, I forfeit my intensity as a believer.
A farmer was on his way home after picking up his new car. As he approached his farm, he decided to test the acceleration. He passed the side road that led to his house and drove on for a mile or so. Then, after making a sharp U-turn, he sped back toward the side road. A man driving a station wagon observed the U-turn and the farmer’s fast rate of speed, and he thought the automobile was an unmarked police car. Trying to avoid detection, he quickly headed down the road leading to the farm.
Of course, it was just his luck that the road he happened to turn down was the road leading to the farmer’s house, so the farmer turned in to. When the second driver saw what he thought was the patrolman turn in behind him, he was alarmed and drove at a high speed to escape, only to come to a dead end. He jumped out and ran, abandoning the station wagon. Later it was found to be filled with stolen coffee, cigarettes, and ammunition. His conscience had made him flee, even though no one was pursuing him.
That is like so many believers. They are running in guilt and they have no joy. They are carrying around a load of sin, may be even things they’ve confessed and placed under the blood of Christ, but they are still feeling guilty over. Listen! Guilty believers are passionless believers. It’s time to follow the example fo Paul. It’s time to forget the past!
You say, “How, Rusty? How can I really forget the past?” Well first, realize your source. The reason you insist on carrying guilt around over your past is that, at some level, you think that you’ve got something to offer God and that you let him down. Listen! You’ve never had anything God wanted or could even use in your own strength. All the merit and all the good comes from God to you as a gift. He is your source not yourself.
And then some of us need to realize our forgiveness. The reason some of us are covered up with guilt is that we’ve never acknowledged the fact that Christ’s sacrifice has paid for our sin. O we may have said the words, but the truth has never come home to our hearts. When your sins are under the blood, believer, you can really let them go. They’re paid for!!
And then some of us need to realize our responsibility. You see, for some of us we’ve never gotten over our guilt because we refused to make restitution for our wrong. We stole something that we never repaid; we hurt someone that we’ve never reconciled with and we carry around guilt because we know that we’ve wounded another person and we’ve never made it right, and the best thing we could do today is to pick up the phone and call somebody we need to confess to, or go knock on the door of that one we’ve been put out with. For some of us, spiritual passion is just a restitution away.
Intense believers have short memories. They’ve forgotten the good in their past that brings them pride and the sin in their past that brings them guilt. But intense Christians have one more characteristic which Paul reveals in this passage.
DIV 3: INTENSE CHRISTIANS HAVE ETERNAL EYESIGHT
Paul is drawing an analogy in this passage which may be missed if you’re not aware of it. He illustrates this passage with a sports analogy drawn from the arenas of his day. This analogy pictures a runner who competes for a reward in a foot race. In verse 14 this picture comes to life when Paul writes “I press toward the goal.” Can you see it? In my mind I see a 100 meter dash. The gun sounds and the race is close. Three of the runners are neck and neck as they near the finish line. At the last instant, one runner strains forward and sticks his chest out as far as he possibly can and manages to touch the tape first. He, you might say, is “pressing toward the goal.” Every ounce of his energy is expended. Every muscle in his body tightens and he wins.
That’s the intensity of Paul is promoting. For the believer there are no days off. There are not any times when you can relax. You may go on vacation from your job, but never from your walk with Christ. And I can hear what some might be thinking. “Hey, Rusty, how can anyone have that kind of “all the time intensity?” That sounds kind of radical to me. What could possibly be worth that kind of effort?
Paul tells you right there in verse 14. He says, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. That is what calls out this strenuous effort. It’s a prize, but it’s a very special prize. It’s the upward call of God. What does that mean? Well one commentator writes:
First, God has “called” Paul to himself, which will culminate in glory; second, that call, which began at his conversion, is “heavenward” in terms of its final goal; third, God’s call found its historical and experiential locus “in Christ Jesus”; and fourth, at the end of the race Paul will gain the prize, the tangible evidence that the goal of God’s call has been reached.
The point is this: Paul strains with every fiber of his being to live for Christ because he knows how sweet his relationship is with Christ today and just how wonderful it’s going to be on that day when he sees Jesus face to face. He’s intense about his christianity because he has eternal eyesight. He’s got his focus on what really matters. Hey! He’s a great believer because he realizes that he has a great Savior who has prepared for him a great future!
Kathy and I met my freshmen year in college. I still remember our first date: October 9, 1977. That was a life-changing day for me. Somehow I just knew when that first date was over that she was the person for me. Over the next two years we were in college together, but since she was a couple of years ahead of me (notice I didn’t say older because no matter the date on her birth certificate she is eternally 29. If you don’t believe it, just ask her!) We grew very close in college and in August of 1979, I asked her to marry me.
But there was just one problem. She was headed to teach school in the mountains of West Va., and I was going back to college in Nashville, Tennessee. Now this was in the days before cellphones. We had no e-mail. (Sounds like we lived in the middle ages, doesn’t it). If we wanted to talk to one another, we had to wait till late at night when the long distance rates went down. So here we were, engaged, but separated by hundreds of miles.
Well, you know the saying don’t you? Absence either makes the heart grow fonder, or it makes the heart go wander. Now, when Kathy left, there were plenty of girls that were still attending FWBBC, but I have to say, I was not tempted by any of them. I was more intense than ever about my future bride. Why? Because she was on my mind. Everywhere I turned I thought of her. I thought of her that year when I went on the Music Retreat alone. The previous years she had been with me. She was on my mind constantly as I tracked through the autumn leaves. And then came the winter snow of Nashville and, again, I remembered her and how walk together to chapel or to class.
Every once and a while a letter would come filled wonderful words of love and the smell of her perfume. We didn’t get to see one another but 2 or 3 times that whole year, but I couldn’t get her off of my mind. I dated no one else. I hardly had a conversation with another girl. Why not? Well, it was because my “eyes were on the prize” you might say. And finally the day arrived. I boarded a bus from Nashville to Beckley, WV. I can still remember that ride through the mountains to Kathy’s house. I still remember getting off of that bus and seeing her knowing that in just a couple of days she would be my wife. You see, I had a passion for her and that passion made for a great relationship and it still does today.
Jesus has gone away. WE are His bride. He’s coming back to get us and He’s promised that, when He returns, He’s taking us away to a place He has specially prepared for us. Can you imagine what that day will be like? Can you imagine what it will be like to trace the imprint of his nail-scarred hands or look into His eyes. Can you imagine what it will be like to audibly hear His voice for the first time? Can you imagine what it will be like to know all the sorrows of this life are over and you are now there in glory to enjoy eternity in His presence forever.
You see, when you really come to understand what that’s going to be like, it creates intensity in you. It gives you a passion to run harder, strain more, stick out your chest and struggle to be the one who touches the tape first. Why? Not because you feel guilty or you’re afraid that if you don’t try hard enough youmight not go to heaven. O no! It’s because you long to hear the Jesus you love say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
We began by talking about a preacher who enjoyed that kind of experience. Throughout his ministry, Vance Havner lived and preached that the Christian should attend to, "the outliving of the inliving Christ." Havner wrote, "To some, Christianity is an argument. To many, it is a performance. To a few, it is an experience."
Intense Beleivers have eternal eyesight, How’s yours? Intense believers have short memories, how’s yours? Intense believers have powerful motivation, How’s yours?