PASSION FOR GOD
PSALM 42: 1-2 As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, a God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God. PSALM 63: 1, 0 God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. PSALM 111: I Praise the LORD! will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly.
Did you notice the heart-hunger, the passion the psalmist has for God?
"My soul pants for Thee". "My soul thirsts for God". "You are my God, my flesh yearns for Thee." "0, that I may dwell in the house of the LORD." "I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart." Every ounce of the psalmist's being is passionate towards the LORD. As believers in the one true God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are very comfortable with the knowledge that God is one and that we are to love this one God.
A favourite text of ours is the Shema Yisrael:
Hear a Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one, And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:4).
We are familiar with and comfortable with the first part of the Shema, the idea of the singular unity of God, that He is not a Three in One, or a One in Three: Yahweh is one Lord. God calls Himself, "I" not "We", whenever He speaks of Himself.
In this session, I am not going to speak on the subject of the oneness of God. I don't want to try to sell ice to the eskimos, so to speak, I want to rather speak on the second part of the command ... "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
The men and women who made an impact in their generation were men and women who had an intensity towards Him that bordered on extravagance. The psalmist's joy was so great it took his whole body to give it full expression.
Truth be known, probably most of us have a certain unease about the Psalmists abandon and emotional demonstration towards God. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said, "We have a terrible concern about good taste." Because many of us have encountered emotional fanaticism in religion, we have a hidden reserve, even unease, for the Psalmist's passion for God.
AUSSIE CULTURE: In Aussie culture, most blokes think that showing emotions is a sign of weakness. Strong people do not cry with joy or sadness ... except on the sporting field.
MY MUM and MY BOYHOOD.
NANA: "You are now the man of the family!"
The thing that disturbs me about the Psalms is that they do not share my view of emotions.
The Psalmist gives full vent to his feelings. He is passionate for God. He weeps over his sins. He rejoices in God with unbridled joy, and clapping, and dancing even. And the thing that bothers me is this: Is this display of emotions towards God meant to be normal?
CALVINISTS: They distrusted human emotions. They endeavoured to drive emotional expression from their worship and religious life-style. Their religion and dress was sombre, dour, formal, colourless.
DON HARGREAVES: You were too animated!
I want us today to honestly ask ourselves: Is there a gulf between the way the Psalmist loves God and experiences God, and our experience? I wonder whether we might have to admit that we have somehow lost this intense, continuing passion for God? If we have lost it, we must get it back. Ifwe have lost it, we might have to re-examine a theological system that gives us an excuse for our coldness. .
OBJECTION: Feelings are deceptive. Not to be trusted. They are too subjective to be reliable. Love is not primarily a feeling, it is an attitude. Jesus said, after all, If you love me, you will obey my commandments ... He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me ... If anyone loves me, he will keep my word ... (John 14:15,21,23).
So we rationalize: Right feelings will follow right actions. Even if they don't, then the most important thing is to obey God's word. Since the Bible is an objective record of God's commands, it will be an easy thing to tell whether we are obeying His commands and therefore, loving Him.
NAVIGATOR'S TRAIN: FACT, FAITH, FEELING.
But does the Bible radically separate obedience and feelings? "Obedience without emotion is nothing more than discipline or will power. It is not love. You cannot take the passion out of love and still have love. True love manifests itself not only in acts but also in feelings. Affection and passion are indispensable aspects of love for God." I was defending a system that actually justified lukewarm feelings toward God and His children. (Deere p. 185).
JONATHAN EDWARDS: In 1746 published a book, The Religious Affections in which he argued that "true religion must consist very much in affections." Edwards saw that one of the chief works of Satan was:
To propagate and establish a persuasion that all affections and sensible emotions of the mind, in things of religion, are nothing at all to be regarded, but are rather to be avoided and carefully guarded against, as things of a pernicious tendency. This he knows is the way to bring all religion to a mere lifeless formality, and effectually shut out the power of godliness, and everything which is spiritual and to have all true Christianity turned out of doors.
Edwards went on to say:
As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection ... If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart ... This manner of slighting all religious affection is the way exceedingly to harden the hearts of men, and to encourage them in their stupidity and senselessness, and to keep them in a state of spiritual death as long as they live and bring them at last to death eternal.
Edwards took great pains to prove from the Scriptures that true Christianity is a religion of the emotions as well as the will. He showed that the Scriptures place a great deal of value on "fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal."
"We cannot love God or obey God without these sanctified emotions" (p. 186).
The irony is that almost everyone begins the Christian life with a passionate love and longing for fellowship with God Himself. But somehow along the way we lose that driving hunger. But it does not have to stay lost, unless our theology and surrounding Christian culture says it's normal to live the Christian life without passion for the Lord.
DENOMINATION:- And this process of seducing us away from being lovers of God Himself is so subtle. Having started off with a hunger to know God Himself, we can get side- tracked into loving our church denomination. This is easy because the people in our fellowship group like what we like. And doesn't God command us to love His people? But the deception moves slowly, until our loyalty and love is transferred from the Lord Himself over to other people. I suggest that one of the sure-fire tests as to whether we are being deceived is to check whether our loyalty is to a group, a church, a denomination, a leader, rather than to God Himself.
BlBLE:- It is even possible to love the Bible more than the Author of the Scriptures. C.S. Lewis refers to this error this way: "One is sometimes glad not to be a theologian; one might so easily mistake it for being a good Christian." (Reflections on the Psalms, N.Y. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958, p.57) This is an easy trap to fall into when one is living in an academic community, or when one is a preacher of the word, or a lecturer and has to come up with the goods so to speak on a regular basis. Knowing the Bible is not the same thing as knowing and loving God. Reading the Bible is not the same thing as hearing God.
The Pharisees knew and loved the Scriptures, but they did not know, and love, or even hear God:
And the Father who sent me, He has borne witness of me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of me; and you are unwilling to come to me, that you may have life. (John 5: 37-40).
Here were men who spent hours every day studying the finer points of the Scriptures. Yet Jesus said they had never heard God's voice nor seen His form, nor understood what He is truly like. What a tragedy: It is possible to know and love the Bible all our lives, yet never hear the voice of God!
One of the signs that we have fallen into this trap is when having right doctrine becomes more important than having a right life. The ultimate test for admission to the groups of those who think this way is what you believe, not how you behave. Their leaders can be judgmental, even critical, often nit-picky. Sins of religious harshness and spiritual pride are often overlooked. Preaching the Word becomes more important than modeling the Word. The aim of all our knowledge is surely to lead us to God Himself, and to conformity to the image of His Son.
SERVICE: The trap for others is to substitute Christian service for loving God Himself Christian service is the outflow, or the overflow of a beautiful and living relationship with God. It is even possible to escape intimacy with God by drowning oneself in Christian activities.
And have you ever found yourself caught up in the joy of worshiping worship rather than actually worshiping the Lord God? We love the atmosphere, the ambiance of worship.
We must not equate any of these good things with loving God Himself. God is not a doctrine, a theology, an abstract principle, a ministry, a church denomination, an activity. He is a Person. And He asks that we love Him for Himself. He hungers for our personal fellowship. He wants to be above all these things, helpful and good as they are. He wants to be our God, our Father. He wants us to delight in Himself.
HOW GOD LOVES US:
The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (Zeph. 3: 17) How intense God is in His love towards His own! He will joy over you with singing! He is passionate in His love. What then makes us think anything less in our response to Him will satisfy His big Fatherly heart?
More than anything else then, a passion for God has to be guarded and cultivated or it can be lost. Almost any good and proper thing is ready to compete for our time and intimacy with the Father. The essence of our created lives is to love God and then to love His people. (Matt. 22: 36-40).
Perhaps the word 'love' has lost its meaning and become insipid. It has been robbed of its Biblical content. There has been a consistent attempt to equate loving God in terms of obedience and duty without any reference to its emotional quality. "A love for God that is devoid of emotion is a fictional product created by the minds of modem teachers. The Bible never defines love that way." (Deere, p. 192)
Maybe we should talk more about passion for God, for that word in our modem ears restores the emotional side of love. Passion is any kind of feeling by which the mind is powerfully effected or moved. Passion carries the idea even of vehemence, overpowering and commanding emotion. Passion is a feeling that moves the mind and the will into action. Passion covers the whole range of feelings that are appropriate with loving God. Passion for the LORD our God refers to zeal, hunger, craving, thirst, intensity.
I want these passionate feelings to characterize my relationship with the Lord Jesus and with the Father. Of course, I want to be obedient. Of course I want to be a dutiful son of God. But I want to love Him for higher motive than out of fear of failure, or fear of punishment. I want to live for Him simply for the joy of being able to please the God of my life. I want my life to be characterized by an unrestrained affection for the Father who has redeemed my life through His Son.
2 SAM. 6: 14 And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. After bringing the ark into its tent and after offering sacrifices and giving gifts to all the people, David returned to his O¥.Tl1 house ... But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, "How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!" So David said, "It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate before the LORD ... And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death. (2 Sam. 6:16ff).
I don't know about you, but when I read of David's passion for God, I find myself asking to love the one true God with the same burning heart. Sure, the world like Michal may despise us. But God is well able to look after His own. Like Michal, this world is cursed with barrenness and can offer nothing of lasting value anyway.
DON HARGREAVES: "YOU WERE TOO ANIMATED!"
MARY & MARTHA
The affection that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus had for Jesus is legendary. She sat at the feet of Jesus and soaked up his every word. It was dinner time (supper time to you Americans, and tea time to us Aussies!) And according to the social rules of hospitality of the day, Mary along with Martha was responsible for preparing a meal for Jesus and the disciples.
But Mary had an intense desire rather to be with Jesus. Her affection and hunger for Jesus overpowered the normal rules of etiquette. I am sure that if Jesus had asked her to go to the kitchen Mary would have gladly obliged. But she could not bare to be away from Jesus unless commanded to do so.
When Martha tried to get Jesus to rebuke Mary for her lack of help in the kitchen, Jesus not only refused to rebuke Mary, he actually commended her. Mary had chosen him even above service to him. According to Jesus, Mary had chosen the best part, the part that could never be taken away from her (Luke 10: 38-42).
Preachers often use this story to argue for the necessity of Bible study. But Mary was not studying the Bible, she was sitting at the feet of her favourite person. And here is the telling part. When Lazarus, Mary's brother died, Jesus came to their home four days later. Martha rushed out of the house and was the first to greet him. She poured out her grief-stricken heart to Jesus:
"Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11: 21).
Jesus responded to Martha, by giving her one of the greatest theological teachings, "I am the resurrection and life, he who believes in me shall live even if he dies" (John 11 :25).
A few minutes later Mary comes out of the house and says to Jesus the identical words that Martha had first said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (v. 32).
When Mary spoke these words, "Jesus wept" (v.35). He then walked to the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead.
Did you get that? A person like Martha could evoke a great theological teaching out of Jesus.
But a person like Mary could break his heart, and move him to action. People like Mary who have a passion for Jesus can move him in a way that others cannot. Passion for Jesus gave Mary access to the power of Jesus. Passion for Jesus broke him to tears.
ANOINTED FOR BURIAL:- Mary's passion for Jesus was graphically seen just 6 days before Jesus' last Passover. There were just 6 days before the crucifixion. Jesus was staying at the home of Lazarus, Mary & Martha, in Bethany. Mary walks in during the middle of the dinner with "a pound of very costly, genuine spikenard ointment" (John 12:3). It is estimated that ointment was worth a full year's wages. Mary proceeded to "waste" the perfume by pouring it over the feet of Jesus. Next, she let down her hair in public, and wiped the feet of Jesus with her hair.
What was this extraordinary act of Mary's? Those present thought it an improper act. Mary was being immorally suggestive. But Jesus knew the inner motive. He saw her faith. He felt her love. She was actually anointing the Son of God for burial. And she would show him his worth. The gift was extravagant, but it demonstrated how passionate her love for Jesus was.
Not only so, but in the face of criticism even from his own disciples, Mary found the loving support of Jesus: "Let her alone, she has done it for the day of my burial" (John 12:7).
Those who love God and His Son Jesus, will discover God backing them up.
Listen friends. There is not one biblical hero of the faith who did not come into the presence of God on a regular basis. Don't be passive about passion for God. Make intimacy with God the focus of your life. This is why you were born. To know God. This is why you have been born again. To love God with all your soul.
Be like the Psalmist and ask God for His presence ... "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (Ps. 119: 18) Come to the Scriptures desiring to meet with a Personal God. Ask God to give you a heart to love Him. Ask the Father for a consuming passion for His Son. Jesus' prayed this for us ...
And I have made known Thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou didst love me may be in them, and I in them (John 17: 26).
Such passion for God, such knowledge of God, will not only conquer a thousand sins in your life but will move His great Fatherly heart on your behalf. Spiritually mature people love what God loves. They hate what God hates.
Spiritual maturity is not necessarily possessing huge quantities of Bible knowledge. Spiritual maturity is not necessarily found in Christian service. Spiritual maturity is not found in loyalty to a denomination. Spiritually mature people are the ones who love the one true God with all their heart, and with all their strength, and with all their mind. Those who love God, yearn for God, hunger for God, seek God, pant after God, thirst for God Himself, can't help but get a little emotional about it. They take on an infectious quality. They can move God mightily on their behalf and make a difference. After all, they know His heart, and they are the ones who are like God. So, go on. Be like God Himself Be like His Son Jesus. Be conformed to the image of God in Christ Jesus. Be passionate for God. After all, He Himself is passionate in His love for His own!
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