Sitting in for my dad this week, is my boss: e2 media network executive producer and host of The Big Picture Podcast, Joel Fieri with some “Real Stuff My BOSS Says”.
One of the discussions that Joel and I have had numerous times around the water cooler is in regards to a trend that he sees many churches wandering through without even knowing it. It’s what he sees as a dilemma between passion and obedience. He sees too many churches allowing the overarching theme of “passion” driving their ministry instead of an overarching goal of “obedience”. He sees this in the fact that most churches offer 25 minutes of music in their service and call that the week’s worth of worship. He sees it in the leading, prodding, or even cajoling of leaders to their congregants to develop a “passionate relationship” with Jesus. He sees it in Christians searching for a means to follow their “passion” in service to Christ. And, he sees it all as taking precedence over simple obedience to God’s primary commands.
From my shoes – a self-described “passionate artist” – these are hard words to hear.
As Joel’s pastor puts it, obedience is “Trusting God enough to do what He says”. In fact, if we look at the Bible appropriately, Jesus Himself put it simply in John 14:
“If you love me, obey my commandments.”
Therefore the best way for us to express our love for God doesn’t have anything to do with passion, but everything to do with obedience. This requires a selfless emptying of oneself – even to the point of sacrificing your passions for the larger goal of obeying God’s will.
To bolster Joel’s position, he refers to the famous tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws” – a tool that has been used world-wide to show man’s need for God and what it means to follow Jesus. In it, the analogy is given of a train with three cars: the engine is “facts”, the passenger car is “faith”, and the caboose is “feelings”. In other words, the facts (or God’s Word and truth) drive and guide the train; our faith is where we ride; and the emotion-driven “passions”, focused on our individual preferences are in the caboose. Now, ALL THREE OF THESE CARS ARE NECESSARY. But, if the caboose (or even the passenger car) is driving the train, something is wrong and the train is headed in the wrong direction. Only by following God’s will, Word, and commandments will we truly live the lives that He desires for us.
Yet, on the other hand, Psalm 37:4 says:
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(sounds pretty passionate to me).
This is a verse often used to guide Christians who are searching for direction or an area to serve God. Leaders often ask, “What are you passionate about? What has God put in your heart that excites you? Start there and let God lead the way!”
The key to this direction being valid is a ginormous “IF” that needs to precede this advice. The clause of “If you are obedient to God’s will in the other areas of your life, THEN He will give you the desires of your heart and lead you to where and how He wants you to serve Him.”
Another area where Joel believes people have gone wrong – even in regards to Psalm 37:4 – is the definition of the word “heart”. When the Psalmist wrote “He will give you the desires of your heart”, did he mean your passions or your will?
But, if we focus so much on strict obedience, don’t we extinguish the passions – or even joy or fun – out of Christianity? Where’s the enjoyment of worship, or even study, service or obedience?
Joel says that fun or happiness shouldn’t be what we strive for, but instead the joy of the Lord, which is very different. We can experience God’s joy even when we’re definitely not having fun or enjoying life. And it’s His joy that God promises when we obey.
This leads to the real danger that Joel sees too many Christians heading toward: an era where “happiness and enjoyment” have replaced the true definition of “joy” and therefore, the world’s motto of “if it feels right, do it” has bled into the church as a motto of “if it doesn’t feel right, then something must be wrong”. It began as a sliding definition of terms, but the consequences have become and continue to devolve into something unbiblical. Now, some may say it’s just semantics, but as many experts agree, words define ideas and ideas have consequences. So, we do need to be careful of any “mission creep” in regards to the definitions that we use.
Joel’s bottom line is that our emotions and our passions can fluctuate from day to day, or at least from season to season; but God’s commandments, and His promises, NEVER change. Therefore obedience to those commandments and hope in those promises should be our anchor; and while passion should be included in the equation, we need to be careful that it’s not what drives us.
For more encouraging and engaging podcasts and videos, visit the E-Squared Media Network at www.e2medianetwork.com