Monday, February 28, 2011

Passion: the kind that's contagious.

I've been reading Brennan Manning's Abba's Child with a group of girls I meet with once a week, and the chapter we went through this week was my favorite so far. It's called "The Recovery of Passion."

Manning starts with defining passion as "to be affected by," and he uses Matthew 13:44 to illustrate the idea of being effected by the kingdom of heaven. The verse says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field."

Now if you think about what's really going on here, it's kind of crazy. Here is this peasant that's plowing a field who barely has anything, and he finds a treasure worth millions... so he hides it, goes and sells all he has, and buys the little plot of land the treasure is buried in. To everyone else, selling everything to buy that field looked crazy. But he knew what he was going to gain from that treasure. Manning says "he is deeply affected by his splendid find ... he knows he has stumbled on an extraordinarily profitable transaction and rejoices at the thought of the payoff."

Passion begins with us being deeply affected by what we've found: Christ.

But Manning goes on to talk about how we often allow ourselves to get distracted and lose sight of this treasure. He talks about how his distraction was his alcoholism. He says, "it's one thing to discover the treasure and quite anther to claim it as one's own through ruthless determination and tenacious effort ... whatever the addiction — be it a smothering relationship, a dysfunctional dependence, or mere laziness — our capacity to be affected by Christ is numbed. Sloth is our refusal to go on the inward journey, a paralysis that results from choosing to protect ourselves from passion. When we are not profoundly affected by the treasure in our grasp, apathy and mediocrity are inevitable. If passion is not to degenerate into nostalgia or sentimentality, it must renew itself at its source. The treasure is Jesus Christ. He is the Kingdom within."

What keeps us from being numbed?

Passion comes from not just knowing about Christ, but truly knowing and experiencing the heart of Christ.

Manning says of the heart that it is "the symbol we employ to capture the deepest essence of personhood. It symbolizes what lies at the core of our being; it defines irreducibly who we really are. We can know and be known only through revealing the revelation of what is in our own heart."

In John 13:23-25, during the last supper, John, the disciple Jesus loved, "reclines next to Jesus ... He leaned back on Jesus' breast." There's a lot of significance in this moment for John. First of all this is the gospel of John we're reading, and this is the first time he refers to himself in his writing as "the disciple Jesus loved," and from this moment on, that's how he refers to himself. Manning suggests this is because of the intimate moment he experienced with Jesus that night, as he rested his head on his chest and heard the heartbeat of God. My dad said in a sermon I listened to last week that in this moment he "felt the breath of God."

That's a moment that I think would probably define my entire life ... experiencing the heartbeat of Christ, feeling his breath. It's in those intimate moments that we go from knowing about God to truly knowing God. Because so many American "Christians" can tell you all about Jesus. They know all the right answers to all the Sunday School questions. But our passion comes from the moments when we hear his heartbeat, and truly know what lies at the core of his being.

So if we claim the treasure, if we are deeply affected by finding Christ, and if we experience that intimate moment when we truly know his heartbeat, what should be different about us? I really believe that once we're affected by Christ, and once we truly know him instead of just knowing of him, the obvious result should be this:

Passionate love for Christ makes us so crazy about him that we long to be where he is.

There are examples of people who truly knew Jesus longing to be where he is all over the gospels. In John 11:29, it says that Mary got up quickly and went to meet Jesus. Later on, after his death when she's at the empty tomb and she hears him call her name, she clings to him. (John 20:17) When Mary goes to tell Peter and John that the tomb is empty, it says that they ran together to the garden to see. (John 20:3-4) And I love Peter's passion here. It says that John stops and doesn't go in, but when Peter gets there after him, he doesn't even hesitate — he's got to see it for himself.

Peter was a passionate guy. I love that about him. He would do absolutely anything to be where Jesus was ... so much so that he would jump out of a boat to get to him! Twice, actually! When Jesus walks on the water, all the disciples are in the boat. But it's Peter that says, "Jesus if that's really you, then here I come to join you." And some translations even say that he jumped out of the boat. He didn't just ease into the water ... I envision him running full speed ahead to jump out onto the water and walk with Jesus. What's interesting is that all 12 disciples were there that night — they all witnessed a miracle. But only Peter experienced it.

And then after Jesus dies and rises, the disciples are in a boat again and they see Jesus on the shore. Again, Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to meet him. He didn't care what was between them, Peter was going to get to Jesus no matter what. He loved him with such passion that when someone tried to arrest Jesus, Peter cut the guy's ear off! Passion was just Peter's nature. I want to love Jesus with that kind of passion.

Lately God's just been teaching me about being passionate. About being so overjoyed with the treasure of Christ and the Kingdom that I would do anything to have it. He's been challenging me to remember those intimate moments when I've heard his heartbeat and felt his breath, and to know that I, like John, am a disciple that Jesus loves. And he's been teaching me to have a longing, like Peter, to be where He is.

I don't want to be a Christian that just has all the Sunday School answers, and knows a lot about who Jesus is. I want to be a Christian that's heard his heartbeat, felt his breath, and been so lit on fire with passion for him that I would do anything to be where He is. That's the kind of love that's contagious. The world needs that passionate, contagious kind of love. Isn't that why He came in the first place?