Threads of Passions
William Wilberforce knew his passion. He resisted it, but this passion held him captive as a young man, nearly at the same time that he became completely captivated by Jesus. He met God and wanted nothing more than to begin vocational ministry; he was convinced this was the best way to serve God. But the passion that kept him up at night, that had him pacing floors and banging tables, was the unacceptable injustice of the slave trade in England.
His minister, John Newton, a former slave trader, enlightened him about the horrors of slavery. William was haunted. God had given him a gift for communication, the empathy of one who had suffered, a position of influence through the House of Commons, and a deep, lifelong friendship with the prime minister of England. And he was faced with a need too awful to ignore. A dozen or more threads, ordained by the hand of God, were slowly assembling into a great calling.
Finally, Wilberforce’s friends convinced him that God could potentially use him most in the place of politician. He ran headfirst toward the thing that haunted him. It was painful, and most of his life was spent before there was any reform.
But at some point his passions turned into a calling. When that happens, the cost becomes irrelevant.
Do you see the need around you?
We often miss this as a main point of the story of Joseph, but it is key. What was God doing through Joseph’s decades of suffering? Was he refining Joseph? Yes. Was he restoring Joseph to his family? Yes. But ultimately God intended Joseph’s life “to save many lives.” And by the end of Joseph’s life, he told his brothers it was all worth it.
Every Christian knows that Christ gives us a foundational calling: to live as Christ. Christ met needs. And all our other passions serve only to lead us to the unique needs we can meet.
Wilberforce and Joseph weren’t especially spectacular human beings; they just gave their lives to the problems of their generations. We could do that too. And together, as one body with many parts, we could see God move.
The word passion originates in Latin, meaning “to suffer.” The word was created by religious scholars in the eleventh century to describe the willing suffering of Christ. Passions have become nearly synonymous with pleasures and what excites us in modern culture.
But consider that passion is originally defined as the moment of the deepest willing suffering of Christ for our good. It lifts the word from human desires to a monumental love willing to suffer.
When we find ourselves willing to choose suffering for a cause, that cause may hold our life’s mission.
God often leads us to passions through suffering, experienced or perceived. As you considered your scars on this journey, hopefully passions began to arise out of your darkest moments. You long to give the world what you failed to receive.
Passions are also born out of observing the suffering of others. William Wilberforce observed suffering, and as it haunted him, his passions followed with a great intensity that eventually led him to his calling. Joseph suffered great pain in his life, but his suffering gave him a sincere passion for reconciliation and human care.
We don’t naturally have passion for others; naturally we are dang selfish. But when we were bought by Christ, we exchanged our hearts full of self-seeking passions for God’s heart. And now we share His passions. God said through His prophet,
I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws. — Ezekiel 36:25-27
Our hearts are new, and now what was cold is warm and full of compassion, led and moved by His Spirit.
We were built for this. What begins as a burden and obligation becomes the thing that fills our restless souls.
In the movie Amazing Grace, William Pitt’s character races through a field with Wilberforce and says to him, “Why is it you only feel the thorns in your feet when you stop running?”
When we run for God and for people, we forget for just a moment about ourselves, and it feels amazing. Nothing makes a soul sicker than too much time given to itself.
It’s like my five-year-old who I have to force to clean up the backyard. Every second of it seems to cause him physical anguish, until he finishes and looks up at me and says, “I am good cleaner. That was fun.”
We aren’t ever happy when we’re lazy and selfish. The things we often think may steal our joy turn out to be the truest wells of joy that exist.
Just because God loves us and wanted to make life more fun for us, He built us to love different things so we could meet different needs.
So my daughter Kate loves art, and Caroline would rather sing. My son Conner is smarter than most humans on earth, and Coop may be the next Emmitt Smith. And every one of them is permitted to pursue these passions for the glory of God and the love of people.
It’s beautiful that your heart doesn’t beat fast about the same things my heart beats over. It’s beautiful that your gifts are not the same as your mom’s, and your place is not the same as your best friend’s.
When we start to lay out our threads, it is unbelievable — breathtaking, really — to see how what felt average about ourselves weeks ago starts to take on intricate beauty. Our untangling threads reveal God’s sovereignty and attention to detail. Beautiful is the body of Christ stretched and poured out into every crevice of this world, every city, every neighborhood, every office, every home. It’s the unselfish passions of people displaying the love of their God in a million unique ways. Buechner put it this way:
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
Beautiful are all your unique threads that cause you to beat the table, or lie in bed awake, or speak with exclamation marks.
As my real-life people in Austin and I worked through this concept in one of my small groups, I glanced down and saw pages of scribbled notes in Amanda’s hand. She was all lit up. Amanda was one of the women who had come to know Jesus through Rachel at work, and she was leading one of the groups. She asked her group about the need they saw around them. But it was obvious that Amanda was about to explode, so I turned the question back on her. She went on to tell us about her breakthrough.
Amanda is a speech therapist with Rachel, and she has always known that her work was important to children with fairly severe disabilities, many unable to speak. She went on, “Deep in me, I’ve known I can communicate, because of my training and gifts, with these kids, sometimes better than even their parents. But this week I heard from a grown man who has the same disability as many of my kids, cerebral palsy. Roger shared how alone he felt in his head because he can’t really talk clearly, and how Jesus is the only reason he has not taken his life. It was right in front of me the whole time, but for the first time I thought, I can tell these kids about Jesus. So I called Rachel, and together we are going to host a special needs vacation Bible school this summer. Most of these families have never been to church. These kids perhaps have never heard of Jesus.”
It was so simple and so beautiful. Her heart was taken captive, haunted by the need in her place, with her people, using her gifts and story of her lifetime without God. And now the Holy Spirit was leading her to her part in his story. Ordinary threads were weaving epic stories. It isn’t all as complicated as we often make it.
Nothing kills passion more than the fear of man, whether a quest for approval or nagging comparison.
If we are running our race and our eyes are darting back and forth, we will not see the need around us. Hebrews 12:2 is stern about this.
You want to run this race? You fix your eyes on Jesus.
As a young believer, aware of my gifts and increasingly aware of the need around me, I remember passion burning in my chest to teach God to the women around me but thinking to myself, Why would I ever teach when there are VHS tapes of Beth Moore? I compared myself to her rather than fixing my eyes on Jesus. I was distracted from running my race in my place.
Hear me. You have a race that no one else can run. So please run.
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. — Romans 14:23
This is a verse that makes every one of us shudder and consider ourselves the worst of sinners. How does everything come from a place of faith? We all doubt and get fearful and wander toward lives completely absorbed with ourselves. We are unable to move without God. He moves us; we just have to let Him.
If you are anxious because you don’t know your passions or don’t know if you are living them or ever could — if you are beating yourself up because you have lived distracted — stop. We will never move forward if
• we cannot love;
• we cannot know God;
• we cannot know ourselves;
• we cannot change;
• we cannot bleed for others.
We can’t move without God’s Spirit moving in and through us to accomplish His purposes. We are not left as orphans to figure all of this out. He is with us. That is why Jesus could say,
My yoke is easy and My burden is light. — Matthew 11:30
Because He didn’t call us to something alone. He carries the yoke for us, so we can run with power.
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Excerpted with permission from Restless by Jennie Allen, copyright Thomas Nelson.
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What need do you see around you? What injustice do you get mad about? When do you remember meeting a need and feeling very fulfilled? God has built passions within you on purpose, for a purpose! What are yours? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about God-ordained passions!
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