05 Mar 2013

What Does Passion Look Like?

Zeal? Energy? Enthusiasm?

A growing number of people consider these to be essential elements of a genuine worship experience. They want worship that reveals a deep love for a magnificent and awesome God. They want to engage in worship with both head and heart, mind and emotions. They want "passion."

Worship leaders may encourage such passion by referencing certain biblical texts:

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! Psalm 47:1

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:4

Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Psalm 150:4-5

They promote worship that fulfills the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. However, if we're not careful, outward displays can become a superficial substitute for real passion. Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees reminds us that our outward displays of worship may appear genuine while inwardly our hearts are amiss: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." (Mt. 15:8)

But if such outward displays don't constitute "real passion", how can we know and experience genuine passion for God? Rather than being demonstrated through expressiveness in worship, passion is revealed through the broader spectrum of life's choices. It's not measured by the extent of our emotional display, but by depth of our sacrifice in the pursuit of Christ. Consider this interchange between Jesus and his disciples:

Then Peter said in reply, "See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life." Matthew 19:27-29

Peter and the other disciples were "all in" for Jesus. They held nothing back. As Peter says, "We have left everything." Their passion was revealed in their personal sacrifice. In his response to Peter, Jesus acknowledges what their sacrifice has involved: the comforts of a home (Mt. 8:20), family relationships (Mt. 10:34-39), and possibly lands and wealth (Mt. 19:21-24). They had willingly left these things behind because they had a passion for Jesus and the kingdom he was establishing (Mt. 4:18-20, 16:21-22, 26:35). This kind of passion is not merely emotion punctuated by sentimental outward display; it's an ongoing commitment to give everything - to risk everything.

Eliciting an authentic passion for Jesus goes beyond consideration of bodily posture in worship, because expressiveness in worship can become an easy substitute for passion. While it is entirely biblical and appropriate, if not accompanied by something deeper, expressiveness might be compared to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's notions of cheap grace: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." Similarly, we would be naive to think, "Of course we have passion - we raise our hands, clap, and cry out in worship," without considering our need to go "all in" with our very lives. It's possible that our worship can become nothing more than easy displays of devotion that lack any connection to real sacrifice.

King David provides us with an excellent example that connects worship and sacrificial passion. When Ornan offered him free land and oxen to build an altar and sacrifice to the Lord, David responded, "No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing" (1 Ch. 21:18-27). When David later offered his sacrifices, the Lord was pleased and accepted them, just as Jesus promised his disciples that he would accept their sacrifices: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life" (Mt. 19:29).

Our public worship should reveal zeal and passion the same way wedding rings reveal marriage. While rings are an outward sign that accompany marriage, they don't constitute marriage. They aren't the substance of it. In the same way, how we respond in worship may accompany passion, but it's not the substance of it. The substance is found in lives given over to the glory of Christ and His kingdom, lives that obey what Jesus commands (Mt. 28:20), lives that forsake everything for the sake of knowing Him (Phil. 3:8).