Passive or Passionate

Killer Dana was the most notorious wave in California. When it was really ripping and roaring, the best surfers in the world gave it plenty of distance. Legendary surfers knew that given the traditional techniques of their sport, that wave was more than they could handle.
Then came a teenager to prove them wrong.
In 1953, a boy named Phil Edwards paddle out toward Killer Dana beside the best surfers in the business, and people gasped. Was this kid crazy? He wouldn’t last three minutes against the tightest wave the West Coast had to offer.

But Edwards came right at Killer Dana behind amazing, award-winning suffers and shocked the rest of his party of suffers by cutting back into the foam. The rest of the surfers were riding their boards back to the shore – after all, that’s how it was usually done. But Edwards challenged the wave with a style and artistry that gave birth to a whole new sport: performance surfing. He quickly became the great superstar of the sport, just at the time when surfing came into its own in the popular imagination through movies, Beach Boys songs, and California culture.
Edwards was unimpressed with the crowds. “There are uncounted millions of people who now go through life without any sort of real, vibrant kick,” he said. He gave these people a name: “the legions of the unjazzed.”
He was talking about people who live their entire life without taking risks. “There is a need in all of us for controlled danger,” said the surfboard philosopher. Edwards believed that life is lived out where the foam is breaking, out where it’s easy to take a tumble and get a mouthful of salt water. In his lingo, to face that kind of excitement is to “be jazzed.” Even the best practitioners of his sport, in his view, were taking it easy, avoiding the risks.”
The passionate life, the life Jesus has called His followers to live, is about playing to our potential — giving it the best shot we have, even when the odds are against us, even when we’re weary, even when nobody else advises it. Passion pushes us forward as it did Phil Edwards. Athletes call this effort “leaving it all on the field.” But as we all know, sometimes a team doesn’t’t play to its potential. Sometimes an army doesn’t give its best fight. Sometimes we are all numbered among the legions of the unjazzed.
I’m talking about the sinister cancer of passivity that is so prevalent in the life of individual believers as well as the local church. This cancer slowly but inexorably squeezes the passion out of our life. I’m talking about how the adventure, excitement, and fulfillment we all crave is smothered by the wet blanket of apathy, indifference, and stoicism. The passionate life is one of activity, enthusiasm, and energy. Passivity shorts out all the circuits and leaves us bored and in a rut. Ferdinand Foch, marshal of France at the turn of the twentieth century, said, “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Passivity snuffs out that vital inner blaze.
Passivity doesn’t only attack our spiritual life. It is just as easy to slip into a passive lifestyle in our relationships with family and friends, in our work, in our activities and ministries at church, and in our extracurricular activities. In fact, if these other areas of our life are marked by apathy, boredom and a Who cares? attitude , it’s a sure bet that the vitality of our relationship to Christ has dwindled to a simmer. Unleashing the power of a passionate life begins by defeating passivity in our heart towards God.
In the first century, Ephesus was the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia. The city held one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Temple of Artemis, a magnificent structure built in honour of the Roman goddess of fertility. But by the end of the first century when the book of Revelation was written, Ephesus was in decline. And new religions, Christianity among them, were competing for the attention of its citizens. Ephesus was a city whose passion had flickered and died.,
The church followed the city’s lead. The flaming fellowship was now reduced to dying embers. Where does the passion go when it leaks out?
We can’t say that the church at Ephesus lacked dedication. Jesus opened His message to them with these words: “I know your works, your labour” (Revelation 2:2). They were active and busy, and Jesus commended them for it. The word labour implies working to the point of exhaustion. There were apparently many in the church who were so busy in the service of the church that they were worn out. They were dedicated to building the church in Ephesus and making an impact on the city.
Nor was there a problem with a lack of determination. Jesus also commended them for their patience in service (verse 2) and in suffering (verse 3). Acts 19 tells about the persecution that came upon the believers in Ephesus from those who rose up against them. The silversmiths union, which profited from selling silver statues of the goddess Diana, was not happy with the anti-idolatry message of the Christians. The clash escalated into a riot. But the Christians there persevered in their determination to make a difference.
This kind of determination in suffering reminds me of a wonderful statement by the great nineteenth-century London preacher, Charles Spurgeon:
Pray God to send a few more men with what the Americans call ‘grit’ in them; men, who when they know a thing to be right, will not turn away, or turn aside, or stop; men who will persevere all the more because there are difficulties to meet and foes to encounter; who stand all the more true to their Master because they are opposed; who, the more they are thrust into the fire, the hotter they become, who just like the bow, the further the string is drawn, the more powerful it sends forth arrows, and so the more they are trodden upon, the more mighty they come in the cause of truth against error.”
Determination to hang in there seems to have been present in the Ephesian church.
We also know that the problem in the church at Ephesus wasn’t a lack of discipline or discernment. In fact, the twenty-first-century church would do well to imitate the church discipline practiced by the Ephesian believers. They did not allow evil to spring up in their midst and bear fruit, and Jesus commended them for their discipline. They “tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (verse 3). It was not uncommon for apostle wanna-bes to circulate through first-century churches, looking for hospitality and a place to exercise their self-appointed authority. This church grilled the visitors on their theology and practice and sent them packing if they didn’t measure up.
So what was the problem at Ephesus? Today, if we described a church as dedicated, determined, discerning, and disciplined, we would be talking about a church with some notoriety. And that’s the root of the problem. Despite all the Ephesian Christians had going for them, Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (verse 4). In less than a century, the church at Ephesus had moved from faith to formalism. In all their busyness they had lost their passion for Jesus. They were so involved in keeping up the religious practices of the church that they had become passive in their devotion to the Head of the Church.
I see the same thing happening today. There are churches in every city and town with new ones springing up on a regular basis – being planted by believers who are out seeking and saving the lost. But we need to ask, what real effect are we having? We are making an impact to some degree – people are being saved on occasion. And, I would hate to imagine what any given country would look and act like if the church were not there. But are we having the level of impact that we could? Are we turning our society upside down the way Jesus and His disciples did theirs? I don’t think so. And in my view, it’s because we are more in love with the church and our ministry than with the Lord of the church. We have moved from faith to formalism. We have lost our first love.
Losing our first love is another way of saying that we have lost our passion.
Losing our first love is another way of saying we have lost our passion. And the way the church at large — or any local church like yours or mine — loses its passion is by individual Christians becoming passive about devotion to Christ. A passionate life is not about doing great things for God apart from knowing and loving God intimately. You can serve tirelessly on every committee and ministry team, and faithfully attend every function of the church. But without the fire of passion for Jesus burning within you, you won’t accomplish much more than the space shuttle under butane power. We must say with St. John of the Cross:
Forever at this door
I gave my heart and soul.
My fortune too.
I’ve no flock anymore,
No other words in view.
My occupation: love. It’s all I do.
Let me state the problem with the church in Laodicea up-front: When God finds apostasy in the church. He is unhappy. But when God finds passivity in the church, He is angry. Passivity is unacceptable.
Laodicea was perhaps the wealthiest city in the Roman province of Asia Minor in the first century. The money had gone to their head and dampened their heart. The church had once been soulful, passionate, and wide open. Paul mentioned the Laodicean believers several times in his letter to the church at Colossae, encouraging the Colossians to share his letter with the church at Laodicea (see Colossians 4:12-16).
Despite Laodicea’s material prosperity, the city lacked one important thing: an adequate water supply. They had to run a pipeline from nearby Hierapolis to obtain hot water from the mineral hot springs, and they piped in cold water from the springs in neighbouring Colossae. But since the pipelines were built above ground and not insulated, the water the Laodiceans received was neither fully hot nor fully cold, but lukewarm.
Hot mineral water is good for bathing and gargling. Cool spring water is good for quenching a blazing thirst. But lukewarm water is neither refreshing nor therapeutic. The lukewarm water of Laodicea became a picture of the passive faith of the church there. Jesus said, “You’re not cold, you’re not hot — far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit” (Revelation 3:16 MSG).
Jesus had three problems with the church at Laodicea, all of which grew out of its lack of passion for Christ.
1> The Laodicean Church had compromised its faith (see Revelation 3:15-16)
The Christian life is supposed to be hot, passionate, and fervent — not tepid. Apollos taught the Scriptures in Ephesus with great energy and excitement (see Acts 18:25). The word used in that verse is fervent, defined as “showing passionate enthusiasm” or “glowing hot.” Paul urged us to be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). James called us to “effective, fervent prayer” (James 5:16). And Peter states that we are to have “fervent love for one another (1 Peter 4:8).
Does your faith have passionate enthusiasm? Is it glowingly hot?
2> The Laodicean church was conceited.
This church boasted “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). Jesus disagreed, stating that the church was oblivious to being “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Verse 17).
Conceit can’t see the faults in its own character, but Jesus can see them. Laodicea was wealthy, but the church was spiritually destitute. The city boasted of its textile business, but the church was spiritually naked. And though Laodicea was famous for its eye medicine, the church was blind.
3> The Laodicean church was Christless (Revelation 3:20)
They were so focused on themselves and their so-called success that they didn’t notice who was missing from the assembly: Jesus. To spiritually lukewarm believers, it doesn’t matter if Jesus is present or not. They become so caught up with themselves and busy with their agenda that they carry on without Him. And when Jesus does come near, they won’t let Him warm their tepid hearts.
So we see that passion for God and His Kingdom must move from something we occasionally think about to something we embrace heart and soul. Sue Monk Kidd writes:  “I’m discovering that a spiritual journey is a lot like a poem., You don’t merely recite a poem or analyze it intellectually. You dance it, sing it, cry it, feel it on your skin and in your bones., You move with it and feel its caress. It falls on you like a teardrop or wraps around you like a smile. It lives in the heart and the body as well as the spirit and the head.”
Churches fall into spiritual passivity the same way they lose their passion: one careless believer at a time. If the church today — yours and mine in particular — is going to be a passionate influence on our needy world, it will only happen as individual Christians like you and me throw off the conceit of this age and pursue whole-heartedly an intimate, passionate relationship with Jesus.
St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England is the home of a large painting by artist Holman Hunt that is known the world over. This marvellous painting features the front of a neglected cottage. Thistles have grown up the front wall and grass cores the entry walk. Vines, weeds, and rusty hinges in the painting convey a sense that nobody cares about the cottage or its residents. The scene represents a neglected life, a heart where passion has long since cooled.
But standing at the door of this cottage is the kind King, Jesus Christ, holding a lantern from which the painting derives its title, “The Light of the World.” The lantern light casts a warm glow over the front of the run-down home. And with His upraised right hand, Christ is knocking on the door.
It is a painting of stark contrasts. King Jesus, resplendent in royal robes, bathed in the light of His own glory, seeks admittance to this humble home. The most intriguing aspect of the painting is the fact that there is no latch on Jesus’s side of the door. An early viewer of the painting approached the artist to point out the “mistake” of forgetting to put a latch on the door. Holman’s reply reflects the key to Christ’s gaining entrance into our lives: “No, it is not a mistake. The handle is on the inside. Only we can open the door and allow Christ to come in.”
How often have I seen Christians whose lives are represented by the neglected cottage of Holman Hunt’s famous painting. Where the fire of passion once filled the windows with the light of vibrant life, now only the dimness of passivity is evident. Once the pathway was packed firm and the grounds weeded and trimmed for the frequent, welcomed visitor, but now the threshold is rarely crossed. And the door that was always ajar in anticipation of the Master’s fellowship is now shut and locked from the inside against a friend who is now regarded as a stranger.
Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelations 3:20). The key to unlocking the door to passion in your life, not just for spiritual things but for every facet of life, is throwing open the door to your life to Jesus and inviting Him to enter. It is impossible to be passive in the presence of Passion Personified!
If the vines of passivity are creeping up the walls of your life, if the path to your door is nearly impassable, if Jesus’s knock at your heart’s door has gone unanswered in recent days, I beg you to throw off your passivity. Open yourself once again so that passion rules. Allow the Light of the world to so fill your life that His warmth and brilliance flows out to others in darkness. A.W. Tozer said, “Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment.”
If you have surrendered to passivity by allowing your passion for God and life to become lukewarm, you must heed the call Jesus issued to both the Ephesian and Laodicean churches: “Repent!” (Revelation 2:5; 3:19)
“Isn’t that something for non-Christians to do?” You may ask. Yes, and if you are still investigating the Christian life, you no doubt sense Christ gently knocking at the door of your life. He wants you to change your mind about Him by surrendering to His Lordship. But repentance is also something for Christians to do when the flame of passion inside has dwindled to a flicker or gone out.
Repent. Change your mind. Don’t lock passion or the Passion Giver out of your life any longer. That door handle is on your side, and no one can fling the door wide open but you — just as no one can give you an amazing and abundant life but Jesus. He stands at the door and knocks … and knocks … and knocks.