How passionate are you?
Being told I should be passionate about the Holy Spirit slightly jarred, writes Colin Sedgwick
On Whit Sunday I wasn’t surprised to be challenged in church about the Holy Spirit. How eager am I to be “filled with the Spirit”? How much do I long for “the gifts of the Spirit”? Does my life bear “the fruit of the Spirit”?
All good and necessary questions. Surely every Christian should constantly want more of God’s Spirit?
But there was a word used that slightly jarred: “passionate”. As Christians, we were told, we should be passionate about the Holy Spirit.
My problem is twofold.
First, I’m not really sure what that word actually means. And second, assuming what I suspect the preacher meant by it - a deep emotional intensity, a yearning that pretty well dominates and controls you - the fact is that, sorry, I’m just not really the passionate type. I just “don’t do” passion. Too English, perhaps, too buttoned up.
And the question is: Should I feel guilty about this? Is there something wrong with me?
Well, my wife and I chatted this over in the car as we came away from church, and what we came up with was something like this...
First, the whole idea of being passionate is strikingly absent from the Bible. What the Bible asks of us first and foremost is that we should be trusting of God and obedient to him. And those two words, trust and obedience, are much quieter - much more ordinary, if you like - than what generally comes to mind when we think of passion.
Second, we reflected that over the years we have known a number of Christians who you might describe as passionate - and the sad fact is that often they seemed to burn out quickly. Some, certainly, continued to profess to be Christians, but they became mere shadows of their former selves. Others gave up claiming to be Christians at all.
I remember a young man who used to introduce worship songs before the official start of our services. Oh, he was passionate all right! He used to “guilt” us, as somebody once put it: “Are you happy being a Christian? You don’t look much like it! Come on, aren’t we supposed to be joyful, us Christians? This is Sunday morning, isn’t it, the day Jesus rose from the dead! Isn’t anybody going to smile...?”
That young man, within a couple of years, gave up any pretence of being a Christian and dropped out of church altogether.
All right, that’s an extreme example, and I know very well that there are others in the same mould who last the course well. But it’s hard not to hear warning bells ring when the word passionate is being bandied around. (In fact, it’s a word that rather brings out the cynic in me - like those times you hear a politician claiming to be “absolutely passionate” about the state of the drains in their constituency. And you think “Er, sorry, but no...”)
Third, we reflected that the Christians we had most appreciated and valued in our own lives were generally not the passionate types at all, but those quieter, solid types who just “keep on keeping on”. Their love of Jesus couldn’t be questioned, but they expressed it by their honest, reliable day-to-day living. They were the people you would turn to when you were in trouble, the people you instinctively trusted and respected.
My wife and I decided, in the end, that there are in fact two types of “passion”. We agreed that, yes of course, Christians should be passionate, in the sense of faithful and committed - and that we were certainly not as passionate as we ought to be. But we also concluded that there is a kind of suspect passion which might not unfairly be described as shallow, rootless and flaky.
That word “rootless” brings to mind Jesus’ parable of the sower. Yes! - isn’t it all there in that simple story? “The person who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the one who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time...” (Matthew 13:20-21). O Lord, save us from rootlessness!
Am I overdoing this? Am I, in the end, simply quibbling about words? If the preacher that Sunday had talked about being “enthusiastic”, or “eager” or “keen” regarding the Holy Spirit I don’t think I would have had that negative reaction. And perhaps that, really, is all he in fact meant.
But perhaps I am right in thinking that certain inflated, overblown words need to be used with caution; they can be misunderstood. Remember what Paul said about “resounding gongs and clanging cymbals”! Remember that saying about “empty vessels”!
At the end of the day, to be “filled with the Spirit” is to be filled with Christ, isn’t it? - with love, with holiness, with truth, with humility. And don’t these things constitute the “righteousness” that Jesus says we are to “hunger and thirst for” (Matthew 5:6)?
Never mind “passionate”... Oh for more of this in my life!
Picture: George Webster / CreationSwap
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com