by Leland Paulson


Here is an odd question: Would you say you are passionate about the ministry?

I didn’t say “diligent” or “committed” or even “competent.” It is possible to be all those things without having a fire of passion about serving God. Yes, in our early years we all were no doubt passionate, even emotional, about our calling as young pastors, missionaries, or other Christian workers. But what about today? Does it even matter anymore?

Passion Is Biblical
James 5:17, at least in the classic King James Version, describes Elijah as “a man subject to like passions as we are.” His ministry story, of course, oozes with strong feelings, from the bold confrontations with Ahab to the depression that followed the Mount Carmel showdown. “He prayed earnestly that it might not rain” (v. 17), and God answered him.

The point James is trying to make in bringing up Elijah’s name is that we, too, can achieve great things for God through passionate intercession.

There is no more pure motivation in ministry than the strong love with which God so loved the world and us through Christ, and by which we serve him in response. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV). We feel something of what God must have felt when he gave “his only begotten Son,” the expression of his love as well as his thought toward us.

God is not just a thinking, all-knowing God; he is also a loving God. Since he created us in his own image and likeness, we are a feeling as well as a thinking people. God made us that way. People often respond as much or more to what they feel as to what they know. We need to feel something strongly if we expect others to feel it too.

I hope we can get past the formal, almost dispassionate approach to religion. This, in fact, is what necessitated revival in previous generations. Not everyone liked it, of course. During the Puritan era, the eminent Boston minister Cotton Mather wrote an essay entitled On Enthusiasm, decrying the “emotionalism” of revival. But New England badly needed the First Great Awakening that was soon to come.

We don’t want emotionalism, or emotion that feeds on emotion. We do, however, need to allow ourselves to be deeply moved by what we know about God-to serve the Lord with a passion, which makes for effective ministry because it motivates us, and others in turn. When people give their hearts to the things of God, ministry flows freely from a wellspring deep within. To overcome the spiritual inertia in our lives and our churches, we need to allow ourselves to be motivated by the strong, pure love that filled the heart of Jesus, who was “moved with compassion” (Matt. 9:36) to reach out to others in their need. He was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15). There is no stronger impetus for ministry than the love of God in Christ, by which we serve the Lord and one another.

Compelled by Love
Paul the apostle wrote, “The love of Christ constrains us” (2 Cor. 5:14) in the context of “pleasing God” and “persuading men” (vs. 9, 11), since we will all one day appear before the judgment seat of Christ. It is love that “compels us” (NIV), or “controls us,” as the text is sometimes translated. It’s true-we are controlled by whatever we love, and whomever we love. If we have a “passion” for cars, or for hiking, or anything else, whatever we love and give ourselves to will control us. It will determine our use of time, resources and energies.

Some people give themselves to things that are not particularly bad, but they are not particularly good either. Hobbies are fine, but I hope we ministers of Christ have a passion for more than just “Monday Night Football” or the Masters Golf Tournament. Our passions in life determine our priorities. Paul concludes in this passage that, because of the love of Christ who died not only for us but for all, “they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who died and rose again” (v. 15). They are compelled by that love to share the message of reconciliation with others.

Passion in Preaching
Serving churches throughout an interim, I have often had occasion to ask people, “What are you looking for in your new pastor?” Often the answer has been one or more of the following:

1. Someone with a heart for God, as David had.

2. Someone with a heart, or love for people … “all the people,” as one dear lady said rather insightfully. A pastor needs to love people, not just “the ministry,” which as a profession can be fulfilled within the framework of time and place. One of the problems of preparing for ministry-and I speak honestly as a former Bible college professor-is that we can end up making a profession out of it. Whatever we do to study for the ministry, I hope we always feel unprepared apart from the sufficiency of the God’s grace and the help and flow of the Holy Spirit’s anointing.

3. Someone who loves the Word, letting it form and develop his personal character as well as his preaching ministry. David, the psalmist, wrote, “O, how I love your precepts. They are the meditation of my heart all the day long” (Ps. 119:97). We need to love the Word of God and hold it in high regard. Paul commended the Thessalonians because they “received the Word of God, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the Word of God” (2 Thess. 2:13).

To love the Word of God does not necessarily mean we will have the answers for everyone’s questions, but we will be motivated to search out the truth of the Word prayerfully, with the help of the Holy Spirit who inspired its writing. Regardless of what skeptics may say, we do not have to know everything to believe something-or better, to believe Someone. Paul wrote, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded” (2 Tim. 1:12).

Declare what you do know with conviction, unapologetically. Value the truth of the Word more than great riches. “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23), whatever it may cost in time and effort. Treasure it up in your heart, and preach it with passion.

Passion in Prayer
In Acts 6:4, the apostles said, “We will give (devote) ourselves continually to prayer and the Word.” It is important to know the Word, but in the order of things it is of first importance to know how to pray. We are called to make intercession according to the will of God by the help of the Holy Spirit, with “groanings too deep for utterance” (Rom. 8:26-27).

To pray with passion as Elijah prayed is to pray “earnestly” (James 5:17). And, “he prayed again” (v. 18)-actually, seven times, according to 1 Kings 18:42-44. Various translations of James 5:16 tell us that the “effectual, fervent prayer” of a righteous man “calls forth the working of God, and brings mighty things to pass.” Passionate prayer brings effectiveness to all of our work, as it did in the life of Elijah.

The prayers of Paul for the endangered Galatians, whom he addressed as “my little children.” (Gal. 4:19), were in “travail (as a woman in labor) again, until Christ be formed in you.” If you look back in the history of almost every local church, you will find it was birthed in deep intercessory prayer. If our churches today do not show evidence that Christ has been “formed” in them, perhaps we need to go back to our beginnings, travailing in prayer again.

One hundred years ago, the revival in Los Angeles (as in Topeka, Kansas) was birthed out of deep intercessory prayer. Frank Bartleman wrote in his diary, “Prayer literally consumed me. I fasted much, not caring for food while burdened. At one time I was in soul travail for nearly twenty-four hours without intermission…. Prayer was not formal in those days. It was God-breathed. It came upon us, and overwhelmed us. We did not work it up. We were gripped with real soul travail by the Spirit that could no more be shaken off than the birth-pangs of a woman in travail, without doing absolute violence to the Spirit of God. It was real intercession by the Holy Spirit” (cited in the book What Really Happened at Azusa Street, p.16).

We do not experience that kind of deeply demanding, overwhelming intercessory prayer very often, let alone daily. But times of crisis and turning in our lives call for it. This kind of passionate prayer brings to birth the purposes of God, just as Jesus evidenced in Gethsemane.

The prayer of Jesus there (the place of the oil press) was with “strong crying and tears” as he surrendered himself to the will of God and the cross, “and he was heard because of his reverential submission” (Heb. 5:7 NIV). Isaiah wrote prophetically, “After his suffering (the travail and anguish) of his soul, he shall see the light of life and be satisfied.” This suggested that he would be raised from the dead, justified by God, and satisfied by seeing the result of his suffering as the “righteous servant” by whom “many are justified” (Isa. 53:10-11 NIV).

This brings us to another New Testament use of the term “passion,” Acts 1:3. Jesus “showed himself alive after his passion,” says the writer-the suffering, pain, and death of Christ, out of which came life for all who believe on him. No wonder the recent filmmaker entitled his dramatic screenplay of this momentous ordeal “The Passion.”

Passion Entails Sacrifice
In the prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane, he fully surrendered to the will of God, which led him to the cross. In the same way, we must surrender to the call of Christ, whatever it costs. To follow Jesus is to live “no longer unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us” (2 Cor. 5:15).

Some today surrender the effectiveness of their lives and ministries to other interests: TV, the Internet, managing their investment portfolios, or other peripheral pursuits that really will not count for much in the day of judgment. How much better to make a full surrender to the call and cause of Christ.

Harry Schmidt, president of Christian Life College, often signs his letters, “For the only cause that matters.” The willingness to “spend and be spent,” all for Jesus, with an undivided heart, is what makes ministry worthwhile and effective. The recent worship chorus says it well: “Lord, I give you my heart, my soul. I live for you alone. Lord, have your way in me.”

Leland Paulson and his wife, Mary Lou, now live in the small town of George, Iowa, after a long career in FCA ministry, most notably on the faculty of Christian Life College and at Duluth Gospel Tabernacle.

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