The Heartache of Settling for an Affair With Jesus
The Pursuit of Passion Series: Reflection 5 of 7
Editor’s Note: David Bryant continues his seven-part series on one of the greatest crises facing the Church today: the widespread willingness of many of God’s own people to settle for far, far less than a genuine, constant, life-gaining and life-giving passion for Christ and the glory of his supremacy. Rediscovering and deepening a faithful and abiding relationship with God’s Son can take believers into fresh and dynamic directions in their experience of daily discipleship. In this installment, David unpacks another “secret” to getting “on fire” with a pure and holy passion for Christ—possibly the greatest secret of all.
One of America’s best-known worship leaders confided to me a personal heartache he faces repeatedly in churches where he has ministered:
Often it feels to me as if, for many of our people, singing praise songs and hymns on a Sunday morning has turned into an affair with Christ.
I was stunned by his imagery. But I was curious, so I pressed him to continue:
Too many of us are far more passionate about lesser, temporal concerns such as getting ahead at the office, finding personal happiness in a hobby, driving a new car, beefing up homeland security, or rearing well-balanced children. But we rarely ever get that excited about Christ himself, at least on any consistent basis. Except when we enter a sanctuary on a Sunday. Then, for awhile we end up sort of “swooning” [his word] over Christ with feel-good music and heart-stirring prayers—only to return to the daily grind of secular seductions to which, for all practical purposes, we’re thoroughly “married.”
Thus, Christ is more like a “mistress” to us. He’s someone with whom we have these periodic “affairs” to reinvigorate our spirits so we can return, refreshed, to engage all the other agendas that dominate us most of the time.
Frankly, his insights hit where it hurts!
Let’s admit it: Often our affections for Christ can prove to be weak and anemic! Too frequently infatuation with his exaltation turns fickle and fades! Where do we turn to rehabilitate frail fervency? How do we get our passion back to the level where it needs to be—where Christ himself deserves for it to be?
The secret is to go back to the source of every legitimate passion any of us will ever know—Christ’s passion for us.
It appears that even Webster agrees!
It All Depends on How Much We Cherish a Bloody Cross
I made a fascinating discovery one day. In my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, among a half-dozen synonyms for “passion,” I found to my amazement that the very first definition this renowned authority offered read this way:
Passion: Christ’s sufferings from the Last Supper to his death on the cross.
Amazing, I thought! This secular dictionary was perceptive enough to highlight Christ’s unique duration of agony as the key measure for human passion—and rightly so.
I wonder how many Christians would make the same connection? How many even know why we call our Lord’s final days “Passion Week”?
The English word comes from the Latin “passus” meaning “having undergone suffering.”
In other words, one might say that Jesus loved us so much it hurt. He loved us so much he thought he would die—and then he did! He “loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2, NIV).
In 2004, millions of people got an eyeful of the extent of Jesus’ suffering in Mel Gibson’s graphic but biblically realistic portrayal in his movie The Passion of the Christ. Reports were legion about viewers sitting in their seats weeping uncontrollably as the credits rolled.
Renowned American pastor Dr. John Piper writes:
Does Islam—or any other faith besides Christianity—cherish the crucifixion of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, as the only ground of our acceptance with God? The answer is no. Only Christians “follow the Lamb” who was “slain” as the one and only Redeemer who sits on the “throne” of God (Rev. 14:4; 5:6; 7:17) . . . The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious (emphasis added).
In other words, we can be done with what the worship leader called our periodic “affairs” with Jesus on Sunday mornings. Instead, we can recover a personal, all-consuming passion for him to the degree we learn to cherish his bloody cross. But why is that?
The Jumbotron of Heaven
Like a highway billboard, the crucible raised up on the hill called Golgotha announces the full extent of the passionate heart of the Lord Jesus for the entire world to see. In fact, the Greek word translated “portrayed” literally means “like a large sign,” as Paul states in Galatians 3:
Before your very eyes Christ Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified (NIV, emphasis added).
Paul claimed the horror of the cross provided us, as it were, a heartrending wall poster graphically portraying Christ’s unfathomable love for the lost, laid bare before the nations—unavoidable, irrefutable, beyond compare.
“Jumbotron” is probably the word Paul would use in Galatians 3 today. The cross functioned as a cosmic screen confronting all heaven and earth with the everlasting agony and costliness of the King’s fanatically fervent love for all of us as his subjects, a truth we will keep on exploring and exclaiming forever.
To speak on a personal level, on the cross Christ was consumed with passion for me. He was consumed with his desire to secure my destiny to enjoy him and to glorify him forever.
I thrive in the wake of the Suffering Servant who embraced with heart and soul—to his own demise—the totality of my desperate plight in order to rescue me from oblivion (Isaiah 53).
Because of “the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12)—that is, because of his own great hope about the wonders God would perform for me through his death—he willingly bore my sin on the tree.
Every eternally bright prospect I have, all the promises in God’s Word for God’s people, were sealed by the Son’s passion for me—by his substitutionary suffering in my place.
So, what is to be my response to his unfathomable, unquenchable devotion to me?
Answer: I must be willing to be filled with the same kind of consuming passion for him.
I must be willing to value wholeheartedly the same joy he embraced, the same adoration of the Father he died to reestablish, and the same advance of the Kingdom that ratifies his reign as “the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made” (Revelation 13, NLT).
I must give myself passionately to all of that and more, not just for my sake, but above all for his sake.
And all that Jesus did for me on that blessed, bloody cross he did for you.
In a Newsweek interview, James Caviezel, who played Jesus in Gibson’s movie, described how he endured significant personal pain while making the epic movie—from accidents during the flogging scenes; to being strapped to a cross for day after day of filming; to being struck by lightning during one mountainside episode; to dislocating his shoulder while carrying the cross in another scene.
The interviewer asked, “Did playing Christ deepen your faith?” Caviezel (already a strongly committed believer) responded:
I love Jesus now more than I ever knew possible. I love him more than my wife, my family. There were times up there on the cross when I could barely speak because the continual hypothermia was so excruciating. But it was there that I connected with Him where I could have never, ever gone otherwise. I don’t want people to see me. All I want them to see is Jesus Christ.
This same passion burned in 18th-century German Moravian missionaries as they circled the globe laying down their lives for the gospel in foreign fields. They marched to the beat of their compelling motto:
The Lamb has conquered. Let us follow him!
How can Christians today choose to advance under any lesser banner?
About the same year those in the Moravian movement devoted themselves to preaching Christ among the nations, the great hymn writer Isaac Watts expanded on their vision this way:
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
all the vain things that charmed me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
Demands? Yes. Even as he inspires, ignites, infuses.
Do you want to enter into a continual, unfading walk with Christ that’s marked by increasing fervency for him in his supremacy? Do you long for a passion for Jesus that is not just on Sundays, not just at worship services or weekday prayer gatherings, not just in Bible studies or during daily devotions, but rather a passion for him that resonates from morning to night, as you carry a cleansing “fire in your soul” that injects the reality of the love of Christ into every activity, every relationship, every joy or sorrow?
Then feast your eyes—feast your heart—on the passion of his cross. Jesus explains it to us in John 6:
Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me (NLT).
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ-proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI) and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely-read book at www.ChristIsAllBook.com.