By Floyd McClung
Last year I was separated from my wife for eight months. I saw her occasionally during that time, but it was for brief interludes and never alone. Sally was caring for my daughter Misha, who was suffering from a muscular disease called fibro-myalgia. We had agreed to try anything that had a remote promise of relief for Misha's extreme pain, so Sally took Misha to medical clinics in Florida and California in search of medical help.
I really can't complain about the long time of separation compared to what my daughter went through, but it had an effect on me. Especially the loneliness. Toward the end of our time of being apart, a work crew was doing renovation on our kitchen. I woke up in the morning to the sound of hammers and saws and went to bed with the smell of dust and varnish. I responded to all this by staying busy- from early morning until late at night. I hated coming home to an empty house.
This pattern of busyness continued when Sally returned. I stayed busy out of habit. I was hooked on the adrenaline of going, rushing, doing, being needed, and making decisions. Meanwhile, I was drying up inside. I hated the sense of spiritual emptiness it produced, and the superficial relationship I had with the Lord, but I subconsciously justified my condition because of my circumstances.
I learned one sure thing during this time: I could cruise along without spending much time with God. I could make do on grace. Later, I found out how bad things had gotten, but at the time I did not see it taking place. A subtle shift in my passions was going on. I wasn't as deeply concerned about the lost, the great commission, studying the word, and pressing into God to discern His will on the important decisions I was making.
The world outside my world seemed further away. I was less interested in loving people when they offended me, and I justified withdrawal from those who I couldn't get along with. I found myself backing away from challenges that previously had been a tremendous source of spiritual motivation to me. I started thinking about dying more, but in the wrong way. I no longer welcomed the opportunity to lay down my life for Jesus.
In short, my passion for Jesus and the things he is passionate about was withering away. The fire was there but not as bright as it used to be. Deception was setting in. Things that I never accepted in my life until that time were now becoming acceptable. Tragically, I did not see it happening. Until it was almost too late, that is.
After Sally and Misha were home for a few months, I decided I needed a few days away to take stock spiritually. I have done this on a regular basis all my life, so it was not a new venture. I knew I needed to get alone with God, but I didn't how bad things had gotten. Like the wise man said, you don't know how sick you are until you get well.
It was during that time of spiritual inventory that I allowed God to speak to me. I asked Him to convict me of anything that was grieving Him, and He did so. I made a simple decision to start fasting again, something I had not done in a long time. I also renewed the discipline of journaling - carrying on a running dialogue with the Lord about the spiritual state of my heart as He saw it. Those two things alone turned me on my ear. literally.
During those times of crying out to God and listening to Him, He began to speak. He led me to focus on my passions, what excited me, what was most important to me, what got me turned on spiritually and emotionally. Out of the wasteland of spiritual dryness and passionless relationship with Jesus, I became desperate to share his heart. I cried out that he would not just renew me, but that he would reveal to me what He is passionate about.
It was about that time that I received a review copy of a newly published book by Inter Varsity Press. The title intrigued me: Six Dangerous Questions. The book was written by a friend, Paul Borthwick, so I was hooked. I wanted to know what the six dangerous questions were that Paul thought we should ask.
That little book and those six questions hit me between the eyes. (Sorry, I am not going to tell you what the questions are - you are going to have to read the book for yourself to find out!) Paul introduced the questions by revisiting the importance of having a consistently Christian worldview that actually affects the way we live. I was struck by the thought that it is possible, indeed it is common, to have evangelical beliefs while guided by a Babylonian heart. We can believe one thing with our head and live another way from our heart. Paul stressed the importance of our core values being consistent with our beliefs.
I jumped off from there in my deliberations and asked myself how it is that people develop core values, or passions, that are inconsistent with their beliefs. Borthwick said something that helped me work through this line of thinking. He said that there are three sources for a world view:
- life experiences
Life experiences can certainly influence a person to live in consistently with their beliefs. For example, if a person does not work through hurtful relationships in the right way, they will withdraw from the one who hurt them, or become bitter. Forgiveness is not optional for a follower of Jesus. And true forgiveness means letting go of the wrong done, to the extent that there is no withdrawal or avoidance going on.
Something I have learned about withdrawals is that it cannot be selective in nature. If you withdraw from a person, you have also withdrawn from the Lord. It may not become obvious, especially if we deceive ourselves by spiritualizing our actions, covering it up with pious platitudes, etc. (For example, "I have forgiven them, I just don't want to be around them, that's all." Or, I've done my part, now it's up to them." Or, "God knows my heart.") The point is: if you withdraw from a person, you have put a wall, and that means you are drawing a line and refusing to cross over it. Further, withdrawal is an act of self-preservation of self-protection. To protect oneself is a spiritual direction in life. It is statement about what is most valuable to you: your own life. It means we have made self-protection a higher value than laying down our lives. The two are incompatible. They are opposing goals, two foundational building blocks of opposing world views. To be a Christian is to take up our cross and follow Jesus, to die to self. And if we have died to self, then that death is to be worked out in every dimension and every relationship of our lives.
Life experiences, especially the hurtful kind can lead to inner vows that determine ones passions: a passion to love, forgive and reach out to others no matter the personal cost, or a passionate commitment to protect, preserve and provide for ones own needs and rights. It is these quiet, sometimes subconscious inner vows that make up one's core values and therefore determined the passions of our heart.
It is sad to see a poor girl scheme to marry a rich man, determined never to live in poverty again. Or a hurt Christian focus their life direction around the vow to never get hurt by another over bearing spiritual leader. Or a workaholic slaving to get ahead in life to prove their worth and significance. These are core values, lived out as passions, sometimes disguised and sometimes defended, but always convictions about how to live life.
What does all this have to do with choosing your passions? Stick with me while I share another conclusion I came to while on my little retreat last year. I startled myself one morning when I heard myself say outloud, "You can choose your passions, McClung. You don't have to be a prisoner of your past choices of the value system of America." You can choose your passions? Where did that thought come from, and what does it mean?
It has been a liberating thought, one that has given me the impetus to analyze my passions as best I can and make some radical choices about how I want to live and what I want to live for. At the heart of my relationship with God is a profound sense of freedom to choose. Not that I have the willpower to carry out my choices, or the motivation even to make them for the right reasons, but there is a deep sense of respect in how God treats me. I have experienced it like a divine courtship, a wooing of the Spirit to respond to the love of Jesus.
More than freedom to chose is the awareness of just how different Jesus really is to everything around me. I made a list recently of the core values of Jesus. Then I made a list of the core values of my own culture, the American way of life I was raised to love, cherish and be willing to defend against against any enemy who would dare to take it away from us.
I concluded that Jesus stood for servanthood, sacrifice, dying to rights, humility, purity, and immense goodness and righteousness. Over and against that is what is most important to Americans: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, comfort, security, tolerance, personal rights, status, power, wealth and fun. There is more, but that is enough to make the comparison. In making this list I was stunned by how deeply my own self-interests and life experiences had shaped my passions and core values.
I was disappointed to conclude that I was more American than Christian in many of my core values!
While reading Borthwicks book I was simultaneously studying the gospel of Luke. I was surprised by a statement Jesus made in Luke 24, in which he stated to the disciples, on two occasions actually, that he was going to summarize the whole of the law of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets for them. His summary was breathtakingly short. In verses 44-47 he says,
"This is what I told you...everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. HE told them, 'This is what is written: the Christ will suffer, and rise again on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations..."
Not only is it very short, but incredibly simple. Jesus says that the whole of the Christian life is about two things really: his death and resurrection and making that known to all the nations of the earth.
Is that what my life is all about? Is that the core value that gives impetus and meaning to all the other values that shape my life and passions?
I have decided to choose this to be the passion that is above all other passions, the core of the core. The reason for living the life of Christ. If that is the summary of the whole of the Bible I want it to be the summary of the whole of my life: Jesus and the world.
But that is easier said than done. And that is why I have decided to consciously, deliberately, by his grace, feed those two core passions. I have decided to fast and meditate on them. I choose them every day. Regularly I ask the Lord to reveal anything that is undermining this focus. I have looked long and hard at all other competing passions and I have chosen to kill them off.
I read books about Jesus and the nations. I have recognized a need for a values conversion in my life. I am focused on becoming a man who lives to make God happy, not vice versa. I have taken a good look at American cultural values and have decided to hate them. Why? Because they are the good life values that eat away at the Christ life. They are passion robbers. They appeal to my flesh. They feed what is selfish and self-preserving in me. They are opposed to the cross life, the life of the disciple of Jesus.
I have taken a good look at Jesus and how he lived his life and decided that is the way for me. If I want something more than Jesus, then what is it? And if I want something less than Jesus, why is it?
I have read and re-read the gospel and the book of Acts and decided to live like Jesus and the disciples. Pure and simple. Jesus is enough. I want to do church like they did it. Get rid of the complications and additions and excuses. Just do it like Jesus and like Paul.