Read at beginning of service:
Isaiah 55:1-2 (NIV)
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
There once was a not so bright fellow who saw an advertisement for a cruise. The sign in the travel agency window read “Cruise — $100 Cash.”
“I?ve got a hundred dollars,” he though. “And I?d like to go on a cruise!” So he entered the door and announced his desires.
The fellow at the desk asked for the money, and the not-too-bright guy started counting it out. When he got to one hundred, he was whacked over the head and knocked out cold. He woke up in a barrel floating down a river. Another sucker in another barrel floated past and asked him, “Say, do they serve lunch on this cruise?”
The not-too-bright fellow answered, “They didn?t last year.”
Definition of Passion
Today I?d like to spend a few moments talking about passion.
Now when I say that word, some of you may immediately get a picture of what that word represents. For some that word represents the kind of intimate love that exists between a husband and wife that are passionate for each other. In fact in using passion as a description it often describes the emotion associated with the pleasure we get from someone or something. We?ll say that someone has a passion for their wife or their husband but we?ll say someone may have a passion for cars, or a passion for collecting something (you fill in the blank). But I think we need to begin this morning by establishing the fact that passion in of itself is a neutral emotion but the things that are pursued because of it determine it?s value good or bad. It is the choice of the individual which passions he allows to consume him.
Man is so made that whenever anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish. Jean de le Fontaine
A good definition of passion then would be to say that it is “an intense emotion that compels action”
It is the energizing or “fire” of the soul that moves a person from complacency to action. Passion often means the difference between winning and losing or between a person who succeeds and a person who fails
Need for Passion
But why would I choose to talk about passion today ? what is it about this word that I would feel is so important for you to understand today? The answer, my friends lies in the call of Christ to a life of passion for Him. But you know, I look around in our church, I look around in our community, I look around in our nation in our world and yes there are pockets here and there where that fire, that intense emotion of passion exists but then sadly there are far to many people who are like the not-so-bright guy who paid $100 for a cruise in a barrel on a river.
I believe we are living in a time right now where people are spiritually hungry and are looking for something that will answer their deepest questions and meet their direst needs. It is a tremendous opportunity for those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ to share His message and His gospel and His life with those around us. And yet, in this time of spiritual hunger are we really seeing an impact being made? I don?t think we are. In fact I know we?re not. Why? Because of a lack of passion. And I see this lack. I?ve felt this lack in my own life. And I?ve heard about this lack in the lives of some of you as well. Yes, there is a need for passion in our midst ? the kind of passion that will stir the embers of God?s word in our hearts and raise up a church that is on fire for him. A church that is not satisfied with staying on the passionless treadmill of mediocrity but a church that is ready to be propelled by passion into the flames of Holy Spirit revival!
So why is it that there are so many of us who are people without passion?
People without passion have allowed the precious to become familiar.
Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV)
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Pharisees sent an expert in their religious law to test Jesus by asking Him a highly debated question of the day:
- The Pharisees, the religious leaders, observed 613 different commands
- They often disagreed as to which one was the greatest.
- They thought Jesus? teaching was so radical they wanted to test Him in front of the people.
They expected Jesus to deny the law, but instead He quoted a part of Scripture that the Jews repeated everyday. Something precious that has become familiar to them. They said those words every morning and every evening and it became so familiar that they lost the precious meaning behind the words.
Jesus also said,
Matthew 6:21 (NIV)
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You see what we treasure reflects our passion and we have a passion for what we consider to be our treasure. The problem for Christians who have lost their passion is that they don?t treasure God. Oh yes, He?s may be your savior and friend and you?ll visit Him every once in a while but He?s not your treasure.
A.W. Tozer “We may WANT God, but we want something else more. And we get what we want most.”
When?s the last time you could say you felt the same way that the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 42:1?
Psalm 42:1 (NIV)
1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
And really meant it?
People without passion allow what is most precious to them to become common and familiar.
Familiarity paints our homes with drabness. It replaces evening gowns with bathrobes, nights on the town with evenings in the recliner, and romance with routine. It scatters the dust off of yesterday over the wedding pictures until they become a memory of another couple in another time. (Max Lucado)
People without passion want acceptance and approval more than anything
Do you hear me? We live in a world where the pressure is on to be seen as normal and average and politically correct and under that pressure we?ll turn down the temperature of our passion. This is true but there is also more involved here.
Passion for Christ is sucked right out of people who place their relationship with something or someone else above their relationship with God.
People without passion have no purpose beyond themselves.
What is the biggest thing in life for you? Is it waking up and hitting the alarm clock, getting out of bed and listening for the snap, crackle and pop of your breakfast while you eat? Is the biggest thing in your life maintaining the routine of your life? It is hard to generate an “intense emotion that compels action” for the routine things in our life. And that is why people who live for themselves have no passion.
Well today I want to talk to you about a man whose life defined passion. In fact he was so passionate that he built a wall. (That?s the end of the story ? the passionate part is how he began it and how he finished it.)
His name was Nehemiah, and he lived a long time ago. His story is found in the biblical book of the Old Testament that bears his name. One of the key words in this book is the word “so” which occurs 32 times. Again and again, Nehemiah assesses the situation, is moved to emotion and “so”?he is compelled to action.
I want you to hear and know his story because I think it has a lot to say about how we develop passion in our lives and what it does for us ? and what it does to us.
The story starts in an unlikely situation for developing passion, because Nehemiah was “cupbearer to the King” of Persia. That meant that he tasted the kings wine. He was the one who made sure that the wine and food was safe. He was the one who made sure that the cereal snap, crackled and popped but didn?t go “boom”.
It was a very cushy job, in a very cushy setting. Nehemiah from the perspective of creature comforts, had it made. Especially when you consider the fact that he was a foreigner in the land of Persia. Nehemiah was a Jew born of captivity, but he had it made.
He had never seen his homeland, the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem. But he?d heard stories about it, passed down from his grandfather and his grandfather?s grandfather, who had been led away in chains when the nation of Babylon had destroyed it.
But times were changing . The king who Nehemiah served had conquered Babylon and had allowed the Jews to return to their homeland if they desired. And many did.
One of Nehemiah?s contemporaries, a prophet named Ezra, had led a group back to Jerusalem and under his leadership the temple had been rebuilt. But, in spite of that all was not well in Jerusalem. I?d like to pick up the story and you can follow along with me in Nehemiah 1:1-4a
Nehemiah 1:1-4 (NIV)
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
It is here in Nehemiah?s story that we see the origin of his passion. It was birthed in brokenness
Passion is birthed in brokenness
Nehemiah could have simply shook his head and said, “You know what guys, that?s really awful, but what am I supposed to do about it? I?m a thousand miles away.” Nehemiah could have turned his head, closed his eyes, and said, “Boy would I ever be stupid to give up this great job I have. There?s no way I?m going give it up!” But he could not. Nehemiah was so moved by what he had heard, that he sat down and wept, and mourned for many days. There was a brokenness that came upon his life.
Why? What was it that created a brokenness in Nehemiah?
I believe that he was broken over the complacency of the people of Jerusalem. The people were living in ruins and they accepted it. They were simply willing to walk around the ruins instead of catching a glimpse of the glory and beginning to build and rebuild. They had allowed the precious to become familiar.
The Bible tells us that the walls of the city were down and the people didn?t care and were in sin and disgrace. You know, I think that could describe our culture today. And sadly it could even describe some of our churches today.
Friends, how long will we shed tears over make-believe characters in movies and TV shows and not shed tears for the world we live in? Nothing is ever going to happen to bring a change in society, in families, in our communities, or in our church until someone gets burdened and broken with the need. There has to be a Godly spirit of brokenness. Yet, today it seems that many people are more concerned with being comfortable and blessed than they are with being convicted and broken for the will of God.
Are you broken over anything in this world?
Passion is deepened through prayer.
Nehemiah was ? and look what happened next?
Nehemiah 1:4 (NIV)
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:5-11 (NIV)
5 Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. 8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
His passion was birthed in brokenness, but it was deepened through prayer. When Nehemiah saw the issues and understood the need, he did not point his finger, criticize and say, “What have you guys done about it?” Nehemiah identified himself as part of the problem and he determined that he would become a part of the solution. He began to pray. And look what happened ? His prayers led him to a willingness and eagerness to be used of God and to take the responsibility of allowing God to change His own life and change those around them through him.
What about you? Do you pray about the junk you see? Or do you just mourn?
Everyday Nehemiah prayed for the city. Then, he writes,
Passion compels bold action.
Nehemiah 2:1-5 (NIV)
1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
Do you see what is happening here? Nehemiah?s passion, born in brokenness and deepened in prayer has now compelled him to bold action. To understand why this is “bold” you have to remember his position. Nehemiah is a foreigner born into captivity with the privilege (albeit, dangerous one) of being cup-bearer to the king.
The king, the Bible says, replied “How long will you be gone? When will you return?”
But Nehemiah didn?t stop there. He goes on to write?
Nehemiah 2:7-8 (NIV)7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.
What is the boldest thing you?ve ever done in your life? What do you have in your life right now that seems impossible? Do you have a passion about it? Friends, passion for God will compel you to action, just as it did for Nehemiah.
Passion attracts people to what you?re passionate about.
The Bible then says that Nehemiah went first and made all the preparations for the materials and then set out on his journey to Jerusalem and snuck in without anyone knowing what God had set in his heart to do (his passion!) and then addressed the leaders and the people,
Nehemiah 2:11-18 (NIV)
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. 13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
At “once” ? people were waiting for someone to say “lets do it” before they would jump on the bandwagon. That?s what passion does ? in Nehemiah?s case it attracted people to him and his cause.
A man by the name of Robert Kriegel did research on 500 leaders from all areas of work, the arts and sports and he made this statement about them, “No two were alike ? but what they had in common was passion. It was their drive, their enthusiasm and their desire that distinguished them.” They?re the kind of people that others want to follow. The trouble is some of those leaders some of those people who have a passion are passionate about things that are not of God. How many of you are willing to be distinguished by your Godly passion so that people will follow you as you follow Christ?
Passion attracts people ? You want to know the best way to win someone to Christ? Show your PASSION for Him! Yes passion attracts people but it does something else just as important, too.
Passion brings power to overcome opposition
When word got around that Nehemiah was rallying the troops? well, let?s go back to the story and you can follow along?
Nehemiah 2:19-20 (NIV)
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding,”
And the mocking kept on. Later, the Bible says,?
Nehemiah 4:1-4,6 (NIV)
1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble–burned as they are?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building–if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” 4 Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.
Nehemiah 4:6 (NIV)
6 So [THERE?S THAT WORD!] we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
But the mocking got even worse. There were threats (4:7-12, 14-17), questions of Nehemiah?s motivation (6:1-5,9), spies sent in to give faulty advice (6:10-13)?And then, there?s that word again?
Nehemiah 6:15-16 (NIV)
15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
What?s the point? Nehemiah?s passion ? which was birthed in brokenness, deepened in prayer, also empowered him to overcome opposition.
If you don?t have a passion for your marriage, or your family or even more importantly your God ? guess what? You won?t be able to stand against any opposition!
Earlier I referred to Psalm 42:1 where the writer begins by declaring his passion for God. But if you read the rest of the Psalm you?ll find that it contains a description of troubles and conflicts he is facing in life. But each time he writes of a complaint he defeats it by a declaration of his passion for God. The Psalmist reiterates throughout,
Psalm 42:5-6a (NIV)
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God.
There is one more thing that we can learn from Nehemiah that passion does.
Passion enables the confrontation of evil.
Right about this time there was a great outcry of protest from parents against some of the richer residents of Jerusalem. What was happening was that families who ran out of money for food had to sell their children or mortgage their fields, vineyards, and homes to these people; and some couldn?t even do that, for they already had borrowed to the limit to pay their taxes.
Listen to Nehemiah?s reaction,
Nehemiah 5:6-13 (NIV)
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. 9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them–the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.” 12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
Do you see what this passion did in Nehemiah? It enabled him to confront evil. There was no mincing around or tolerating or compromising on his part because he had a God-given passion for what was right and what was true.
So how about it ? are you a person of passion for God? How can you tell ? well, are you a person who takes bold action; who attracts others to follow in the steps of Christ; who has the ability to stand through adversity and speak the truth about evil.
Are you a person who has allowed the precious to become familiar, who is driven by approval and acceptance, with no purpose bigger than your own self?
And which kind of person do you want to be? Look around and get broken and start praying. And ask God to develop His passion in you.