I must admit, I am sometimes uncomfortable with zealous people. I’m part of a culture that prefers cool to hot. Tolerance rates high, while fervency ranks lower on the charts. Not true south of the border!

Here’s my confession; I need more passion. I don’t want to pastor a church offering Christianity Lite. Passion makes sense in worship when we consider the love with which we have been loved. Cold love doesn’t compute in light of Calvary. Passion makes sense in prayer when we remember the promises of God. It is the antidote to an encrusted heart. What kind of passion would require death on a cross for one’s enemies?

We may balk at the talk of passion, because it is used negatively about emotions gone wild (Romans 1:26). Solomon writes of this over-the-top surge: “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30). Hardly something to market.

When I speak of passion, think zeal. Jesus owned it. After the temple cleansing, His disciples remembered: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17). Should His disciples have calmed Him down?

The passion of Jesus echoed His Father. He “wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak” (Isaiah 59:17). It was the passion of God that established a kingdom through His Son, and the prophet said, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:7). Jesus had it; God’s got it—I need it!

We are urged, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor” (Romans 12:11). Where does fervor, literally “fire,” come from? The Holy Spirit. Remember the flames of fire at Pentecost? There you have it: the holy Trinity, an all-consuming fire. Think burning bush or Mount Sinai, ablaze with flames to heaven (Deut. 4:11).

Passion is not hype, charismatic flair, nor contrived emotion. The fire is not self-ignited but comes from the altar of a God who is fire. Fire burns, refines, renews, destroys, transforms.

We don’t naturally possess it, which is why we fear it. Passion throws people off balance; it makes them go over the edge or try being religious. The passion that God lights burns with a different flame. Passion enables people to persevere, overcome difficulties, take risks, give their all. The passion of Phinehas enabled him to serve well. “He and his descendants will have a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites” (Numbers 25:13). He stands in contrast to his uncles Nadab and Abihu, whose casual presumption led to their demise.

Unbounded passion is as dangerous as fire out of control, but lack of passion is a greater liability. Jesus said about the last days: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Five foolish virgins allowed their oil level to get low, and they missed the party. Cars and Christians cannot run without it. Jesus has an aversion for those who cool off and lose their passion (Revelation 3:15). When the soul reads “low on oil,” a change is needed before the engine is ruined.

To grow in passion, sit with the all-consuming fire—and thaw out. Trust the passionate Spirit to light your fire. As He does, spend your life for others, live sacrificially, and do what my friend George often said, “Until further notice, celebrate everything.”

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