There are basically two types of folks: The ones who strain like all get out to make life a smooth ride and the ones who’ve learned (usually the hard way) that knowing Jesus better is the only goal worth pursuing. The former’s the old way and the latter’s the new way. The old way is fueled by pride – the conviction that we have the power, ability and wherewithal to cause what we deem the “good life” to become ours to possess and treasure. The new way runs on humility – the acceptance that, without Christ, we have no hope for genuine happiness. Jesus says, “…Apart from me you can accomplish nothing” (John 15:5). What makes the new way so much easier is we don’t have to change anything about ourselves before we start jogging the path our awesome Savior paved for us. All we have to do is believe in Him. The Holy Spirit takes it from there. We come to the Lord as we are, broken and hobbling along, leaning heavily on our material crutches. Jesus throws away our props and, by His strength alone, lifts us up so we can begin traveling the road to holiness with Him by our side. We find the difference living for Christ makes is astonishing. We comprehend we have nothing to fear; that being a follower of Jesus is not restricting – it’s liberating. Whatever it was we thought we wanted loses its luster. Our sole desire becomes doing what pleases God. Nothing else makes sense to us anymore.
No matter which of the two types an individual is, they’re motivated by a core passion. It’s not complicated. It’s what they want most and their existence revolves around discovering how to get it. I’m not saying it’s their only passion but it’s the main one that gets them out of bed each morning. For a non-believer it can be anything they choose to pursue, be it wealth, prestige, adoration, sexual gratification, authority over others, etc. Anything this fallen world offers. But if you’re a saved-by-grace member of the Body of Christ, serving God is your core passion. Otherwise you haven’t quite “gotten it.” You haven’t done what the Bible says you’re supposed to do. “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). You might be saying, “Hang on. How’d worship get into this thing? I sing as loudly as anyone in church!” Ponder for a moment that perhaps worship is more than chortling praise music. Frederick Buechner wrote, “To worship God means to serve Him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for Him that He needs to have done – run errands for Him, carry messages for Him, fight on His side, feed His lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for Him that you need to do – sing songs for Him, create beautiful things for Him, give things up for Him, tell Him what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in Him and make a fool of yourself for Him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.” Worshiping God should be the essence of a Christian’s core passion.
If you’re a believer but your core passion is achieving a material “good life” in the here and now then it’s time you made a direction correction because what you’re chasing will never fulfill you even if you catch it because it’s an illusion. What your heart was made to yearn for is the God who created it. Nothing and nobody else will fill it up. Wrap your brain around this: you are God’s core passion! Brennan Manning wrote, “I believe His desire for you and me can best be described as a furious longing.” God not only loves us madly, His will is for us to come to Him and allow our souls to be enveloped inside His warm, forgiving and wholly accepting embrace forevermore. When we live the new way our prayers are for peace and healing. We make consulting the Holy Word part of our daily routine and deem being used by God the principal source of our joy and excitement. When and if God’s blessings arrive it’s okay to rejoice in them but we should never let receiving them become a requirement for our loyalty and obedience. That’d only lead us back to living the old way. We need to stay on the trail of the new way where our core passion is to grow closer to God, surrender to His perfect will, be content with His provisions, introduce Him to those who don’t know Him and to act more like Him every day.
Understand that even if our core passion is centered on God there may be days when it’ll feel like He’s not around. Larry Crabb wrote, “We may want God, but experiencing God is not a predictable reality. We can arrange conditions favorable to encountering God, but we aren’t in charge of whether He shows up.” Our faith will get challenged. No one likes to be tested but the Bible confirms that sometimes we will be. There’s a line in the Casting Crowns song, “Oh My Soul,” that goes “Oh my soul/you are not alone/there’s a place where fear/has to face the God you know.” Re: There are moments when we need to preach to ourselves. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter.” In the Psalms, David did it all the time. He pleaded, “Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you pay no attention during times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? I groan in prayer, but help seems far away” (Psalm 22:1). Yet in every case David later got around to reminding himself how great and mighty God is. He preached the truth he knew to his self. We should follow his example.
Okay, so we’ve established the old way doesn’t work. Roger that. But new way Christians must come to terms with the fact we can’t know everything. At the onset of our journey we’ll know we’re on the right path but, as we used to tag newbies in the Boy Scouts, we’re tenderfoots. We’ve still got a lot to learn. Thank God we have the finest teacher living inside us, though – The Holy Spirit. We may not know all that much but we’re eager, determined students who can see that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train but Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Yet, as any of us who’ve gotten through high school found out, accumulating knowledge is a process and it has its ups and downs. There are times when we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ majesty or we sense He’s speaking to us and we dance and leap from cloud to cloud for weeks on end. But then the excitement fades and it’s back to the grind. Our rowdy peers get on our nerves. Some of the courses are a pain to pass. We develop migraines. We manage to complete one semester only to discover the next one’s even harder. But we press on because we have an iron-clad, signed-in-blood promise that one day we’ll graduate with honors and the victory party will be heavenly.
New way Christians develop a closer, more intimate relationship with God because He’s their core passion. The Cross and the one who gave His life for us on it is our irrevocable guarantee that our sometimes happy, sometimes sad trek through this mortal phase of existence will be more than worth it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in desiring to have joy-enhancing children, health and glistening teeth, honest/loyal friends who have our back, a rock-solid marriage and an engaging career as long as they remain in the category of secondary to knowing God. The Apostle Paul was a new way Christian and he had his priorities straight. “…I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11). Paul’s core passion was to know Jesus a little more each day. It should be ours, too.
When the publicly-crucified, officially-declared-deceased Jesus rose and walked out of the tomb on Easter morning very much alive again a line of demarcation was drawn between the old way and the new way. Along with His atonement for all our sins, His subsequent resurrection is the single most significant event that’s ever occurred in the history of the universe. It changed everything from the macro level to the micro. Now every man and woman has a choice to make. They either believe the same Jesus of Nazareth that strolled the earth 2,000 years ago is alive today and for all eternity to come or they don’t. No fence-straddling allowed. They must pick a side. For new way Christians the resurrection isn’t some remote, isolated incident stuck in the past. Manning wrote, “On the other hand, if the central saving act of Christian faith is relegated to the future with the fervent hope that Christ’s resurrection is the pledge of our own and that one day we shall reign with Him in glory, then the risen One is pushed safely out of the present. Limiting the resurrection either to the past or the future makes the present risenness of Jesus largely irrelevant, safeguards us from interference with the ordinary rounds and daily routine of our lives, and preempts communion now with Jesus as a living person. In other words, the resurrection needs to be experienced as present risenness. If we take seriously the word of the risen Christ, ‘Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’ (Matthew 28:20), we should expect that He will be actively present in our lives.” That’s why the new way implies we renew our hearts and minds daily!
Dr. Crabb insists there are two lessons all followers of Jesus have to learn. He wrote, “The first is this: The Spirit of Christ is always nudging us toward the New Way if we’re not on it and always nudging us farther along if we are.” Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us we’re making progress whether we feel like it or not. God doesn’t sleep or take coffee breaks. He’s working on us 24/7, helping us to fan the fire of our core passion – knowing Christ better and consciously attempting to imitate Him in every area of our life. I don’t want to think where or who I’d be if not for the Holy Spirit abiding in me. If I had to rely on my own strength I’d be stranded like a leaky bass boat adrift in a sea of doubt. At the mere hint of an approaching storm I’d go scrambling back to living my life the old way. Faith would be tossed overboard and I’d start frantically rowing, convinced it was up to me alone to save my own skin. And before long my boat and I would be at the bottom of the ocean. Why? Because only God can lead me through the tempests that are bound to smash into my life. The old way is trusting in ourselves. The new way is trusting completely upon the Holy Spirit for divine guidance. He’ll never steer us wrong.
Crabb continued with, “That’s the first lesson. The second is this: My passion to know Christ often seems weaker than my desire for blessings.” If that’s the situation you find yourself in it’ll be impossible to stay on the new way with any amount of consistency. I’ll be honest with y’all. I’m still having to learn the second lesson over and over again. Here’s an illustration. I need to lose about 10 pounds. I know I’d feel better physically. Plus a lot of my nicer shirts wouldn’t fit so snugly. I’ve made “eating less” a resolution many times. Yet at night, while taking in a few TV shows, I’ll get hungry. I know I have a choice between gnawing on some celery sticks or chowing down on rocky road ice cream. My resolve usually goes out the window because the latter is a lot tastier than the former. I want instant gratification. Symbolically, I opt for the old way even though I know it won’t benefit me in the long run. I opt to do things my way because satisfying my in-the-moment core desire is what I want most at that juncture. My decision has consequences.
How frequently do I do the same thing in my spiritual life? Every dang day. Look, I sincerely feel like I’m on fire for Jesus 99% of the time. I love reading my Bible every day. I love going to church. I love reading books by J. I. Packer, Norman Geisler, Philip Yancey, etc. I love that God allows me to lead a Celebrate Recovery meeting several times a month. I love talking to others about what a fantastic renovation Jesus has underway in my life. But then there’s that 1% of the time when I take my eyes off of my Savior and my core desire switches in an instant to pleasure, recognition or feeding a self-centered habit. The “thorn in my side” itches and I scratch it.
Paul wrote about the same tendency I have. “…So that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Paul could’ve done as I do and griped to the Lord, “Say what? That makes absolutely no sense to me at all! How can my weakness be of any use to you or anybody else? That’s nuts!” But Paul didn’t. He was incredibly trusting of God’s will and he remained focused on his calling. He immediately forced his core desire back onto knowing Jesus better no matter how much that infuriating thorn nagged for his attention. Thus Paul’s a mentor to all of us who struggle. He responded to his request being turned down by God with, “So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul wasn’t superhuman. He wasn’t made of iron. He was just like us. Yet he didn’t question God about the ongoing presence/irritation of the thorn. He accepted that God knows best and never brought up his thorn again. I want a faith like Paul’s.
There are two guarantees for Christians. If we live the old way (do A, get B) we might do okay for a while but eventually we’ll be disappointed. Guaranteed. If we live the new way (do A and let God determine whether we need B or not) we’ll still likely stagger through seasons of discouragement but there will come a day when we won’t know anything but fulfillment, elation and wide-eyed wonder. Guaranteed. Paul wrote, “For a person will reap what he sows, because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8). May knowing Christ be our core passion.