I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.1
The poem The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost speaks about a person at a crossroads. This sojourner is deciding between two paths that lay ahead — which one should he take? One road was well-worn and often traveled, while the other was overgrown and, as he puts it, “wanted wear.” It was a choice that for him was significant and seemingly final, for he sighs, “Yet knowing how way leads to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
It is my desire today to have us also consider a road less traveled. A road that will make all the difference in our lives. A road that speaks not so much of doing something, but of having something. In my Christian faith journey, I was well versed from Sunday school to Bible college to seminary on how to do things for the Lord — how to serve, how to minister, how to pastor, — but what I most needed and rarely received was the encouragement to desire a passion for the person of Jesus Christ.
To have passion is to have an intense love for someone or something. Passion covers a broad spectrum of feelings that are appropriate to loving God. (In the Bible for example, one can have a deep longing, a holy zeal, an affection or a hunger for the Lord) David expressed his passion for God when he wrote, “As the deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God.” (Psalms 42:1-2)2
It is my belief that there exists in our world a profound hunger for a deep intimacy with God. “The world is perishing,” proclaims the renowned preacher A.W. Tozer, “for lack of the knowledge of God and the church is famishing for want of His presence.”3 I agree with Wesley Duewel in his book, Ablaze For God, when he writes, “It is not enough to be evangelical in faith and heart; we must be utterly possessed by Christ, utterly impassioned by His love and grace ….” To this passion, I call your attention. I, like Robert Frost, invite you on the road less travelled.
Martha & Mary: Choosing What Is Better
In the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel we have Jesus with His disciples coming to a village where a woman named Martha lived. The text says that Martha opened her home to Jesus. She invited Him and His disciples to a meal and most likely offered them some rooms in which to spend the night.
While in Martha’s home, Jesus begins to converse with His disciples and whoever else happened to be present. Luke tells us that Martha had a sister, Mary and that Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what [Jesus] said.”
As the story unfolds, Martha becomes distracted by all the preparation that had to be looked after to ensure her guests would be comfortable and fed. As she is, no doubt, scurrying to get food on the table, she happens to notice that Mary, instead of helping her with supper, is with Jesus, listening to His words.
Obviously quite upset at having to do all the work herself, Martha marches into the room where Jesus was and tells the Lord, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her to help me!”
Now, I want us to step back from the story a moment. Why was Mary listening at Jesus’ feet and not hosting alongside her sister? Why was Mary in the presence of the Lord when her cultural upbringing demanded that she should be in the kitchen helping?
And what about Martha? Martha appears to be a woman who valued serving. She seems to be a hard working, thoughtful woman who believed a hearty meal, clean clothes and a tidy home were truly next to godliness. She was a good woman, a godly woman and no doubt had a very clear understanding of what a woman in her time was and was not to do when guests were in one’s home. Seeing Mary at the feet of the Lord and not doing what was expected of her, appears to have driven a burr under Martha’s temperament so that she demanded Jesus intercede on her behalf.
Jesus’ response to Martha was quite surprising. He didn’t tell Martha, “You’re right, Mary should be acting like a good host.” He didn’t tell Mary, “Woman, you should be about serving your Lord and not sitting around here listening to me.” Rather, Jesus told Martha, “… you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
“Mary has chosen what is better” — Mary chose to be with the Lord, to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His words, despite conflicting cultural demands and ideology, despite family expectations concerning the role of women in that time — her cultural ‘place’ was to be in the kitchen, but her desire was to be in the Lord’s presence.
Martha chose to do things for Jesus, but it wasn’t what Jesus said was needed at this time. Mary sought to be in the presence of the Lord and she did what the Lord said was needed, was better and would not be taken away.
Will we choose what is better? We have a great opportunity to do wonderful things for the Lord: evangelize our neighbors, fellowship with other Christians, become involved in street ministry, lead a prayer group, teach Sunday School and the list goes on, but let us be ever so careful that we do not place doing things for the Lord above desiring a passion for Him.
In his book Experiencing God, Henry T. Blackaby writes, “God is far more interested in a love relationship with you then He is in what you can do for Him.” Charles Colson, President of Prison Fellowship Ministries, stated, “God doesn’t want our success, he wants us.”4 Sadly, for many Christians today that ‘love relationship’ is the road less traveled. We are regularly drawn into relating to God with our hands (by what we do for Him) and shy away from relating to God with our heart. We tend to journey upon the more beaten trail of doing for God and neglect the path of simply being with Him.
Mary & Martha: A Beautiful Thing
The story of Mary and Martha continues in the Mark 14 and the John 12. Here a celebration dinner was being held in honor of Jesus and both Mary & Martha were present.
In John’s narrative we are told only one thing about Martha: that she served. This godly woman who had the heart of a servant attended Jesus and the other guests present at this dinner. However, both Mark and John record of Mary that she took very expensive perfume, poured it upon the Lord’s feet and wiped His feet with her hair. Her action brought her instant indignation from the disciples and others in the room. “Why waste a good year’s wages on perfume for the Lord when the poor need to be fed?” was the rebuke of her peers.
In Mark we read the Lord’s response: “…She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:6-9)
“… She has done a beautiful thing to me.” We all have passions. For some of us it is our career or our business, or simply making money. For some it is raising the perfect family, a sport or a hobby, but we all have something that moves us to sacrifice greatly and strive wholeheartedly. Our challenge is to ask if we have a passion for Christ like our passion for something other than the Lord.
Mary’s passion for Christ led her to sacrifice a year’s worth of wages in order to bless the Lord in this manner. Mary humbled herself in front of family, friends and community by washing the Lord’s feet with her hair because of her passion for Jesus. Martha served, but Mary did a beautiful thing.
In Mary we witness a person who saw past the expectations and traditions of her community, friends and family — she saw past the stereotype of who she was supposed to be and what her role in life should be — she saw Jesus and nothing else seemed to matter. She poured out extravagant perfume on the Lord because her passion for Him as the Son of God was extravagant. Is ours?
Mary was a person who would have poured out her life for Jesus. Who of us today desires a passion for Christ — a passion so deep that we would not think twice of pouring our entire life out for Him? Indeed, it is a road less traveled by. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9)
In his book Surprised By The Power Of The Spirit, Jack Deere writes, “Don’t be passive about acquiring passion for the Son of God. Make it the focus of your life. Put your eyes on the Son of God and leave them there (Hebrews 12:2), and you will find yourself becoming like Him. You will find yourself falling in love with Him.”5
Passion For Christ
All of us I’m sure have heard of Tiger Woods, Donovan Bailey and Wayne Gretzky. Beside being famous sports figures, what is one of the key things they all have in common? Isn’t it that they all love their sport? These gifted athletes have a passion for their game. Ultimately, their passion did not come from watching others play the sport or from reading about the sport or even in learning the rules of the game or the mechanics of play. Their passion for their individual sport grew out of their presence and participation on the golf course for Tiger Woods, on the track for Donovan Bailey, and on the ice for Wayne Gretzky. Their passion grew out of “being there.” The same is true for Christians. “Intimacy with Jesus,” writes Jack Deere, “being with him, always produces passion for him.”6
Mary knew and acted on that premise. Our world longs for the blessing of Christians who have a passion for Christ. Such Christians bring a breath of fresh ‘divine air’ into an otherwise stale worldview. Regrettably, far too many believers who start out with a great passion for Christ at their conversion end up having an stale and barren relationship with Him. Saved? Yes. Joyful? Sometimes. Passionate? Hardly.
Tozer, reflecting upon the lack of a holy desire for God in the Christian community said, “It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.”7 What are they starving for?
“In this closing decade of the twentieth century,” contends author Brennan Manning, “what separates the committed [believer] from the uncommitted is the depth and quality of our love for Jesus Christ.”8
Allow me to divert your attention to an example of Manning’s contention. In John 21:15-19, we witness a meeting between Peter and the resurrected Jesus. Peter, as we know, had denied knowing the Lord three times shortly before the Lord’s crucifixion. He was a devastated man after that day knowing he was unable to stand the test of faithful commitment to His Lord.
During this first one-on-one reunion between Jesus and Peter, the Lord could have said many things to this fallen disciple. He could have scolded Peter or buried him with a barrage of questions over his failure to remain true to Him. Instead, Jesus asks a poignantly crucial, yet simple question of Peter: “Peter, do you love me?” The Lord asks this question not once, but three times — “Peter, do you love me?” It appears, that for Jesus, what was of utmost importance was to plumb the depth of Peter’s passion for Him as Saviour and Lord. The answer to that inquiry was vital in order for Peter to take the next step in his journey with the Lord. Today, Jesus is still asking that question. He is asking that question of us: “Do you love me?”
Ultimately, I do not believe that God desires our conformity. Rather, He desires our heart. For if we have a love for God, we will also demonstrate uncompromising obedience toward Him. Our challenge is to desire a deep passion for the Lord. To have that aim, I believe Jesus would say, is what is beautiful and what will not be taken away.
A few years ago a young monk came to Mother Teresa stating that his vocation was to work for lepers. “I want to spend myself for the lepers,” he said. She looked at him and replied, “Your vocation is not to work for lepers; your vocation is to belong to Jesus.”9 Our vocation is to belong to Jesus. Our cardinal calling is to belong to Christ. At Mother Teresa’s funeral it was said of her that her whole life was given to loving Jesus. Mother Teresa’s life testified to the reality that a passion for people comes out of a passion for Jesus.
How does one attain a passion for Christ? Is there a formula? Are there steps? In my study of scripture, I am led to believe that there is nothing special one needs to do, no secret methodology. Twelve biblical passages10 reveal the answer and all of them can be summarized by the Lord’s own words in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Ask, knock and seek. Do we desire to have a passion for the Lord, a passion that King David was said to have had (1 Samuel 13:14); a passion that Paul proclaim-ed? Note Paul’s words to the believers in Philippi: “For to me to live is Christ….But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…(Philippians 1:21; Philippians 3:7-9).”
If our longing is to have a passion for Christ that David, Paul and Mother Teresa had, then we need to both seek it and ask God for it. Philosopher William James said, “In some people religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever. “Jesus did not endure the shame of the cross to hand on a dull habit. (If you don’t have the fever, …, a passion for God and his Christ, …, fall on your knees, and beg for it; turn to the God you half believe in and cry out for his baptism of fire.)”11 We need far more believers in our time falling to their knees praying for a Christ-centered passion.
When was the last time we asked to have a passion for Christ? When was the last time we prayed, “Lord give me the passion to be like you?” Is this not the first thing in our Christian experience that we should be praying for? Pray for a passion for Christ.
That Has Made All The Difference
As Christians, we need to know the impulse behind the outworking of our faith? What is it that moves us to serve Christ? Many Christians diligently serve the Lord, but how many serve out of a passion for Him? How is it with us? Will we be Christians who serve out of a rigid call to duty or will we serve out of a passion for Jesus? Remember the Lord’s own words when asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38).
The greatest commandment is not to serve the poorest of the poor (even though that is a commendable Christ-like desire); it is not to be a proficient and caring pastor (even though that is a splendid goal); it is not even to be deeply spiritual (even though that is a godly pursuit). No, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord.
Think for a moment about Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Although its original focus was to have believers recognize that they need to have a love for others as their prime motivation in doing good deeds, consider for a moment if we place this text in the context of our discussion on the need to have a love (passion) for God as the impulse behind our servanthood: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [for God], I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love [for God], I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love [for God], I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).” Paul’s words may bring fresh light upon Jesus’ teaching that the greatest command is to love God.
Mary chose what was better: she chose intimacy with Jesus over the expectations of her culture and her family. Mary had a passion for the Lord — a passion that Jesus called beautiful. Desire a passion for Christ, for if we do, we will have chosen that which is better and it, too, will make all the difference.
1Robert Frost, Poetry For Young People New York: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.; 1994, p. 21.
2Jack Deere, Surprised By The Power Of The Spirit Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House; 1993, p. 192.
3Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit Of God Camp Hill: Christian Publications Inc.; 1982, p. 38.
4Charles Colson, Loving God (quoted out of Christian Reader July/August 1985; p. 81).
8Brennan Manning, The Signature Of Jesus Sisters: Multnomah Books; 1996, p.8.
9Colson, Charles Loving God Grand Rapids: Zondervan; 1987, p. 126.
10Matthew 6:33; Matthew 7:7,Matthew 7:11; Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; John 14:13; John 15:7,John 15:7; John 16:23; James 4:2; Hebrews 11:6; 1 John 3:21-22.
I shall be telling this with a sigh