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Facing the Pain of Passionate Faith

People tend to consider me a passionate person.  

Maybe that’s why I love the word passion. In English, passion can mean to be fully engaged. The thesaurus lists the opposites of passion as indifference or casual interest. That’s because passion means to be committed with everything you’ve got. If you are passionate about something, all of you is wrapped up in it.  

As we look at our lives, usually the people who have had the most profound impact on us were passionate people. It’s passionate people who give the world symphonies and beautiful pieces of art. Our favorite books were written by passionate people. People of passion invent life-changing tools, discover life-enhancing medicines, and solve human problems. Passionate people aren’t conformers. They aren’t casually interested. They are completely immersed and give from the depths of their entire being.  

Jesus was a passionate person. He didn’t just engage the Pharisees in measured, polite debate; he challenged them, calling them hypocrites and a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 23:33). He didn’t just quietly ask the Temple vendors to reconsider what they were doing; he overturned their tables, raging with a whip that they had turned God’s house into a den of robbers (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-16).  

Jesus was full of passion, which makes following in the Jesus way a passionate endeavor. It isn’t easy. It’s not for wimps. It’s not about celebrating the joy of Easter every Sunday; it’s filled with Maundy Thursdays and Good Fridays.  

We can see the intensity of the Jesus way in Luke 22. Jesus goes with his disciples to the garden to pray. He has finished his last meal with his followers and is in need of some time alone. Jesus asks the disciples to pray that they might not be tempted (or as some translations say, that they might not enter into a time of trial). He then moves off by himself and begins to pray, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine” (Luke 22:42, NLT).  

In his humanity, Jesus was struggling. It was taking everything he had to come to grips with what lay before him. The struggle was great: “He was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44, NLT).  

Following in the Jesus way is not easy. It isn’t about getting what you want—not even for Jesus himself. In the garden, Jesus was pleading with God, “Do you have a ‘Plan B’? Can you think of some other way?” That sounds a lot like most of us. “God, this is what I’m facing; do you have a ‘Plan B’? Can you think of some other future that doesn’t involve having to go through this? Can you take this cup away?”  

So often we want a God who will soften the blow of our failures. I’m sure I am not the only one who has prayed for a life without pain. “Please, God, take this away from me. Protect me and keep me out of harm’s way. Make my children’s lives safe and secure.” But we can’t just celebrate the joy of Sunday and still follow in the Jesus way. We’ve got to experience sleepless nights.  

Jesus was experiencing a sleepless night in the garden. I’ve experienced sleepless nights, but usually I assume it’s because something is wrong. My assumption is that I shouldn’t have sleepless nights. The reality, however, is that following in the Jesus way with passion, becoming a passionate person for Jesus, involves losing sleep.  

As Christ followers, we often have certain preconceived notions about how life is supposed to be: If we do our part and play by the rules, life should turn out a certain way. The disciples felt the same way. They had been following Jesus for three years. They had left their jobs, their homes, everything they had. They had certain expectations about how the future was going to turn out; after all, Jesus was the Messiah. They had witnessed his miracles and healings, they had heard him preach and teach. He was the real deal. Now they were going to Jerusalem for Passover. What an exciting time this would be!  

But then they got this news from Jesus himself: “When we get to Jerusalem . . . the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans” (Mark 10:33, NLT). Great. That’s not what we expected. “They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and kill him” (Mark 10:34, NLT). Wonderful. We can’t wait to get there.  

What happened is not what the disciples expected; and if we didn’t know the story so well, it’s probably not what we would have expected. From the beginning, it stunk. The betrayal stunk; the trial stunk. The disciples did what they never dreamed they would do: desert Jesus in his greatest time of need. To make matters worse, God was silent. Jesus, however, slips something in when he is telling the disciples about their upcoming weekend. He’s almost sneaky in the way he tacks it on at the end: “but after three days [the Son of Man] will rise again” (Mark 10:34, NLT).  

I think most of us are in favor of a God who brings people back from the dead. That’s our kind of God. Our problem is that we don’t always want God practicing on us. We want to skip the pain part. We prefer to pass over the death thing. Let’s just get right on to the eternal life part.  

But that’s not the Jesus way. God doesn’t dispense with death. God resurrects us from it. The truth is that the Jesus way isn’t about God taking pain away from God’s people; it’s about God providing us with strength, courage, and meaning, with abundant life, often in the midst of pain. We prefer to have no doubt, but God doesn’t make our doubt disappear; instead God gives us faith to cover our doubt.