7-13-2 Passionate Christian Living
Often the prophets break off from predicting coming condemnation to plead personally with their hearers to repent [this explains some of the strange shifts of pronouns in the prophets]. This is a prototype for the even more passionate Christian living which we should be experiencing. Take Micah. Chapter 2 is a message of judgment against Israel. And then Micah pleads: “And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob…is it not for you to know [the coming of] judgment?” (3:1). Likewise: “For this will I wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like jackals…at Beth-le-Aphrah have I rolled myself in the dust” (Mic. 1:8,10 RV). Rolling naked in the dust…this was the extent of Micah’s passion for the repentance of his audience. He comes to the point where he would fain make sacrifice for Israel, even to the point of offering his firstborn son, so strongly did he take upon himself the sins of his people. But he tells Israel that even this will be no good; they must repent themselves: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord...shall I come before him with burnt offerings....shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?...what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly...and to humble thyself [in repentance]” (6:6-8). In all this, Micah came close to the spirit of the Father and Son. For the Father would give His firstborn for their sin.
We will appeal to men with conviction, as Isaiah’s heart cried out for Moab like a young heifer about to be slaughtered, feeling for them in what would come upon them, and desperately appealing for their repentance. Because the Moabites would cry out and their voice would be heard, “my heart shall cry out for Moab” (Is. 15:4,5,8). As the Lord Jesus is a representative Saviour, we too must feel the judgment that is to come upon others, and in that sense cry out for them as they will cry out. “Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab” (Is. 16:7)- but Isaiah, feeling for them so strongly, also howled for them; “my bowls shall sound like an harp for Moab” (16:11). And he felt the same for his own people, Israel. He repeatedly pronounces “woe” upon them (Is. 3:9; 5:8,11,18,20,21,22; 8:11), and yet in that very context he can exclaim: “Woe is me” in chapter 6; he identified with them to the point of also feeling unworthy and under woe [in this clearly typifying the Lord’s identity with us]. This level of love inspired Jeremiah to adopt the same attitude (Jer. 48:20,31-34); he too howled for those whose howling in condemnation he prophesied (Jer. 48:31 s.w.). As Moab cried out like a three year old heifer (Jer. 48:34), so did Isaiah for them (Is. 15:5). All this was done by Isaiah and Jeremiah, knowing that Moab hated Israel (Is. 25:10) and were evidently worthy of God’s condemnation. But all the same they loved them, in the spirit of Noah witnessing to the mocking world around him. Our knowledge of this world’s future means that as we walk the streets and mix with men and women, our heart should cry out for them, no matter how they behave towards us, and there should be a deep seated desire for at least some of them to come to repentance and thereby avoid the judgments to come. Passionate Christian living has such witness at its heart. Particularly is this true, surely, of the people and land of Israel. It ought to be impossible for us to walk its streets or meet its people without at least desiring to give them a leaflet or say at least something to try to help them see what lies ahead.
And there are many other Biblical examples of such genuine pain at the lostness of this world, and their refusal of the Gospel’s grace; not least our Lord Himself weeping over Jerusalem, the very prototype of passionate Christian living. Think of how He was angry [i.e. frustrated?] , “being grieved for the blindness of their hearts” (Mk. 3:5). Are we just indifferent or evenly smugly happy that men are so blind…? Or do we grieve about it to the point of angry frustration? Remember how Moses and Paul would fain have given their eternal life for the conversion of Israel, this is how they felt for them. Reflect too again on Jeremiah; how he responds to the prophecy he has to utter against the hated Philistines by begging the Father to limit these judgments, presumably on account of their repentance: “O thou sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? Put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still” (Jer. 47:6). Think too of how he almost interrupts a prophecy he is giving to Israel about judgment to come by appealing for them therefore to repent (Jer. 4:13,14). Our handling of the prophecies of judgment to come should have a like effect upon us: they should inspire us to an inevitable witness. Each of our days cannot be just ‘the same old scene’ when we see the world in this way.
In his time of dying, Stephen saw the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). But about 13 times in the New Testament, the point is made that the Lord sits there, unlike the Mosaic priests who stood (Heb. 10:12). Jesus was passionately feeling for Stephen; and He just as emotionally and passionately feels for us in our struggles. This alone should lift us out of the mire of mediocrity and reboot our passionate Christian living. Prayer will have meaning and power. It won’t just be the repetitious conscience-salver it can descend into.
A window on what communication can be with our creator is provided by considering the ‘imprecatory Psalms’; those where the writer wishes terrible judgments upon his enemies. It is possible to understand these Psalms in terms of the promises to Abraham- that God will curse those who curse the true seed of Abraham. They can therefore be seen to be merely asking for the promises to Abraham to be fulfilled against God’s enemies. But another angle on this problem is to consider how the Psalmists talk to God in a far ‘rougher’ way than we do. They pour out their feelings, their anger and frustration with their enemies, their inability to understand how God is working…and they let it all hang down. They seem to have no reserve with God; they talk to Him as if He is their friend and acquaintance. David pleads with God to ‘avenge my cause’ (Ps. 35:23), he protests how he is in the right and how he longs for God to judge him. And so do the prophets, in the interjections they sometimes make in commentary on the prophecy they have just uttered. The emotion which David often seems to have felt was “Damn these people!”, but he pours this out to God and asks Him to damn them. When we like David feel our enemies are unjust, we can:
1. Seek revenge. But this isn’t a response we can make, Biblically.
2.Deny the feelings of hurt and anger. And yet, they surface somehow. And we join the ranks of the millions of hurt people in this world, who ‘take it out’ in some way on others.
3.Or we can do as David seems to have done. Take these feelings, absolutely as they are, with no rough edges smoothed off them…to God Himself. Pour them all out in prayer and leave Him to resolve the matter.
This latter option is how I understand the imprecatory Psalms. Those outpourings of human emotion and passionate living were read by God as prayers. The writer of Psalm 137, sitting angry and frustrated by a Babylonian riverside, with his guitar hanging on a willow branch, being jeered (“tormented” Ps. 137:3 RVmg.) by the victorious Babylonian soldiers who had led him away captive…he felt so angry with them. Especially when they tried to make him sing one of the temple songs (“sing us one of the songs of Zion”). And, as a bitter man does, his mind went from one hurt to another. He remembered how when Babylon had invaded, the Edomites hadn’t helped their Hebrew brethren (Obadiah 11,12). They had egged on the Babylonian soldiers in ripping down the temple, saying “Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation”. And so in anger and bitterness this Jew prays with tears, as he remembered Zion, “O daughter of Babylon…happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock” (:8,9 RV). God read those angry words as a prayer, and in some sense they will have their fulfilment. For these words are picked up in Rev. 18:8,21 and applied to what will finally happen to Babylon. Her spiritual children will be dashed against the rock of Christ, the stone of Daniel 2:44, at His return. He will dash in pieces the Babylon-led people that oppose Him.
This makes these Psalms a challenge to us, in that they show how our earlier brethren poured out their souls, their anger, their doubts and fears, their joy and exuberance too…to the God who hears prayer, to the God who feels passionately for us, who feels for our feelings, even moreso through our Lord Jesus Christ. And we must ask whether our prayers are of this quality, or whether we have slipped into the mire of mediocrity, the same standard phrases, the same old words and themes… and even worse, could it be that we perceive that God only sees and hears the words we say to Him in formal prayer, and disregards our other feelings and thoughts? Seeing He sees and knows all things, let us therefore pour out all that is within us before Him. And we will find it wonderfully therapeutic when struggling against anger and hurt.
The Power Of Basics
The Lord said that a scribe (one who knows well the Old Testament scriptures) who also knows the Gospel of the Kingdom is like a man who brings out of “his treasure” things new and old (Mt. 13:52). But Jesus had just defined the “treasure” as the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mt. 13:44). If we make that ‘treasure’ our personal treasure, the most valuable thing in our whole being, then out of the basic Gospel that is in our hearts we will bring forth things “new and old”. Our treasure is where our heart is (Mt. 6:21). Having this treasure will inspire passionate Christian living. Yet the treasure is the basic Gospel, i.e., that Gospel lodged in our deepest hearts. The old things of basic certainties; and the new things relating to our increasing appreciation of what they really mean, these will come out of us in our lives and feeling and being. The treasure of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is in our earthen vessels, and it is the basic message which we preach (2 Cor. 4:5-7). So, one source of “new things” comes from sustained meditation upon the fundamentals of our faith, making the treasure we found in a field our personal treasure, our pride and joy.
So the power of our basic Christian doctrines should never cease to inspire us to passionate Christian living. I can testify to this, as can so many who have been baptized even a few years. That Christ really will come, soon; that now is my salvation nearer than when I first believed. That the feet of Jesus of Nazareth will surely stand on this earth again, and His Kingdom be eternally here; that He truly was a man of my passions and nature, and yet overcame. That I and my innate selfishness are the real ‘satan’, not someone or something else. That death is death, that this brief and fragile life is the time to serve the Lord, with no fiery hell beneath us, but instead the sure hope of God’s grace. That through baptism, I truly am part of the seed of Abraham and a partaker in Israel’s Hope. And that by the grace of God’s calling, I am delivered from the fog of error which dogs so many about these things. And that there is, in the end, one body of true believers world-wide believing as I do; that the sun that bids me rest is waking my brethren ‘neath the Western sky, so that the voice of praise is never silent. There are times of total desperation and disappointment with myself, with my nature, with this world, with humanity, with my brethren. In my hard moments, in the hours and days of such utter and essential loneliness, that only the Lord Himself knows through all these, the power of our basic Christian doctrines has revived me, sparked again a light in the black, bringing me to know again the personal presence and power of Jesus my Lord. And it can and will do for you, too. Not for us ‘the same old scene’. Working on the highway, drilling through the hardtop, hour after mindless hour; changing those nappies, preparing the same food at the same times, day after endless day as we take the same route to work each day, walking to the textile mill, across the railroad tracks, boarding the same bus, coming off at exit 42; in all these things we can be more than conquerors. His yoke is easy, His burden light (Mt. 11:30); for all our daily, repetitive work in this world is to be done as unto Him. This is a wonderful, wonderful provision. But not only is the daily grind transformed into His service. Into our otherwise wasted and pointless lives, His life breaks through. His life of unending passion and urgent, feeling concern for the lost; of daily ‘knowing the Father’, of pouring out our unshareable self, our very soul, before Him; of realising time and again the gripping wonder of His grace, and serving therefore and thereby in newness of spirit and passionate Christian living.