Passion of the Flesh

As we continue to work through Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, we come to the fourth examined cause, Passion.

“Passion” is used here in a way that is lost in today.  We think of passion in terms of romance, but Burroughs employs the old use of the word which suggested a much more consuming desire:  emotions as devoid of reason; an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.  

When James writes of the passions that divide us (James 4:1), the word he uses in Greek is where we get our English word “hedonism,” the pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of everything else.  James says that these passions are the cause of quarrels, fights, and ultimately murder within the church – where we cut one another down with our words and actions.

It’s not just James who speaks so strongly against the passions of the flesh. Throughout the New Testament, these are the adjectives used to describe our passions: dishonorable, sinful, youthful, worldly, human, defiling, sensual, and ungodly.

When we put these passions above everything else, you can see then why Burroughs addresses them as a chief cause for our divisions.  Passions set us on fire.  We insist upon our way, upon our preferences; and when our desires are not met  “our hot passions cause the climate where we live to be like the torrid zone, too hot for any to live near us…”

So then, what is the cure for our worldly passions?  Burroughs offers thee:

  1. Know that God is with us. You probably remember hearing as a child, “Wait till your father gets home.”  Something about the father’s presence corrects a child’s behavior.  In the worst case, it could be a fear his anger, in the best case, a love and desire to honor – whatever the case, knowing the father is near changes us.  Burroughs reminds us our Father is near to us. “God is come among us, we may see the face of God in what he has done for us, and shall we be quarreling before his face?  If we love and honor him, how can we fight amongst ourselves in his presence?” Knowing God is with us, how can we allow our passions to lead us to fighting among ourselves.
  2. Know God has called you to do His will.  Before knowing God and his grace for us in Jesus Christ, we were lost in following the desires of our own hearts, the passion of the flesh.  But in Christ, we have been brought from death to life so that we may live for God’s glory.  He gives us a new will, His will, that we may know Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever.  Rather than continue to be consumed by our own passions, we are to “set our hearts and hands to the work of God – being willing to do His will.”  Is this not what Jesus said, in calling those who would be His disciples, that we are to take up our cross, die to ourselves daily, and follow Him?
  3. Know what Sacrifice Pleases the Lord. We must continually remember the mercy that God has shown us, and give to Him a sacrifice of praise.  Psalm 57:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” If we would honor the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ “we would lay aside our divisions, our frowardness; we would abandon all contention and strife; we would put on [hearts] of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, if any have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, even so do ye.” Later Burroughs writes, “God shows that he can own us, notwithstanding all our infirmities; why should not we own our brethren, notwithstanding their infirmities? Why should our divisions cause us to cast off one another, seeing our divisions have not provoked God to cast us off?”

The fighting and divisions that arise from our pursuit of personal pleasures are a scandal to the Church and to the name of Christ.  “Our hearts have been broken from one another in our unhappy divisions; O that they could break toward one another, in love and tenderness!”

May God continue to root out from us, and from our Churches, those dishonorable, sinful, and worldly passions from us; that we may demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ, and the world may marvel at how we love one another.

SDG

A Definition of Worship

Planning and leading worship services for the church week in and week out can sometimes drain the essence out of worship itself.  Worship becomes something I do, an act of professionalism rather than encounter with my heavenly Father.  As Presbyterians are known for doing things “decently and in order,” our worship often takes on a rehearsed tone, and “passionate worship” is not how visitors would typically describe the service.

So it is that I came upon the following by A.W. Tozer in his book, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship.  May this serve as a corrective understanding for all of us as we prepare to enter into worship again.

A Definition of Worship

First, worship is to feel in the heart. I use that word “feel” boldly and without apology. I do not believe that we are to be a feeling-less people. I came into the kingdom of God the old-fashioned way. I believe that I know something of the emotional life that goes with being converted; so I believe in feeling. I do not think we should follow feeling, but I believe that if there is no feeling in our heart, then we are dead. If you woke up in the morning and suddenly had no feeling in your right arm, you would call a doctor.  You would dial with your left hand because your right hand was dead. Anything that has no feeling in it, you can be quite sure is dead. Real worship, among other things, is a feeling in the heart.

Worship is to feel in the heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe.  Worship will humble a person as nothing else can. The egotistical, self-important man cannot worship God any more than the arrogant devil can worship God. There must be humility in the heart before there can be worship.

When the Holy Spirit comes and opens heaven until people stand astonished at what they see, and in astonished wonderment confess His uncreated loveliness in the presence of that ancient mystery, then you have worship. If it is not mysterious, there can be no worship; if I can understand God, then I cannot worship God.

I will never get on my knees and say, “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I can figure out. That which I can explain will never overawe me, never fill me with astonishment, wonder or admiration. But in the presence of that most ancient mystery, that unspeakable majesty, which the philosophers have called a mysterium tremendum, which we who are God’s children call “our Father which art in heaven,” I will bow in humble worship. This attitude ought to be present in our church today.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was one of the greatest minds that ever lived. When he was only in his teens, he wrote advanced books on mathematics, astonishing people. He became a great philosopher, mathematician and thinker.

One night, he met God, and his whole world was changed. He wrote down his experience on a piece of paper while it was still fresh on his mind. According to his testimony, from 10:30 pm to about 12:30 am, he was overwhelmed by the presence of God. To express what he was experiencing, he wrote one word, “fire.”

Pascal was neither a fanatic nor an ignorant farmer with hayseeds back of his ears. He was a great intellectual. God broke through all that and for two solid hours, he experienced something he could holy characterize as fire.

Following his experience, he prayed; and to keep as a reminder of that experience, he wrote it out: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned.” This was not a prayer for somebody who reads his prayers; this was not formal religious ritual. This was the ecstatic utterance of a man who had two wonderful, awesome hours in the presence of God. “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. God of Jesus Christ… Thy God shall be my God… He is only found by thy ways taught in the Gospel… Righteous Father, the world has not known Thee, but I have known Thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…” And he put an “Amen” after it, folded it up, put it in his shirt pocket and kept it there.

That man could explain many mysteries in the world, but he was awestruck before the wonder of wonders, even Jesus Christ. His worship flowed out of his encounter with that “fire” and not out of his understanding of who and what God is.

Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker House Books) pg. 108-110.