Passion: Missional Fuel

Is it just me or does it seem like followers of Jesus are subtly expected to be devoid of passion?  There are times when those of us who are bent toward passion are told things like this: “tone it down,” “cool off,” and “just get over it already.”

But is this fair?  Is this good?  Is this healthy?

Isn’t their a place for passion in the life of a follower of Jesus?  Isn’t passion the exact thing we need to fuel our missional efforts?

In order to answer some of these questions let’s look at the life of Jesus in John 2.13-25.

Passion in Jesus’ Life

I’m writing this blog from a Starbucks.  I know, I know…how cliche!  But that’s just the truth.  And while sitting here quietly drinking my venti black coffee, I heard a man talking about Jesus.  He referred to Jesus like this: “A short, long-haired, big-nosed, bearded, contemplative hippy.”

Does this description sound familiar to you at all?  It certainly does to me.  I grew up in a church culture which was influenced by the Jesus Movement of the 1970s.  And the picture of Jesus advanced by the Jesus Movement was that of a hippy religious leader who said some esoteric truths from time to time.

But where’s the passion?  When I think of a hippy, passion is one of the last words that comes to mind (unless, of course, by passion “free love” is meant!).  But the kind of burning in the gut that causes one to take strong and even unpopular stands usually doesn’t mesh well with the Jesus-is-a-hippy idea.

However, even a surface reading of Jesus’ life will show something different than the Jesus Movement’s caricature.  In the Gospels we meet a Jesus bubbling over with passion.

Passion in John 2

John 2.13-25 is one of the best places to see Jesus’ passion.  In this section of John’s Gospel we see Jesus going to Jerusalem for Passover.  When he gets to the temple, the house of God, he finds the courts full of people selling animals to be sacrificed and money-changers who are exchanging Rome’s coins for money acceptable at the temple.

This sight makes Jesus angry.  John doesn’t use the word “angry” in this passage, but it seems pretty clear.  Why else would Jesus make a whip (John 2.15)?  This wasn’t just some passing frustration.  He saw something that angered him and he spent the time to make a whip.  That’s passion that was oozing out of Jesus’ pores!

So Jesus goes back and drives the animals out of the temple courts and overturns the money-changers’ tables.  He then says to them, “Get all your stuff, and haul it out of here! Stop making My Father’s house a place for your own profit!” (The Voice translation).

Then some people who were observing Jesus’ behavior became confused and probably frustrated.  They have a verbal exchange in which Jesus foreshadows his death and resurrection.

But what made Jesus angry?  What ignited his passion?

The Cause of Jesus’ Passion

Jesus is obviously angry that people are turning the temple, a place in which people are supposed to be directed toward God, into a marketplace.

There’s has been much written about this passage in John 2, and many scholars, pastors, and authors point to the fact that the animal sellers and money-changers were likely engaged in price-gouging.

Think about it.  It’s Passover time and people from all over the region are coming to Jerusalem to worship.  A central part of that worship is animal sacrifice (sorry PETA!).  So the demand for animals is really high and the supply is controlled by the sellers.  What does that equal?  Extraordinarily high prices.

The same factors likely influenced the money-changers.  They knew they could adjust the rates of exchange in their own favor and no one could do anything about it.  The temple only accepted a certain kind of money, so, again, the demand is high and the supply is controlled.  Their rates likely skyrocketed!

And while some of the people who came to the temple could probably afford the ridiculous prices since they were wealthy, most people couldn’t.  Most people had to save all year in order to attend a festival in Jerusalem like Passover.  So, much like modern-day payday loan businesses, it was the poor who were taken advantage of the most by these folks in John 2.

Here’s my contention: Jesus passion in this passage was fueled by his anger that a place intended to point people to God was overrun by people trying to make a profit on backs of the poor.

Passion Is Okay

After Jesus goes on his rampage in the temple, his disciples remember Psalm 69.9 “Zeal for you [God’s] house will consume me.”  His disciples understand what Jesus is up to, at least in part.  I’m sure they were confused by his comments about “destroying this temple” but they understood his passion for the sanctity of the temple.  In fact, that was likely a common conception of how the messiah, the promised Jewish savior, would behave.

So Jesus’ passion lined up with his disciples’ understanding of Scripture.  And it made sense in it’s context, specifically regarding the taking advantage of the poor through price-gouging.  In other words, Jesus’ passion was okay.  It was acceptable.  It was viewed by some (but not all) as righteous and justified.

Therefore, our passions can be okay too.

What makes us angry?  If it’s something that is selfish at its core, then you should try to fight against it.  But if it’s something that is more akin to Jesus’ passion, then let it lead you.

And what was Jesus’ passion like?  It was concerned about God getting his due glory and about the poor being taken advantage of.

Are our passions ignited by these same sorts of things today?

This is just me — but I doubt that our anger over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays!” fits this definition very well.  Neither does our anger at the fact that “that kind of person” is moving into our neighborhood or coming to our worship services.  And our passion about the style of worship we prefer certainly doesn’t fit that well either.

There are plenty of things in our world that do match up well with the passion of Jesus.  Here are a few: Concern that our churches point people to God and not to a generic American ideal; Passion for the proper and right treatment of the underprivileged and marginalized in our society; and Anger toward those who take advantage of the poor, especially if done under God’s banner.

But Passion Can Be Costly

Check this out: the Latin root for the word “passion” — passio — means “suffering.”

Friends, there’s a link between our passion and suffering.  Jesus highlighted it in this passage.  He predicted his death and ultimate resurrection.  This is why a story about the crucifixion of Jesus is typically entitled or labeled as a “Passion of Christ,” like the Mel Gibson movie.

So it should come as no surprise that when we let godly passion exude from us that suffering may be in our future.  People won’t always understand, just like some of the Jewish leaders in John 2 didn’t.

But passion that is from the Lord will lead true followers of Jesus to greater understanding, just as it did in John 2.  It will be focused on God and his glory and on preventing people from taking advantage of others.

And it will often lead to suffering.

Jesus never promised to lead us into the easy life.  That’s the American Dream!  Jesus promised to be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28.20) as we follow him, where ever that might lead.


What are you passionate about?  Does it line up with Jesus’ passion that we see in John 2?  Will you fan the flame of your passion even if it leads to suffering?  Will you let righteous passion fuel your missional efforts?

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

5 Suggestions for Better Post Worship Service Conversations

Post-Worship Conversations Done Poorly

After attending worship services for over 35 years, I’ve noticed a few things that attenders do poorly when having conversations afterward.  See if any of these comments ring a bell for you:

  • The service was too long.
  • It was too short.
  • The sermon was boring.
  • The sermon was over my head.
  • The sermon was more style than substance.
  • The sermon was too personal.
  • The sermon wasn’t applicable enough.
  • I wish that other pastor that I like better had preached.
  • I didn’t like the number of hymns that we sang.
  • I didn’t like how many worship songs we sang.
  • I would prefer a more traditional service.
  • I would prefer a more contemporary service.
  • The kids in the audience were too loud.
  • The worship leader talked too much.
  • The prayers were too long.
  • There wasn’t enough praying.
  • We stood too much.
  • We sat for too long.
  • There were too many announcements.
  • There’s weren’t enough announcements.
  • Giving was too much of a focus.
  • We weren’t encouraged to worship during the offering.
  • I wish that they played the organ.
  • I wish that there were more guitars.
  • I wish the worship team was larger.
  • I wish that the drums were louder.
  • I hate drums in worship services.
  • I prefer a rock band.
  • I prefer the choir.
  • Etc…

Do any of these statements sound familiar?  Do people you ride in the car with or go to lunch with say things like this?  More importantly, do you?  Do I?

Friends, comments like these are signs that we’re being more consumeristic than we might want to admit.  We’re treating our worship services like vendors who distribute religious goods and services.  If one vendor isn’t meeting our needs, then we’ll complain about it.  After a certain amount of time, we’ll switch to a new vendor that can better suit our needs.  Then complain about it…then switch…then complain…etc.

We’re all aware that this isn’t a good scenario, so what kinds of conversations could we have instead?  Are there ways to do this better?

Post Worship Service Conversations Done Better

I’m sure that there are a thousand ways to have better conversations after worship services.  Here are five.

  1. Focus less on my own preferences and more on what I learned, how I was convicted, or what my take away was. Many of the comments above are really selfish at their core.  They’re about me and my preferences; about my criticisms and critiques.  But it’s not possible (or advisable) to avoid talking about myself, so it might be better to discuss with friends and family after a worship service the ways I can grow as a result of what I experienced.  And if we all did this, then we would be more like communities of learners and less like communities of selfish little tyrants.
  2. Talk less about music and musical preferences and talk more about what it was like to encounter God with my community of faith. Our age-old debates about musical style are getting, well, old.  The conversations are really more about personal preferences and/or generational divides than about worshiping God.  So instead of complaining about the mandolin, the organ, the number of singers, etc., I should focus on what it was like to culminate my week of worship with communal worship.  How did I experience God as we worshiped together?  This will require me actually living a life of worship instead of pinning all my worship needs on the worship service and worrying less about my preferences and more about encountering God!
  3. Have fewer conversations about the people leading worship and more conversations about me and my community in light of the worship service. After a worship service conversations often focus in on people who were leading worship — what they were doing, how they were doing it, how long they did it, what they wore when they were doing it (especially if they are women), etc.  Now in my innermost self I know that all of these things are superficial and they reveal more about me when I complain about them than they do the people I’m complaining about.  Instead of focusing on the people leading worship, it would be better for me to think about how my community and I can be changed because we were led in worship.  This shift can do a world of good!
  4. Discuss what I learned about God or what I was reminded about God. Ultimately our worship services should be centered on God, so why would our conversations after a worship service not also be centered on him?  What about God was I reminded of during this worship service?  What about God did I learn for the first time?  How do I want to worship God more with my life in light of what I learned about him?  What part of God’s mission in this world was I reminded about and how can I help with that?  I’m convinced that our experiences in worship services would be better if we knew that our conversations afterward were going to be filled with questions like these!
  5. Have “so what” and “what if” conversations. Lastly, it would be good to let the content and experience of the worship service set in and begin to make a difference in my life.  While most of my conversations after a worship service tend to be critical in one way or another, they could be more focused on the continued impact of what I just experienced.  I think two questions help accomplish this best: 1) So what?  In light of what I heard this morning, so what should I do now?  What in my life needs to change and how am I going to go about changing it? And 2) What if?  What if we all did a better job of living out what we heard this morning?  How would the world be different?  How would it impact our efforts to speak and embody the good news of Jesus with our friends and neighbors?


What do you think?  Are there other ways that we can improve our post worship service conversations?  Let me know in the comments below!


Side note — If any of us have what we feel are legitimate complaints or issues with the worship services we attend, perhaps it would be better to have some conversations with the people who plan the worship services than complaining with our friends and family.  Just a thought!  🙂