Lessons for the first-half crowd
Subject: Fire in the Belly
This is the second in a series of short letters, addressed to what I call, first-half-of-lifer’s.
I grew up watching Twilight Zone and remember one episode that began with a room full of people at a masquerade ball. In his usual creepy voice, Rod Sterling explained that the mask each person wore represented their greatest consuming desire. By shows end, and to the people’s horror, their masks had turned into their own hideous flesh.
We were created with passion, a kind of fire in the belly, and the soul that contains it fights what Paul describes as a battle between spirit and flesh. The lust of the flesh (1 John 2:15) describes the ugly side of passion. But there’s a spiritual side as well, meant to serve us in our desire for a deeper relationship with God. When we ask Him for this passion to pursue him in prayer, the mask of consuming malcontent drops away. Love is more powerful than lust, when it comes to the battle for affection.
Two kinds of passion define our journey; one seductive, and the other mysterious. The former preys on weakness, distilling a restless and roaming heart into a compulsion which will consume. The latter builds upon a blameless heart and finds expression in renewing us from the ‘have to,’ to the ‘want to.’ It’s the difference between a consuming desire and freedom to give and receive love in our walk with God.
So, how does the fire in the belly turn into a healthy passion to pursue God?
First, when we see God as infinitely beautiful. The same power of attraction that young people might have for one another , is embedded in our heart to pursue God. When we pray, we begin to understand that spiritual love can be nurtured in the heart toward the beautiful object of our attraction. We must see our relationship as falling in love with a person, not simply following a creed.
One day on a flight to the Middle East I sat by a Muslim evangelist, and we quickly got into a conversation around our beliefs. He was devout, earnest and good at the defenses for his faith. In the end, I turned the conversation around and talked about falling in love with God. You follow a creed, I said, but I have fallen in love with a Person. He had no more argument. Remember, we do not love for beauty sake, as we might define beauty, but for honor’s sake, as we fear God. Another way to describe that is keeping God as the apple of our eye. ‘Apple’ meaning, as close as the iris is to the eye.
Second, when we believe God is infinitely better. The scriptures talk of God’s bounty as a source of supreme satisfaction for his created ones. When we taste and see the Lord is good, (Psalm 34), our hearts are drawn away from physical images onto the invisible character of God. When in doubt, look at Jesus in the Gospels.
It was told once that an atheist picked up a New Testament and began to read from the gospel of John. He got as far as Jesus being confronted by religious leaders about a woman caught in adultery. The atheist had to close the book. He had fallen in love with Jesus and couldn’t bare to see his new- found hero confronted by this dilemma.
Finally, fire in the belly turns healthy when we follow God infinitely beyond. There is a place where all that can be heard is the beating heart; waiting, watching, and wanting something more tangible than the known. God is always extending an invitation to go there. Will our hearts respond? Spiritual passion will be enough. When we discover that place, a peace settles over us, a filling of spiritual love and liberty, that will win the battles around our heart finding a good and nurturing place in prayer.
When was the last time you replenished your spiritual passion by renewing your spiritual vows?