Our faith is sustained when we live with a life-giving passion.
We’re talking about this idea of sustaining a life of faith and what it looks like to keep going in life. Passion seems to be a key ingredient. Faith is sustained when we discover a life-giving passion. When we are able to discover, cultivate, and keep it, there is an enormous amount of power that flows. A passion that gives us the ability to remain resilient in the face of resistance, obstacles, or challenges that will inevitably come. We know passion is one of those things that has an amazing ability to transform a life. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around people who are more passionate than yourself. We may be those people that like to lower others’ passion. We may be surrounded by people whose gift is to lower the passion in the room.
There are some people that seem like they have the gift of elevating others to their realm of reality. It’s an amazing thing when we expose ourselves to it. As I said, I had the opportunity to go down to LA for a number of days for a conference in which there were people who are creative, artistic, and in different spheres of influence. There were certainly some pastors as well. The conversation was about how we intersect life, creativity, and faith. In the midst of this conference, on a Friday morning, they said, “You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to have a private lesson of SoulCycle available to anybody who wants to go.
I saw those pop up around the city. I’d never been to one. I decided with my buddy to go. I didn’t get in but was on the waiting list. We decided, “Let’s go. What time is it? It’s 7:00 AM.” We make our way there. It seems, as people are going into the SoulCycle building, like everybody is a professional athlete. I didn’t get the memo on that one. I’m already feeling a little nervous when I step in. I’m used to biking from place to place. I don’t feel trapped in the room as if I was being observed by the person behind me, to the right or left, or getting to witness an athlete in front of me just dominate. I’m not used to that. I was feeling a little insecure. I remember making my way in there and was told, “You got in. You got bike 41.” That would be useful if the bikes had numbers on them, but they didn’t. It’s like bike 41 and I’m looking around, and everyone’s like, “Man, who’s this guy?”
I make my way to the bike. As I make my way, I click in, and automatically my fear of feeling trapped increases. The music starts playing and a woman walks in. I don’t know if you know who this is, but her name is Angela Davis. She’s one of the key people, teachers for SoulCycle. She’s different in the sense that she has integrated what she does with her faith. She walks in, I’m feeling nervous, but my insecurities were overcome by her passion. As she walked in, the music was playing and she started dancing, which I wish I could model, but I can’t. Just imagine somebody dancing. A woman dancing who’s fully alive, and owning this place. Angela walks in dancing, and she says, “All right, everybody, you thought you came to a cycling class. You came to church.” I thought, “Wow. Okay.”
Angela says, “All right, we need privacy. Let’s turn off the lights.” The lights turn off. I thought, “I don’t mind that, I don’t want anyone else witnessing my lack of physical strength.” She said as we were sitting there, “Close your eyes.” Okay. “Now everyone wants no resistance when they’re cycling, but listen, you need resistance. You need it. It sustains you. If you have no resistance, you’re going to try to walk on water, and we all know you’re not Jesus. So turn that dial up.” We turn it, the music starts, and she says, “Now, I want you to imagine your life. Where are you in your life right now? I want you to imagine you’re on a mountain. I want you to imagine that this mountain is your life and you need to conquer it. I want you to start pedaling.” We start pedaling and five minutes in, this is inspiring. 20 minutes in, I’m thinking, “Why?” My body is wondering the same thing.
Angela gets us off the saddle and says, “Turn it up, turn the resistance up, and close your eyes. Imagine this mountain. What is it that you need a climb? What is it that you need to overcome? What is it that’s pushing you down? Where do you want to camp out? No camping out here.” Then she starts reading scripture. She starts with, “I understand some of us may not be necessarily in a journey of faith yet.” She starts speaking of the promises of God and of why we should never quit because he never quits on us. She encourages us to keep going. Half an hour in, and I’m off the saddle. I’ve been off the saddle for who knows how long. My legs are wondering why I refuse to use this seat. But my soul started playing tricks on me and telling me, “You can do it.” My mind started saying, “You can continue.” And she would say, “Now put that resistance up.” My hand would say, “No, don’t make me.” But everything inside of me would say, “Let’s do it.”
We got through the entire hour. I tell you right now, I should have a chair, my legs are still asking why. She was so passionate about what she loves. Angela decided to intersect her faith into cycling and it elevated the entire room. I’m not passionate about Soul Cycling. I’m somewhat passionate about avoiding, but there was something there. I found myself ignited by her fire, in the best of ways. I think about this because I think many of us do have things we care about. We have areas in our lives, in which we are ignited by something. Someone gets us out of bed, into our day, and into the struggle of life. We admire when somebody is walking through their lives and circumstances with this amazing amount of strength and power. We admire it. Certainly, some of us would long for that to become a part of how we behave and live.
I discovered something about this idea of passion. It’s somewhat mysterious because in the time of thinking, praying, and reading on this, it seems many people know how to continue a passion. Many people know how to feed something that already exists or how to fuel it so that it would not die away. Very few people know how to speak into creating a passion. What do you do when it’s not existing? Or when it seems to be dying and no matter what else is going on, nothing is re-igniting? What do you do?
It seems to touch on a mysterious quality of what it is like to be human. I want to suggest, in our time here, that when we talk about starting, creating, or discovering what awakens our soul, that we are edging into the realm of the spiritual and mystical. We have so many access points to knowledge, experiences, people, and all kinds of different things. All we need to do is tap into some sort of computer and it is available. It’s there. What we don’t have access to, that none of that has really seemed to be able to unlock, is the key to motivation. How do we find that? How do we sustain that?
This is the very thing that I believe the prophet Elijah wanted to speak about because he was speaking to a group of people who, in many ways, had lost their passion. If you open up your handout, we’ll just walk into this together. It’s in a time in Israel’s history in which they had not just lost their passion, but they lost their ability to connect to the one who produces life. Elijah ended up stepping into the human scene here with Israel. He said to them, “I want you who have forsaken the one who actually produces life, awakens your soul. You decided to pursue every other channel that is able to do it. Now, I want you to do something. Let’s gather at this place called Mount Carmel. I want you to bring what you say produces results. I will bring who I think produces results, and we’ll have a comparison of who actually shows up.”
Everyone came together. We’re told Israel, the leaders, and the people group are there. Mount Carmel is in the northern part of Israel. We’re told that Elijah gathers everyone and they go through their ritual. They go through their religious forms and nothing happens. Eliza steps in and says, “You had your shot.” In verse 30, “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me.’ All the people came near to him and he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took 12 stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came saying, ‘Israel shall be your name.’ With the stones, he built an altar in the name of the Lord. He made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.” We’re told Elijah, as he steps into this place, ends up repairing the sacred space, where he would call upon God. In that day and age, Elijah was a prophet. or a spokesman for God. The idea was that prophets would go into different regions of their people. In a very public setting, they would create an altar where heaven and earth are able to meet. This altar was significant in that he would get 12 stones that were not touched by human hands and make this altar. Each stone represents one of the tribes of Israel. Elijah makes this altar and digs a trench around the altar enough for it to create a moat. As he’s doing this, he is creating a picture of a location where God is able to meet and connect with real people. There’s this intersection of the physical and the unseen.
As Elijah is creating this altar, he’s restoring it. We’re told in verse 33, “He put the wood in order and he cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering on the wood.’ He said, ‘Do it a second time.’ They did it a second time. He said, ‘Do it a third time.’ They did it a third time. The water ran around the altar and filled the trench with water.” It’s an interesting circumstance because what Elijah normally would have done is barbecued the meat as an expression of worship to God. Then the people gathered, because they agreed with this expression of worship, and would partake of the meal. But Elijah does something very different. We’re told that he cuts the sacrifice of the bull. He puts it on the fire. In the midst of a three-year-long drought, he asked those who were serving with him, “I want you to fill these three jars. I want you to go down to the sea, the Mediterranean sea, and fill them. I want you to bring them back. I want you to pour it over the sacrifice.” They did it. He says, “Now, I want you to do that a second time.” They did it all a second time, and then a third time, enough for that altar to become an overflowing source of wet, drenched meat, on wood, with the stones and a moat created around.
We say, “Why would he do that?” We’re not told. We’re just simply told that he drenches the sacrifice with water, making it harder to ignite. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like your passion has ever been given a nice wet blanket. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a conversation in which you are sharing your heart with somebody and rather than fueling your dream, there is a snuffing of it. I don’t know if some of us here even now are in a season of life that is challenging so the last thing we would feel is passion. At best, we would say we’re discouraged. At worst, we would say we’re completely hopeless. The challenges are so severe, so extraordinary. We would say, “It doesn’t exist in me.” I don’t know if anyone here is in that place, where it seems like your life is so discouraging, and the passion that has once existed in your soul is all but gone. Elijah was in the midst of a people group who was in that place. Rather than create the perfect circumstance for this sacrifice to be awakened once again, he does the exact opposite. It’s almost as if he is making a statement. If the stones of the altar represented the nation of Israel and were drenched with something that is not combustible, then it represented the soul of Israel.
It’s an amazing thing because here is the conundrum: we want to manufacture perfect conditions for our dreams and passions. We desire so much to create the conditions where we may get closer to a place of seeing something ignite. Elijah says, “No, no, no, no. That’s not real life.” Real-life seems to do the exact opposite. It seems to put hurdle after hurdle, after obstacle, in the way of what we want to see come alive. Drench the fire three times. Make it impossible for that to catch on fire, because, “You want the perfect environment.” Elijah is saying, “You want it.” You want the right people, the right timing, the right resources, the right access through the right network. We want the right job, the right vocation. We want the right girlfriend. We want the right boyfriend. We want the right spouse. We want the right family. We want the right resources, everything we want. We want the right education, the right location, the right city, the right time, and all of the things that we desire for something to come alive. We want everything to be perfect.
I remember when I was working with youth years ago, and one of the hardest places to be able to speak to was this undeniable reality that youth longed to be the right teen. It doesn’t seem to go away. Do you know what? It’s infiltrated into every season of life. We long to have the perfect marriage and family. We want to have the right and perfect set of circumstances in our lives so that what we represent is actually really what we are. Elijah seems to be saying, “Rather than ensuring this sacrifice can cook, I want to focus on setting up obstacles, roadblocks, hurdles, and challenges that reflect the reality of life. Because if God is going to give somebody a holy fire in their soul, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. It doesn’t matter what the environment looks like. If he wants something to be awakened, it’ll catch.
Elijah steps into this moment, and says, “The time of the offering of the oblation comes.” In verse 36. “Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘Oh Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, Lord. Answer me, that these people may know that you, Lord, are God. That you have turned their hearts back once again to the one who gives life.” The idea is. Elijah restores the sacred. He sets the sacrifice on the altar and calls on God. This is perhaps, in my opinion, the scariest point in this entire account. Elijah took enormous risks, worked incredibly hard, and gathered many people around him. He did everything he had control over, let it be, and took the risk. God, you’re going to show up.
Why does Elijah do this? He says, “I have done these things at your word,” in response to God. I’m tempted and would love to be able to say to you that as long as what we do is in response to what we sense God asking of us, he will show up in the way we expect. But that’s not true. There are times in our lives when we do something that we feel is a response to Him and He doesn’t show up in the way we expect. What is the key to generating something that we can never create ourselves? I’d like to suggest it had very little to do with the words that Elijah spoke. It had to do with the fact that prayer, particularly prayers that sustain our passion or create passion, is really not declaring something about God. They’re really declaring something about us.
What Elijah was declaring was not anything new about God. He was declaring and modeling for all those who saw him was essentially, “God, I am here. I’m here. I’m fully here. I’m not keeping anything back. I’ve put myself on the line. I’ve gathered everybody here. I’m here for you with everything I have. I’m going to lay distractions down. I’m going to lay out other things that may pull me down. I’m going to lay my anger, resentment, and doubt down as best I can. But to the best of my ability, I am here,” which is essentially what we’re told when Jeremiah said this, “Listen, tell my people this.” God said “You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart. It was a declaration. If you make yourself fully present to me, you will discover I was always there. It’s been said that God is always more ready to answer our prayer than we are to utter. If God truly exists, then it’s not really about whether or not God will show up as much as it is about whether or not we are willing to show, to be present and fully available. Elijah says, “I’m here, God. I ask you to answer my prayer, not because I doubt whether or not you’re here, but that everyone around me, who doesn’t seem to know you or has forgotten you, may witness you exist.
Verse 38 says, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, and the dust. It licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces. They said, ‘The Lord, he is God. He is God.'” This miraculous point in which the sacrifice was overcome by God, in Israel’s history becomes a moment of national remembrance, by which God answered with a life-giving fire. A thousand years after that moment, it would be almost as if it was foreshadowing a thousand years. It was a group of people who were terrified and scared. They gathered in an upper room, and even in their fear and discouragement, they decided to make themselves present with God.
We’re told in Acts 2, “This gathering was met. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting and divided tongues.” This is the best way Dr. Luke can describe it. He says, “I don’t know how else to describe it, except that it looked like flames appeared to them and rested on each one of them. It looked like the way it’s been described to me is that it was almost like there was something that was invisible, became visible, looked like a flame, and entered those people’s souls.”
The reality is that before this moment, this group of people were extremely afraid and terrified, thinking their movement was over. After this moment, this group of people transformed into a group of people who were extremely bold, courageous, and stepped out of that safe upper room into hostile ground and spoke of the one whose love will never die. They ended up speaking and doing in the name of Jesus what they would never have imagined being capable of doing before passion was awakened in their soul. When we talk about passion and fire, if it comes from God, it always produces life. It never destroys it. It always produces life, always. This reality that we can’t manufacture motivation and passion is because we are fully dependent on the reality that it is, it’s close to divine.
What does this say to us? It tells us a couple of things. Passion requires a commitment to the sacred places and spaces in our lives. It requires something of us. If we do not have it, do you know what we can do? What’s within our control is to create sacred spaces in our lives. This would be one of them, but in Elijah’s day, it wasn’t in the temple where he asked everyone to come and gather. He stepped into their world. He said out here in this public gathering, “Why don’t we create a sacred space here?” It looks like saying, “In my life, God, I want to create sacred spaces in my work environment.” What do we say in a sacred space? “I am here. I’m fully present. I don’t come in here with a divided and distracted mind. No, I’m here for you, where heaven and earth meet.”
In my work environment and in my home, I want to create a sacred space and place where we say, “I am here for you, God, because I know you’re already here, but I want to be aware of it.” In our relationships, marriages, and families, we may not have the answers. Most of the time we don’t. We can choose to say, “I will no longer run away, hide, avoid, or consider it inconvenient. I’m going to show up. I’m going to be present for you. I’m going to be present for you, God.” My life will become a sacred life. What makes a place sacred? I know it used to be something different. Whether it’s my sport, vocation, hobbies, families, ambitions, or desires, I’m going to make these places sacred places. When I touch them, I touch something that invites God. If we do that, we start to discover something that awakens within our soul. It starts to touch into areas where we recognize it is not enough to say I’m here. There’s something more this requires. Sacrifice is needed for passion to come alive.
We might think, “Wow, what an amazing thing. The heavens opened, something descended, and they got to be the passive observers.” No, there was a man who decided to put his skin in the game. He decided to his own pain and put something on the altar. He decided to put his reputation on the line. This was somebody who decided to take a risk for fire to descend that produced life. We may not know what we’re passionate about, and the question might need to be rephrased. What are we willing to pay for? What are we willing to step into pain for? What are we willing to sacrifice for? It’s there that we might be closer to what we were created to be. It’s there. What are we willing to lose something for? What are we willing to die for? We might recognize that passion doesn’t exist without that.
When we are willing to work extraordinarily hard, endure obstacles, challenges, resistance, headwinds, and all kinds of hurdles, we start to discover something divine has been awakened in our soul. We start to recognize, this is a miraculous thing. A life awakened by God is the greatest evidence of His presence. We might think, how do we know God exists? We know God exists because of those He exists within. Those who decided to build an altar and a sacred life. Those who decided to put something on the line for what He was doing within their life. Those who decided to say, “Here, I’m right here. Will you meet with me? Will you use me?”
Do you know what happens? Other people see that and they’re attracted to it. What is that? It is in that place where we get to be the messengers of the ones who say, “I want to speak life into you. I want to speak love to you. I want to speak forgiveness to you. I want to speak hope and vision to you. I want to elevate you to the best of my ability,” He has done that in my soul and wants to do that in yours. We start to recognize Elijah didn’t step onto Mount Carmel wondering if God was there. He stepped onto Mount Carmel convinced that they all needed to know God was there. He had become that life awakened by God. He became the channel by which His presence was known.
If there’s any formula to this sustaining life of passion and faith, it would be to treat our lives as something sacred, divinely given for a purpose. Sacred, willing to pay something for it that will sacrifice, that will cost us. When we unite sacred living with sacrifice, we receive real life. Jesus said it. “Anyone who comes to me willing to lose their life for my sake will find everlasting life. Anyone who comes to me willing to never let go and clutching tightly to the life they might have no matter how small they might have it, they will discover that even though it might be a small little thing and even though they might think they protect it, they will lose it,” because true life is found on the other side of sacred sacrificial living.
May God awaken our soul. May He breathe into the smoldering embers within our heart of passion. May He cause us to be messengers of His goodness. May He sustain our race and perhaps use us to sustain somebody else’s. God, I thank you. I thank you, God, that you are fully aware of the life we’re living, of the circumstances we’re in, of the environments we find ourselves in. I pray you help us, God. I pray you help us make our lives into a sacred place in which we declare, “I am here. I’m fully here. Will you awaken my soul and change everything?” In Jesus’s name. Amen.