I think all of us have heard the verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Based on this verse, people are quick to say, “God has great things planned for your life!”
But what does that really mean? Does God have a great plan for your life? If so, how do we experience it? Ultimately, discovering God’s purpose for your life is found when Christians find their identity Christ’s love, because I know that is ultimately the only way they will fulfil their destiny.
Confusion about identity is one of the main reason why Christians give up on God’s purposes He places on their lives. The sad reality is many of us compare ourselves to the accomplishments of others. We put ourselves down because of a perceived lack of education or experience. As a pastor, I had to learn very quickly that if I wanted to succeed in ministry I couldn’t compare myself to other pastors or their churches or their budgets. I learned my success or failure was not about me. I was to be a faithful servant and obedient to what God asked of me.
When our identity is rooted in being God’s child, we can do whatever we want without feeling pressure from society. We are free to pursue a big vision despite our critics. We become people in love with possibility and do not worry as much about failure, because failure has nothing to do with belonging. Performance is not the measuring stick with God. When we discover we are God’s child it leads to a simple desire to do what He wants. If He calls us to do nothing for a season, that is okay.
This freedom evaporates when we think we are not worthy of love and belonging and need to prove ourselves. If we remain constantly rooted in the idea that we are what we do, we will do too much and will burn out. In other words, we get emotional energy when we stop worrying about being amazing, perfect, impressive, or relevant and just decide to do the awesome thing God wants from us.
When this happens, we are able to focus our energy on that one thing rather than a bunch of things at the same time. As we serve, we experience joy not because of what we do, rather it is knowing we are pleasing the One to whom we are doing it for. This helps us deal with setbacks in a way so they do not destroy us and instead, we learn and gain a new resilience.
If the first component to having a vibrant energetic life is identity, the second is passion – that is, having a big dream or desire and really going for it with all your heart. For many of us, letting go of what you do as part of your identity can feel like I am saying, “Just give up.” That is not what I am saying or implying. The only thing I want you to give up is being overwhelmed, cluttered, stressed, and exhausted with proving yourself to others, and people pleasing. Boundaries, self-respect, and loads of spiritual energy are required for you to do the great things God has called you to. In fact, in a Christian worldview, desire is at the heart of your faith.
Many Christians lack passion. They experience setbacks that cause them to give up on their dreams. After too many failures they think they are a failure and find themselves struggling with depression. “What if,” or “What could have been” nag at our core.
This is rooted in shame and the idea that “I am what I do.” If you are in that place, it might be that your self-talk is, “I am a failure.” Perhaps it is time you let go of that and with abandon just start dreaming again. Having a big dream or desire, living every day with passion and zeal is central to the Christian walk.
As children, we dreamed all the time. We had big ideas and goals, and we did not allow anyone to sway us. One week we wanted to be an astronaut, the next we wanted to be an actor. We did not care what the pay was. As children, we were full of energy, life, and passion because we had not lost a sense of wonder. As children, we saw the world as a boundless canvas of opportunity and did not limit our thinking.
We start life so full of energy, but after enough loneliness, rejection, and suffering, we take a more realistic view of the world. This is where our spirituality finds itself in danger. Our spirituality is fueled by a passion for God.
Perhaps you thought Christianity was all about being miserable and boring and following a bunch of rules and rites. Perhaps you thought being a spiritual person meant getting rid of passion altogether. Not so. Your soul was made to desire and that desire should be focused on God.
Every human being is made in the image of God. That means we were created to bear His image, His love, and His passion. The whole process of childbirth is a crazy process. We enter the world with no rules or boundaries, naked and covered in blood, and screaming. No baby comes into the hospital room saying, “Father, Mother, so nice to meet you. When you get a second, I want something.” In fact, a newborn baby expresses raw spirit, fire, and passion. That passion is still in our hearts whether burning hot or barely flickering. It is this passion that has fueled some of the greatest good and evil in the world.
I think to be born again means to regain some of this fire we had as children. Perhaps we are meant to clean off the many barnacles of societal taboos and pressures placed on us by the world. Christianity teaches us to focus our passion on what is good. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
The greatest women and men who have made a difference in history have been passionate people. Simply look to leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Billy Graham to see very clearly those who dream and live with passion. The big difference is their passion did not result in destructive behaviour rather it led to devotion to God’s call.
I get concerned when so many Christians criticize other believers as being too emotional as if being emotional were ungodly or somehow a bad thing. Yes, emotions can cloud our reason and cause us to be unwise at times. But you cannot be like Jesus without being at least a little emotional. When Jesus preached against religious hypocrisy, He was emotional. When He saw His friend Lazarus dead in a tomb, He was emotional. When He turned over the money changers’ tables, when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, and when He gave His life on the Cross for His friends, He was emotional. That is why we call the crucifixion, the Passion?
Being emotional and passionate is a good thing; it is the very definition of being spiritual. But it is only good to the point that those emotions and passions are mastered. Mastered does not mean “turned down” or “muted.” Rather, it means your emotions are focused and trained. You are passionate about helping others. You are passionate in your prayers. You are passionate about your love for your children or your friends. Your emotion is an inner fire directed toward fighting what you are afraid of, toward generosity, and toward spiritual growth.
The saying is true that “Emotions make great slaves but terrible masters.” You see that in some of the greatest musicians of all time. Janis Joplin was passionate, on fire for life and music. She made some amazing art. She put on incredible shows. Everywhere she went she brought energy and power. On the other hand, she was a broken soul. Her brokenness drew people and she had thousands of fans, but this only magnified her problem. She needed real love and friendship but in the end, hurt many of those around her and destroyed herself because of her passion was out of control. In the end, that passion that fueled her life led to an explosion and she died at the young age of twenty-seven.
Yet still, there is something admirable about Janis Joplin. Like many passionate people, she was attractive. She may have not been someone to emulate, but in her passion, she was still endearing. Unfortunately, like many bright flames, she burned out quickly. It is hard not to wonder what might have happened if Janis had met Jesus and trusted her life to Him.
On the opposite side, yet from the same fire and passion for life, we find Mother Teresa. She was courageous, bold, and very emotional. The difference is Janis Joplin allowed her emotions to control and destroy her. Mother Teresa, however, controlled and focused those emotions to give life to others. Few alive had more passion than Mother Teresa, but those emotions were a blessing and not a curse.
Mother Teresa was an Albanian nun, who answered a call from God to go to India and serve. She began teaching at a Catholic school for young, affluent religious kids while watching other children, unwanted and dying alone in the streets. As she watched this happen day after day, it ate away at her. Pulled by the Spirit of God, she left her role at the school to be present with those who were dying. Like Janis Joplin, Mother Teresa was a fireball, but fearless, focused, and a follower of Jesus.
Once, during an interview, she sat holding a young child who was in pain and dying. This little girl urinated on herself and on Mother Teresa. In disgust, the reporter turned to the cameraman and, thinking Mother Teresa wouldn’t hear, whispered, “Ugh, I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa did hear it. She yelled at the reporter, “Neither would I!”
I think for many of us, we understood the reporter’s reaction to seeing someone suffer, but because of Mother Teresa’s compassion and care, she wanted to help and make a difference. For her, no one should die alone and because of that, she changed the world.
We have all had moments where we really let loose. Maybe with a group of friends or at a wedding, we do something absolutely unlike our normal behaviour. We jump into a pool fully clothed or attempt to do the floss or do something else out of character. These moments, when we just stop caring and do something really fun, are often when we feel the most life and joy.
All of us struggle with both the desire to fit in and the desire to be unique. We want to be an example, and yet we do not want to be uncomfortable. We want to do something crazy, but we do not want to be socially awkward. We all feel this way, but following Jesus means you need at least a small touch of crazy.
You are not what you do, so why are you worried about failing? You are not what you do, so do something great! The late singer, Keith Green believes the Christian life is being “bananas for Jesus.” I think he was on to something.