Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Contemporary Christian culture has developed a vocabulary all its own, quite apart from both the scriptures and the world culture around it. Sometimes the choice of words obscures rather than to expresses the truth. One such case is in the overuse of the word “passionate”.

We are told to be passionate in our prayer life and in our walk with the Lord, but what does that that mean to the world at large or even to Christians who are not on the inside of the cultural group using that word? To me, a Christian of 48 years, it even means something different than what they are wanting it to mean. It produces a different picture in my head than that of someone truly devoted to God.

Passion has always seemed to be a word with tremendous sexual overtones and connotations. It’s usually used to express some kind of over the top emotion which takes control of a person. It can be a passion for a certain kind of food or other innocent experience, but it is, in most modern usage, an appetite word.

Oh, I know the use of it in the technical sense of the passion of Christ. Just lately, though, I’ve been hit with the word so much in a book I’m reading that I could stand it no longer and had to speak up.

According to the edition of Webster’s I possess the origin of the word is the meaning suffering. They even go so far as to specify that the suffering referred to in the origin of the word is that of Christ. Then the definitions move on down through a description of extreme compelling emotions. The emphasis is on the feelings over which we have no control being brought up by desires inside us. Another way the word is frequently used is in current culture is with regard to being passionate about some particular cause, usually either political or the salvation of something other than human beings.

Do we want the world to think that we have some kind of psychological compulsion to pray, that we have to position ourselves in the place where we get in the grip of emotion? Must we become mad men and women suffering under feelings which we cannot control in order to be sincere or can we just be sincere without putting our heart into 17th gear? When we say that we are passionate in our prayer life, do we mean that we are suffering and that we have to suffer in order for God to pay attention? Must we beat ourselves like some medieval flagellants parading their righteousness through the countryside? Do we have to pick up the flag of some advocacy and go into battle knowing we’ll probably be shot down? No, to all of these connotations.

We’re not called to feelings or advocacy. We’re called to relationship. We’re not told to get into a particular mood, but simply to ask. It’s even simpler than that for we are just to let our requests be made known. What moves God is His own heart and our relationship to Him. The importunity of Luke 18 is only stick-to-it-ive-ness recommended to us for our own good. The point of that parable is that God for His part doesn’t need such pleadings since He’s better than the unjust judge.

The words passion or passionate are not used in scripture to describe prayer in either the King James Version, New American Standard Version or New International Version. The word passion is used once correctly of the passion of Jesus in Acts 1:3 (KJV). In James 5:17 passions are actually contrasted with prayer. Prayer is not operated in that way.

I know that from the dictionary passion may be a legitimate word to describe what we want to describe about our commitment to God, but it’s not the best word to use in that regard. Let’s pick a better word, one which doesn’t imply agony or physical desire, but which describes the truth of what originates in our spirit. Even to put it into the context of the cross takes us in another direction. The passion of Jesus is something He experienced for us. Our prayers are not something we experience for God.

Prayer is where we can be the most personal for there’s no fa├žade to keep up. God knows before we pray and sees behind any mask we might hide behind. Let us be genuine rather than operating with a put-on, peer-inspired “passion”.

Let’s talk about being zealous in our prayers, about being fervent in our devotion to God. Let us mention our aspirations and ambitions to be found pleasing in His sight. Let us not wallow in passion. In the context of my prayer life this word, passion, just brings too much baggage of the wrong kind with it. Let us use words which start from our convictions and gratitude, words which speak not of what we are aroused to do, but of what we have purposed to do, what we have been inspired to do.

(By the way, if I've been perhaps a bit too passionate about this please pardon me. It all just goes to prove my point.)