Now that I’m in my just-out-of-college years I have a lot of freedom. To be whatever I want, to do whatever I want, to live wherever I want. But that freedom comes with a heavy weight- I need to be pursuing my passions. I need to figure out how I can turn my life into the thing I want it to be. Music, theater, writing, those are the things that I want to do, and failing to achieve those goals would be…very disheartening. The pressure to pursue my passions without getting lost or flagging in enthusiasm has weighed on me for a long time, even before I graduated college. I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say that I used to labor under the miraculous idea that God would give me the life I dream about if I lived righteously, and maybe prayed once in a while. That would be my reward, as it were, for being a Christian. Paul tells me this is not quite accurate. A little while ago I had the realization that the goal of getting to know God is not to satisfy my own desires, but to contribute to His Kingdom [LINK]. In Acts, Paul reiterates this truth, but expands on it to explain how, if we pursue knowledge of God not for our own sake for the sake of getting to know God, it actually will result in living the life we crave. Confusing. Here’s what he says:
I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to me unless I may finish my course and ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:23-24
20 second context: Paul has been traveling around to various towns telling people the laws of Judaism are outdated- Jesus is the new black. This infuriates the Jewish leaders who intend to kill him first chance they get.
Life, Paul says, is testifying to God’s good grace. That’s what a true life is. “I count my life as nothing unless I finish my course that I received from Jesus Christ.” These passions of mine- these goals that I know if I could just find a way to make money with music, theater and writing I would be happy- they are not a life. They are the illusion of life, the magic forest that people who are lost wander through without ever getting to Oz, or Heaven, or whatever you want to call it. Life is testifying God’s good grace. But man that seems like a lot of work. Am I gonna have to give everything up to become a minister so I can testify God’s grace professionally? No. Do I have to go knock on doors and tell people the good news of Jesus Christ? No. What then? In order to testify God’s good grace we only have to celebrate God in our hearts- then God will shine out of them and do His own testifying! Now, is it possible for a sad, miserable, discontented, unsatisfied person whose passions and dreams have failed by the wayside to joyfully celebrate God in his heart? No. Then doesn’t it stand to reason that the only way a person could testify the goodness of God in his heart (which, remember, means to bring renown to God’s name, which is the purpose of our creation), the only way he could do that is if God gave him something to celebrate in the first place? This is quite the case as we shall see.
“I count my life as nothing unless I may finish my course and ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify the good news of God’s grace.” Jesus is not only aware of the passions in our hearts- aka our personal ministry- but he actually gave them to us! (this is backed up in the old testament when God told the Israelites “I gave you your name (that is, your essence, your you-ness) in the womb.”) Our passions aren’t accidents. They don’t conflict with the will of God- they are the will of God. But in order to know the will of God you’ve got to know God; in order to truly understand your passions you need to understand God, and that’s where the whole “pursuing God for the sake of knowing God” comes in. When our passions are satisfied then our hearts grow full of joy- happiness is a necessary byproduct of knowing God. A man who understands that his passion has been satisfied by God will be full of joy for what God has done for him- true joy, accurate joy. From thence his heart will overflow and God will shine out of it, bringing renown to his name and lighting up the entire world. That’s what Paul means when he says “the ministry that I received“- we minister to the world when we love our God. God will not only give you your passions, and clue you in to what they are, but he will also help you achieve them, all so that you may be happy of heart and celebrate the fact that the wonderful God did such a thing for you.
But how can God lead us to fulfill our passions and glow with joy for His goodness unless- unless- we know him deeply and pursue His knowledge and open up our hearts to let Him work? The more I learn about God, the more I learn about myself- the more I see what I love, what I hate, what I fear, what I need. Most interesting of all is how I’ve changed. In the last few months God has taught me new passions, and stripped away old ones, and the funniest thing is that I feel the passion of my heart getting closer and closer to something that could genuinely contribute to his kingdom- this blog being a good example. Thus I’m starting to see the truth behind what I said earlier: pursuit of God happens for the betterment of His Kingdom, not myself, but also that my personal happiness turns out to be a happy “coincidence” alongside that. Knowing God isn’t a mental thing. It’s not like knowing about Hamlet or how to work a microwave. Like I said before, God is a who, not a what. You give something to God and He will give right back to you. You give Him your heart and He will give you His. You get to know God in order that you two can trust each other, work together, fuse, meld; Our true nature is oneness with God. The closer you get to Him the more you get back to what you really are; the more whole and complete you become. You learn about God so that you can know and recognize His blessings and His ideas for what would make your heart celebrate the most, at which point he will give you ever necessary resource to make those ideas into reality. Damned if He won’t. Then your life will be happy regardless of what happens because your passions and the things that satisfy you will always be in line with what God has to give you.
Paul says here that the real way to live your life is not to pursue your passions, but to pursue God, in whom the realization of your passions lives and waits. All other life, it seems, is store brand Pop-Tarts. Pursue God, learn about him, date Him, read the Bible for 20 minutes every day. If you do this God’s way will become your way and you won’t believe how much better your life will become. You’ll never go back. I’m living proof.