Much of the church in the U.S. and Europe has lost its passion for Jesus… and we wonder why the world thinks that we are crazy.
This past July marks a decade that Jeannelle and I have been married. From the day I first met her I was instantly awestruck. Even though I was living in Princeton and she was living in Houston there wasn’t anything that could stop me from wanting to see her. When she would visit her parents in NE Ohio I would drive 8 hours from Princeton on a Friday spend Saturday with her only to have to drive back 8 hours on Sunday to New Jersey. We would talk every day on the phone for hours. For the first 6 months that I knew her I wrote and sent her a letter every day. One weekend when I was scheduled to fly to see her, there was a colossal snowstorm in NJ that snowed my car in the parking lot. I begged my roommate to help me shovel the car out at 3am, only to have to push it out to the street that was barely plowed so that I could traverse the treacherous drive to Newark Airport. I waited through hours of flight delays in the airport, my plane almost not getting out, only to sit even longer in Atlanta where the Super Bowl was being held that year. I spent less time with Jeannelle that weekend than I did getting to/from her – but it was all worth it, every second because I was in love – and I still am.
My Christian faith started out a lot the same way. When I encountered the living God for the first time it happened to be at a church that was 45 minutes one way from my college. It didn’t matter. I would drive my rickety old Chevy Cavalier both ways twice a week keeping my AAA membership close for that ever- so-often tow. All that mattered to me though was that I got to church to “be with God”. I constantly was praying and talking with God. At the first (and only) FCA meeting that I attended at my college everyone went around the room saying what they were struggling with that week. I genuinely replied that I was concerned because I was only had time to read my Bible 3 hours a day. Everyone looked at me like I was nuts. I was, and for good reason, I was in love – and I still am.
Of course, just like in marriage, our love for God changes. It’s not that it disappears or that the passion is gone – it is just that, over time, we become more intimate with the one we love, we learn how to communicate, how to empathize, how to live together. On the flip side though it is also easy to become complacent about our relationship at times, to get preoccupied with other hobbies or pursuits – to miss out on the vitality and passion that initially drove the relationship.
It seems to me that for some reason, over time, we often forget that relationships take effort. It isn’t that we somehow earn the right to be in the relationship, for the one we love is the only one who can grant us that love. It is the case though that as humans, in light of such grace, we have to “work” at being in relationship with others. This can be messy. It can be difficult and ethically challenging. It can also take time. The relationship may even undergo significant setbacks as it progresses. Such action often leaves us very, very vulnerable. But, for those who experience such love – not for a second do we doubt if it is worth it. It totally is and we wouldn’t trade anything for such an opportunity. After all, when you are in love – you are in love!
Yet today – like much of our world’s married population – I see people go to church – day after day – lacking any passion at all. It is an act of obligation and duty alone. The love is gone – the joy is removed. And people look at us as Christians and think, “that sucks – I don’t want that!” I never hear people say “I can’t wait to get into a passionless relationship so I can lead out a life of mediocrity and perpetual boredom.” Of course not! What people actually say is: “I want a love like THAT”. Meaning a love that is loyal and passionate – a love that is constantly, desperately even, seeking the other. Obligation and duty are surly important but obligation and duty that lack passion well, that is slavery.
Of course right now, much of the “church” universal is enslaved. And two of most touted choices that it faces for the future are both bleak: continual enslavement or divorce. Many will choose the former, continuing on with the status quo and humanity will be none the better for it. When folks choose the latter option the church universal suffers loss. The better, obvious, and more appealing option though is for people to fall back in love with Jesus – the body of Christ/the church – recapturing the love and passion that they once had, or for some who grew up in the church – the passionate love they have never really experienced before.
Typically in love, this is a two-sided venture in that we cannot expect that the person that we love will necessarily love us back. With God though we need not have such concern. God is unfathomably in love with us already. Our lack of love of God only comes from our ignorance of whom God is and what it is that God has done for us. In other words, the “work” – aka the discipleship- of reclaiming passion for God has to be done by us – yet, unfortuatley, we usually settle for false gods and pithy idols.
Time and time again, after heartbreak, we tell one another that we deserve better. We tell young people all of the time that they “shouldn’t settle” when it comes to love. Yet, time after time, we settle for less love than we have been offered.
The church is little, if not non-existent, if is not enraptured by the love of Christ. When I look at the church these days in the U.S. and Europe is hard for me not to think that the body needs significant marital counseling so that – through its trials and tribulations – it might regain the passionate love that it has seemingly lost.