How should we navigate the disturbance of intense expressions of devotion and passion?
There is a high cost to expressing extravagant passion. Intense passion for anything is often difficult for all involved to work through. How can believers with varying degrees of passion for Jesus get along?
The greatest example of this phenomenon was Mary of Bethany and her devotion to Jesus. In her case, “extravagance” meant “extravagant devotion to Jesus”. It was the kind of passion for Jesus that possibly caused offense within the hearts of the male disciples of Jesus. Someone’s extreme passion can sometimes force us to face our own lack of passion. For the men who followed Jesus, their confrontation with Mary’s passion may have hindered them from expressing their devotion to Jesus in a similar way. It is sometimes difficult to relate with, at times, the a friend’s choices that do not make sense to us. They only make sense when understanding what is motivating their passion.
I feel that the dynamics of walking with a fellow believer who is making radical lifestyle choices are both clear-cut yet subtly difficult. “Clear-cut” in that one can scripturally and logically conclude what our proper response should be about a brother who is giving themselves to Jesus with unusual devotion. “Subtly difficult” in that the heart, deceitfully wicked, often tugs at my sensibilities and my pride as I am tested in the midst of provocation. In regards to the original post, I would say that this context was what I originally had in mind.
Of course, the more precise application one can easily draw from Mary of Bethany’s story is directly related to extravagant expressions of worship and not lifestyle. Thus the question one would naturally ask is, “how do we respond to extravagant expressions of devotion during the worship service?” (I am paraphrasing, of course) When I read the Mary of Bethany account, however, this is not what I tend to focus on. Mary seemed to make these kinds of choices repeatedly and honestly over a long time, and it’s that kind of extravagance I tend to gravitate towards – the consistently authentic kind. When I read, then, the Mary of Bethany passage, a few things come to mind related to the difficulty of extravagance and its cost before other believers. Extravagance rarely is as costly when one is surrounded by non-Christians, who might find your fervency strange but honest. They have little to lose when relating with a fervent, devoted believer and are more apt to treat such a devotee of Jesus as a curiosity worthy of respect or contempt. Yet it would rarely cross their minds to try to talk a believer out of extravagance. Sharp criticism comes from those with something to lose.
Thus, when I study the passage I think of Mary’s lifestyle over time more than her momentary burst of love. I naturally think of the implications of one who consistently chooses radical devotion and the way those choices naturally chafe at the dross and complacency in my soul. I think of the false grace message and the way in which it excuses all manner of compromise in the name of easy forgiveness with little to no result in the life of the believer. Those who live according to this false message of grace that empowers “lewdness” and, ultimately, a denial of the Lord God (Jude 4). Simultaneously, those who live according to this message (or variance that excuses compromise) often strike with mocking and contempt at a message of holiness, righteousness, and purity.
Momentary bursts of devotion are easy targets that are often harmless. Long-term consistency in fervency is costly for all who claim devotion to Jesus or the designation of “Christian”.
The Water Level is Rising
We are at a crossroad as believers. There is a real war taking place around us, and there are many casualties. The analogy that fits best for our current condition is that of the lobster in the pot of water: the slow boil inoculated the lobster to his imminent danger. There is a slow boil happening in our western culture as we speak: the west is becoming sexualized, immoral, and corrupt in ways that were unimaginable years ago. The allure of money has always been a real and powerful attraction for the nations, but has there ever been a time in history like this one, where so many can have more money than any of their ancestors or ancestors could have ever dreamed of? To get such riches, all one has to do is compromise just a little; lower the standards just a bit and you can get access to greater degrees of wealth and notoriety. In an hour of moral relativism, lowering the standards for wealth or fame is a simple and easy choice.
Some believers do not seem connected to the cultural attrition that is happening around her. At least, the church in America is not doing so in a way that is stirring her to make radical choices of devotion, fervency, and time pursuing purity of thought, perspective, and action. Many seem content to live “comfortably separate”, enjoying the trappings and lifestyle of their neighbors while seemingly avoiding the pitfalls and dangers of the increasingly dark world that is closing in around them. This should be an hour in which every believer is greatly uncomfortable with the invasion of darkness and perversity in areas that used to be “safe” from such influences. This should be the moment where the church is greatly alarmed at the rampant injustice that is taking root in our nation.
Ultimately, the church should be greatly disturbed with the billions of dollars that are spent per year looking to separate them and their children from their dollars; with that much money at stake, the lengths that companies and advertisers are willing to go to entice the nations is frightening. What are the limits? What determines restraint? Where are the moral absolutes that determine the boundaries. The vast wealth that is dangling like a golden carrot before the peoples serves as too rich a temptation – and the ease of the lack of moral clarity only serves a self-preserving end: comfort, success, and ease of living. Even at the price of the next generation.
We’ve Got to Get Out of the Water
Our only option is to press and fight for a heart alive in love and zeal for the Living God. We need the prayer of Paul in Philippians 1:9-11 realized in vibrant power in the depths of our innermost being. His prayer went as follows:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and the praise of God.
In other words, it is not enough to be falsely satisfied with a static relationship with Jesus through the scriptures. It is not enough to attempt to live a good, decent, upstanding life under the banner of Christianity. More is required related to the times in which we find ourselves. Extravagance is necessary, fervency flowing from a heart burning with desire for Jesus is non-negotiable. We cannot negotiate away the tools God desires to give any who ask that can equip our hearts and minds to see clearly and vividly past the billion-dollar deception that is enticing the nations of the earth. We cannot imagine that they are unnecessary. We must fight and contend earnestly for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.
In this war that is being waged against love-fueled holiness and devotion to Jesus, extravagance is a weapon. Extravagance and fervency are the fruit of true grace, or power from the Holy Spirit to express the fruits of righteousness (Gal. 5:16). We need help to lay hold of true wisdom from heaven, that we would have clear, godly perspective related to the invasion of darkness that is descending upon the next generation. We need love to abound and increase in our hearts, that the desire to walk in agreement with the word of God would be alive within us. We need discernment that we might approve of the more excellent way of the love of God, that we would be responsive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit when under conviction, sensitive to His promptings and thus zealous to never grieve Him. Moreover, we need help from God to approve of excellent things – that truth might dwell in our innermost parts.
We need discernment to cut off and turn away. We need the heart to approve of wisdom and excellence in love. We need help from God to be like God, to walk in agreement with Him and burn with passion about the things He is passionate about. As we abound in love, knowledge, discernment, wisdom, and understanding, we can become better equipped to make right choices through grace to stay “without offense”. I want to be clean, pure, and sharp in my thinking, clear-minded and tender-hearted. I want to war against dullness in my soul, lest I become swept away in the compromise and subtle dissipation of the wicked. I want to be filled with the fruits of righteousness in my life. That, to me, is the about pursuing extravagance through grace. I want to be fervently devoted and authentically dedicated to Jesus in every way and every choice.
I want to get out of the water and experience the fullness of Christ (Eph. 3:19). I could not imagine a difficult attempt in a more difficult time. Thus I cry, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases! For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.” (Ps. 12:1) It is because I need help, and because of my awareness and connectivity to my own capacities and potential for sin, that I cry out for help. I am in great need, and greatly desire breakthrough and life and strength in my inner man (Eph. 3:16). I want to be uncomfortable, disturbed, and disrupted – and compelled to be extravagant in the process.