As the lights dimmed, the music swelled, and I stood to my feet, I was excited for what was to come. But to be honest, my passion for Passion 2014 just wasn’t on the level it usually is. Maybe it was because this was my fifth Passion in a row. Maybe it was because Passion was different this year in a lot of ways: smaller crowd, only a day and a half long, I didn’t travel there with my church group but drove from where I live now– ten minutes down the road.
But I think the real problem was actually simple, and kind of shallow. I was sick. I had been for over a week (and still am– a little bit). I’d been coughing consistently for what seemed like forever, and I couldn’t seem to shake it in a few days like I usually do. I was physically weak. And that physical weakness affected my emotions as well as my body.
This is weird to say, but a sick Passion gave me an entirely different experience than a healthy Passion. Not being able to jump with as much vigor or sing as much at the top of my lungs, it forced me to more of an inward response and celebration, even more than I naturally lean toward as an introvert.
Weakness, I’ve found, is a state that opens our eyes to the vastness of the strength of God and fills our lungs with the power of His vitality. Weakness sparks humility. Humility is a right perspective of who we are in light of who God is. Even physical weakness, then, can shift our perspective from one consumed with self to one in clear view of the Father.
Louie talked about this in his first message this year, actually. He told the story of being on a plane once and seeing another passenger with a container marked “Human Eyes.” He followed the man to the gate at the next airport, not being able to tear his eyes away from… the eyes, thinking about how someone had died, and now someone else was going to receive the gift of sight.
Maybe I don’t get new eyes every time I go to Passion (I think God replaced them a long time ago), but I do get an updated prescription for my spiritual contact lenses every time.
Louie reminded us that, “We need God to help us see the brightness of His glory.” And , “When you see the grace that crushed Jesus, it’s the same grace that crushes self.” The more we see of God, the less we focus on ourselves. Even in weakness, when all we can do is think about our own condition, it actually drives us to look beyond ourselves– to God, who gives strength to the weak and rest to the weary and healing to the sick.
I think being weak at Passion forced me to go deeper even than I normally do– to stop worrying so much about the surface level things and really take in what God was speaking through his servants’ words and songs.
It’s hard for me to get too let down by the music at Passion, but when I do, it’s usually because of repetition. I like contemporary praise and worship, I really do. But there are some songs that I just can’t grab onto with my heart and mind, because we’re singing something over and over that I don’t really care about or don’t really believe deep down. Sometimes, the problem is the lyrics (not usually the case with Passion, but sometimes). But more often than not, the problem is me.
In my weakness this year, I was able to really focus on the words and think about them, even the ones I didn’t “get” at first. And I decided that sometimes, I really appreciate the repetition of these songs, even though there are some I wish had more spiritual meat. The deal with repetitive songs is that they let me sing the words until I actually believe them. I know you’re not supposed to sing words you don’t actually mean in worship, but I experienced a different perspective this year. Sometimes, as I sang, in my heart I whispered, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” I think God would rather have that than the shallowness of a stubborn silence. And more often than not, He helped me see the truth in the words I sang.
Another great thing about the music this year was how well it resonated with the messages. To me, the speakers’ words were all on point, and I think I’ll remember all of them for a while. I won’t go too deep into each one, but here are my thoughts:
Message 1: Louie Giglio. I already talked about this one some, but I really think this is one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard from Louie. It was all gospel, all the way. With Isaiah 6 as a launchpad, Louie talked about our sin, cleansing, and sacrifice– pointing to Christ being crushed for our transgressions. One point that will stick with me is that one of the seraphim, whose only job was to say the same praises to God over and over again (and would never get bored of it), was given the task of bringing to Isaiah a message of salvation, with the burning coal in hand. How beautiful and glorifying to God is our salvation, then, if even eternally-praising angels are given pause to deliver its good news! Wow.
Joke: What kind of font did Isaiah use to write his scrolls before Isaiah 6? Sans Seraph!
Message 2: Francis Chan. I love when Francis gets practical, because he is one of the Christian leaders today who I see most practically living out what he preaches. I want that in my life. Francis’ message was simple, but needed. We have the power of God at work in us. We’ve been given everything we need to succeed. We have new life, and that life should make us completely different, in a way no one can ignore. “People should look at you like they’ve just seen chicken bones come to life as a chicken, strutting across the stage.” (This was illustrated with a to-go box of actual chicken bones. Oh, Francis.) One of the most important things he said to an audience of my generation was, “Work on being this and then God will use you to do amazing things. It’s not the other way around.” So often we get caught up in wanting to do awesome things for God, but we forget that God wants to do awesome things in us, first. Godly character will naturally yield godly action.
Message 3: Christine Caine. (I don’t know what you think about women speakers, but I’m a girl, so I can definitely listen to her.) Christine is a founder of the A21 anti-slavery movement and a great speaker, even though her awesome Australian accent can be distracting. Christine talked about Samuel anointing David in 1 Samuel 6, using an on-stage dark room as an example of the process it takes for God to imprint his image on us. I liked this because photography class was one of my favorite parts of high school. My friend and I became dark room and film development experts, while the other kids in the first period elective class slept off their highs or hangovers. Anyway, Christine reminded us that it takes time for us to become the person God wants to use, to develop that godly character Francis spoke of. She also talked about not working to copy other people or other things God is already using. “Sometimes we miss the new thing God is doing because we’re looking for the next thing of the same thing God’s done before.”
Message 4: John Piper. This wasn’t quite as much fun as Piper messages at past Passions, because I didn’t get to see people “get” a new understanding of the glory of God afterwards in community groups like normal. But it was, as always, solidly truthful and brilliantly mind-blowing. Piper spoke about how “human inadequacies are obliterated in the sovereignty of God in those who lose and find their life in the cross.” Piper dove into Romans 3 and the question, “If God is sovereign, why can’t he forgive without the death of Christ?” I can’t do justice to the answer here, but I’d encourage you to listen to Piper’s remarks when they become available. I will say that God’s sovereignty is righteous, merciful, and all-embracing, and Piper used these points to make the case for his answer.
Message 5: Louie Giglio. Along with some other passages, Louie came back to Isaiah 6 and reminded us of the next part of the story. After Isaiah was cleansed, he was sent. “As soon as you get crushed by grace, you get sent by mercy,” he said. “Changed people are tangible evidence of God’s presence to the world.” Our response to God’s glory and the evidence of its presence in our lives is the transformation of who we are, into people who are sent out to proclaim His truth and live in His ways.
To sum up everything, I think what I came away with was a new appreciation for my insufficiency and God’s sufficiency, as well as a sense of empowerment. Though I am weak and empty on my own, God can open my eyes, infuse me with life, develop me into someone He can use, send me out, and be sovereign over it all. His plans for me are sound and strong, even in my weakness.
Note: One of my favorite parts of Passion this year was when an older woman was brought on stage who was an expert in and curator of rare Bibles for the American Bible Society, along with one of the creators of YouVersion, the Bible app. Their stories were amazing to examine side by side, causing us to consider the incredible value of access to Scripture. Fittingly, the giving emphasis this year was to provide Bibles for people in Iran.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy 6 Things Passion Says About Millennials.