Suppose you’re building a fire in your fireplace, and all you use are materials for kindling. You have some small dry wood, newspapers, and even an Amazon box broken down for good measure. What happens after you light it? There will be a large flame and a fair amount of heat projected. You might feel good about your ability to light a fire and even enjoy some “atta-boys” from those enjoying your domestic pyrotechnics. But in just a few minutes, what happens? The flame will dwindle, and the fire extinguishes.
However, imagine you built a fire with the same kindling but placed it in and among some seasoned, solid oak wood. What would happen? The fire may not take off as fast, but it would light. And, in due course, the oak would catch and begin burning. And, it would burn long and hot. Soon the fire with modest beginnings would draw others near to benefit from its warmth and behold its rustic beauty.
Early on as a Christian, I thought of passion like the first fire, but over the years, I’ve come to see it looks more like the second. In other words, passion for Christ is not exclusively burning hot; it’s also burning long. The endurance of a long, warm flame is a virtue too easily undervalued. We tend to prioritize zeal while under-esteeming endurance. I think this is unbalanced and unhealthy.
Passion for Christ is not exclusively burning hot; it’s also burning long. The endurance of a long, warm flame is a virtue too easily undervalued.
When a person becomes a Christian, they are born again by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We learn from Scripture that this action had a long tail.
Before the foundation of the world, the Father and the Son made a covenant. A covenant is basically an oath with an obligation. This particular covenant is between the Father and the Son. There is a sacred bond between members of the Trinity. In summary, the Father required the Son to assume human nature (Ps. 40:8; Heb. 2:10–14), put himself under the Law, and pay the penalty for sin for all of his people (Gal. 1:4–5; 4:4–5). The Father promised the Son that he’d support him in his work through the Holy Spirit, deliver him from death, seat him at the right hand of glory, and send the Holy Spirit to build the church (Is. 42:6–7; Ps. 16:8–11; Phil. 2:9–11; John 14:25; 15:26). Also, the Father promised the Son the reward of a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation and that he’d draw and keep them unto glory (John 6:37–45; Psalm 2:7; Rev. 5:9). This eternal pact between the members of the Trinity was compelled, accomplished, secured by love.
When the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work for us, it is the outworking of this covenantal arrangement. It’s fixed. And the Holy Spirit is not leasing his residence in the Christian; he has permanently moved in.
It follows then that the Holy Spirit will continue to make and mold us like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). This sanctification process means that although we may not take off like rockets or fast flames, we will continue to progress in godliness. The flame will continue to burn, even through the rain, snow, and wind of difficulties in our lives.
Emphasis of Scripture
This endurance is what we see emphasized and prioritized in Scripture. Just to name a few, consider the following:
It’s the emphasis of Jesus in the midst of opposition:
“and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22)
“By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Lk 21:19)
It’s the intention of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” (Rom. 5:3–4)
It’s the fruit of love: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Co 13:7)
It’s the burden of apostolic prayers: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;” (Col 1:9–11)
It’s modeled in the life of the faithful: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure” (1 Co 4:12)
It’s the motive for times of difficulty: “if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;” (2 Ti 2:12)
It’s a qualification for elders: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,” (2 Ti 2:24)
It’s the priority for those who look to Jesus: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Heb 12:1)
Because Jesus himself endured for us. “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)
Christ then is the model and motivation for our endurance.
Not Mutually Exclusive, Just Underemphasized
I’m not saying that Christians should not be passionate. We should. Instead, I’m saying that today too often, we put a disproportionate and unbiblical emphasis upon what appears to be zeal instead of what is clearly endurance.
Why don’t we get more excited about the older women and men in our lives who are finishing well? They speak of the Lord and his kindness, pray, read the Word, show up at church every week, and serve others. They’re less moved by shiny things and more by familiar things. They tear up when they hear words like “This is my body, which is for you.” These people are champions of grace in our midst!
Let’s esteem these oaks among us and strive likewise to burn long and (not just) hot ourselves.