Finding Lasting Spiritual Passion
By Leslie Ludy
When the Church and the world can jog comfortably together, you may be sure there is something wrong. The world has not altered. Its spirit is exactly the same as it ever was, and if Christians were equally faithful and devoted to the Lord, and separated from the world, living so that their lives were a reproof to all ungodliness, the world would hate them as much as it ever did.
It was the summer of 1978. The blazing summer sun beat down on the 35,000 excited people who had gathered near Salem, Oregon for the Jesus Northwest Festival. Campsites were overflowing with thousands of tents. The scene resembled a Christian version of a Woodstock hippie gathering. Excitement and chaos was in the air.
Keith Green was a former-hippie-turned-Christian musician who had been invited to close the event with a concert. Keith was an unusual breed of Christian artist; he genuinely did not care about applause and accolades. He was passionate about bringing glory to God with every song he wrote and every concert he performed.
As the Jesus Northwest Festival reached its final day, Keith’s heart was heavy. He and his wife Melody had seen far more frivolity than focus on Christ among the crowd of so-called Christians. As he sat in his trailer preparing to give the final concert of the festival, he began weeping and crying out to God for direction on what to say — how to reach the audience with something real and lasting. In her book, No Compromise, Melody later described the scene:
[Keith was troubled] — not about what had happened at the festival, but what had not happened. We’d all heard that the emphasis of the festival had been on music — lots of it and loud. There were some speakers, too, but hardly anyone had given a challenge for change or commitment. The place was packed, but some were saying there had been no real move of God, that it was just one big party. Keith … felt strongly that if nothing happened it was a waste of a festival.
There was a piano in the trailer, and Keith crawled under it to get alone with God and pray. He’d be closing out the festival in just a few minutes. From where I was praying I could hear Keith softly crying …
Keith prayed out loud, “O God, what do You want me to say? What do You want me to do?”
When Keith stepped onto the stage that night, it was not as a musician wanting to entertain an audience or perform his songs well — it was as a man of God, desperate to call a generation of mediocre Christians away from spiritual apathy and into true spiritual passion. Melody recounted moments from that unforgettable concert:
[Keith told the audience:] “In the Old Testament it says, ‘These people draw near with their words and honor me with their lips, but they remove their hearts from me.’ I was listening to everybody singing worship songs before, and nobody deserves praise and worship but Jesus. It’s a beautiful thing.”
“But what if your wife said ‘I love you’ but you knew she didn’t honor you and love you in her heart? That you weren’t the most important person on earth to her. And in fact, she had a couple of other men she liked to look at and think about more than you? How sick would it be for you to hear, ‘Oh, darling, I love you!’ What do the words ‘I love you’ mean? If you praise and worship Jesus with your mouth, and your life does not praise and worship Him, there’s something wrong.”
“I want you to go away from here broken and blessed in that order. I don’t want you to go away from here under condemnation. But I want you to get broken before God, because unless you’re a broken vessel, He can’t put you back together the way He wants you.”
The crowd was totally quiet now. I noticed one young guy toward the front wearing cut-offs and a “Jesus Is Lord” T-shirt. He leaned forward, with a serious look on his face … Keith looked to the sky and said, “I depend on You, Lord Jesus…”
His words had the effect of a shotgun blast. The crowd sat in stunned silence — the first I’d heard all night. I glanced quickly at the guy in the Jesus T-shirt again. He was just sitting there with his mouth open. I wondered what he was thinking as Keith continued:
“How many of us care about the people living next door to us? How many of your neighbors have never seen anything more than a little fish on your car? … As for me, I repent of ever having made a record or ever having sung a song unless it’s provoked people to follow Jesus, to lay down their whole lives before Him, to give Him everything. It doesn’t cost you much to follow Jesus — just everything!”
“…The requirement for salvation is not just a prayer. The requirement is an open, totally empty heart that’s ready to be full of Jesus Christ. After saying the sinner’s prayer, if in a few months your friends can’t tell that you’re born again, if your relatives can’t see a change in you, if your teacher can’t see that you’re a Christian, you’re probably not!”
“Because let me tell you something, when someone’s born again they get excited! It changes the way they live, what they do, how they speak, how they act, what they do with their money, their cars, their girlfriends — it’s all different! Then how come it looks the same? How come Christians are trying to ride the line?”
“…If you want Jesus Christ to completely take over your life, you’re willing to die for Him, give Him every possession, every friend, every loved one, every plan, every hope, every dream. You’re willing to give it all up if necessary. I’m not saying that’s what He wants you to do, but you are willing. If you’re willing to come before His throne empty-handed, raise your hand. If you can’t look Him in the eye and know you’ve been living a pleasing life before Him, get your hand up and make it right. Jesus Christ is not your Savior unless He’s the Lord of your life, and Lord means He owns and controls — lock, stock, and barrel — your destiny, your future, and your present. And He throws away your past as far as the east is from the west.”
…Hands were up everywhere. Thousands of them. Not only that, weeping and loud crying broke out all across the open, grassy field. It was awesome. I could hear people sobbing and choking out prayers to God.
Then Keith asked everyone who was making Jesus Lord of their life for the first time to stand. To my shock, almost everyone in the crowd stood. Keith was so surprised he thought they must not have understood him. So he clarified it.
“This is not a rededication. This is the first time, the first time you’ve ever understood what making Jesus Lord really meant. Do you really mean it? Wow!”
Then Keith called [me and friends] up to the stage, and we all led worship with Keith for about half an hour. That’s the way the festival ended. Keith slipped quietly down from the stage, raw and totally exhausted. He had delivered his soul … As we drove across the festival grounds on our way back to our motel, we saw lots of people lying before God out in the fields or on their knees — praying. It felt like a holy hush had descended and was still lingering … gripping every hungry heart.
Though that memorable concert took place nearly four decades ago, the message Keith communicated then still hits home today. A number of years ago, my husband Eric and I were invited to speak at a large Christian festival, not unlike the Jesus Northwest gathering back in the 70s. We stood backstage and watched what was taking place on the stage. Musician after musician performed to the crowd of over 70,000 people. Every concert we saw seemed to create the same atmosphere of shallow entertainment. One group that could best be described as a Christian boy band danced and swiveled to a raucous song, then took the towels that had been provided for them on stage (due to the sweltering heat), wiped their sweaty faces, and threw them to a group of teenage girls in the front row who clawed and fought to catch them. Another young female artist wore tight glittering clothing and danced sensually on stage as she crooned her popular songs into the microphone. A man standing next to me in the trailer observed, “If that was my daughter, I’d be scared.” Across the stage hung a banner that read “A Tribute to our Creator,” but what was taking place on that stage was only a tribute to the artists and musicians who were performing. Sadly, it seemed as though the crowd had gathered not to worship Christ or draw closer to Him, but simply to have a good time, be entertained, and put a “Christian label” over their frivolity.
We live in a Christian world that is filled with compromise and spiritual apathy. Most of us have been in worship services that give impressive performances but no genuine reverence for Jesus Christ. We are familiar with megachurches that have state-of-the-art everything, but lack true spiritual fire. And all too many of us personally know what it is like to be preoccupied with cultural distractions or our own self-focused agendas as we go through the motions of our quiet times or Bible studies.
The words of Isaiah 29:13 describe much of modern Christianity quite well: “…these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…”
Many of us are burdened by the state of Christianity today. We know there is supposed to be something more, whether in our own lives or in the Church at large. But all too often, we don’t quite know what that “something more” is, or how to find it. Keith Green received a glimpse of God’s heart for the Church on that hot summer day in 1978 — God’s jealous love and His desire for unhindered relationship with His children. And because Keith was not seeking self-glory, he was able to deliver the life-changing message of “no compromise” to a spiritually-hungry crowd.
What about us? What is our role amid a modern Church that is languishing in compromise and spiritual apathy? We can choose to simply go along with what is normal and accepted, or we can choose to go after more. Keith Green chose the “more,” and it was not an easy choice. Are we willing to do the same?
If you are burdened by spiritual apathy in your own life or in the lives of Christians around you, if you desire to see the Church become all that Christ wants it to be, if you are longing for worship that is genuine and real, and if you long for spiritual fire instead of spiritual defeat, you can be sure that these are desires God has placed inside of you for a reason.
In the book of Revelation when Christ chastens the lukewarm church at Laodicea, He does not merely leave them with a sharp rebuke — He also gives them a loving invitation. He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne…” (Rev. 3:19–21).
It was this invitation that gripped the hearts of that crowd at the Jesus Northwest Festival back in 1978 and caused them to respond to Keith’s message so wholeheartedly. And it is this same invitation that Jesus is offering to us today. Despite the compromise that we have allowed both within the Church and in our own lives, Jesus is not scowling at us in disgust or pushing us away in anger. Rather, He is eagerly, lovingly inviting us away from compromise and into a life of set-apartness and intimate fellowship with Him.
If you desire to come away from compromise and be truly “all in” for Jesus, it begins with saying a whole-hearted yes to this amazing invitation. There have been many times throughout my Christian life when I’ve found myself growing frustrated by the spiritual apathy I’ve seen in the Church. But each time God has patiently reminded me to let Him shine the searchlight within my own soul — not to start by looking at what is wrong with everyone else, but by letting Him do a purifying work within me.
In studying Keith Green’s life leading up to that festival, it’s clear that he was able to speak so powerfully to the audience that day because he had first allowed God to do a deep, purifying work within his own soul. He would not have been able to challenge that crowd to come away from mediocrity and compromise unless he had walked through a similar process in his own life. Because he had laid everything — his music, his reputation, his future, his family — on the altar, God was able to powerfully work through him to call his fellow Christians out of mediocrity and into a vibrant relationship with Christ.
If we are willing, God can do the same through us — maybe not by presenting a gripping message at a large outdoor festival, but by living out a vibrant faith and spiritual fire that inspires the Christians around us to pursue a passionate relationship with Christ.
Here are two ways to begin.
Keep Your Spiritual Fervor
Romans 12:11 has baffled me many times throughout my Christian walk: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (NIV).
The phrase “keep your spiritual fervor” in this verse means: to be hot, like a boiling liquid or a fire glowing with red-hot flame. In other words, God intends for us to be spiritually on fire for our entire Christian lives instead of sliding in and out of lukewarmness. Wow. How is that even possible?
It’s all too easy to view spiritual passion as something that comes and goes based on circumstances, emotions, or outside influences. Many of us have experienced the “Christian summer camp high” phenomenon, where we attended a spiritually-inspiring event or read a powerful Christian book and got freshly pumped up for Christ, only to find that our passion faded after a few months or years.
But this is not how God desires us to live out our Christianity. Spiritual passion is not dependent upon circumstances or feelings. It does not come from merely being inspired by a powerful message. True spiritual fervor comes from building our lives around Christ instead of just fitting Him in when it’s convenient.
There is a big difference between emotion and spiritual passion. We can have spiritual passion without “feeling” something dramatic. Spiritual fire comes from the position of our soul. Have I given Christ first place in my life? Have I surrendered everything to Him? Am I willing to let Him have His way with me completely? Does He matter more to me than every other relationship or pursuit in my life?
I have found in my own life that it is critical for me to answer these questions honestly before God on a regular basis. If I am not able to say a whole-hearted yes to each of these statements, I know that something is keeping me from maintaining my spiritual fervor. Whenever I sense this happening, I ask God to pinpoint anything in my life or mindset that is quenching my spiritual fire. And He is always faithful to lovingly convict my heart where conviction is needed, expose any lies I have been listening to, and show me specific changes I may need to make in my life in order to have an unhindered relationship with Him.
I have learned that spiritual fire cannot be mustered up through emotion, hype, or motivation. It can only be an outflow of personal intimacy with Christ. When our personal walk with Christ becomes our highest priority, lasting spiritual fervor will be the natural outflow. And remember, if we ever sense our spiritual fire dwindling, we can quickly rekindle the flame by simply saying yes to His invitation: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
Remember, you can’t — but He can.
A life-changing message like the one Keith Green gave at the festival that day can only be received by a person who recognizes his or her absolute need for Christ’s enabling grace — giving power to do what cannot be accomplished by human strength. Keith challenged his fellow Christians to remodel their daily lives, to change the way they interacted with their neighbors and co-workers, and to examine the way they lived behind the scenes. The crowd responded by getting on their faces and crying out to God, repenting, freshly committing their lives to Him, and declaring their need for His strength and power. This was a profound, transforming work that God’s Spirit was doing among that group of believers. It was not simply human effort trying to rise up to a higher standard of Christian living.
We must remember that in ourselves, we can do nothing. We can esteem the truth when we hear it spoken, but we will never be able to live it out unless the enabling power of God does this work in and through us — not by our strength, but by His. Whenever we feel convicted by God’s Spirit to make changes in our daily lives, it is critical to remember that if we try to “clean up our act” through human willpower we will either fail or become enslaved to legalism and rules. And nothing chokes spiritual fire faster than failure and legalism!
When we feel God’s gentle prick of conviction within our souls, the best thing that we can do is to yield wholeheartedly to His refiner’s fire and ask for His enabling grace to repent, turn, and walk the way He has called us to walk. The enemy loves to tell us that we will always be defeated by sin. He also loves to tell us that the only way to live a set apart life is to become oppressed by rules and human effort. Both of these lies need to be countered with God’s truth. When we understand our position in Christ and allow Him to live His life in and through us, we can walk in victory — without legalism.
If you’ve been struggling with legalism or failure, I encourage you to freshly study what it means to be in Christ and learn about the power of Christ in us, the hope of glory. A great place to begin is by listening to Eric’s sermons “In Christ” and “The Power to Do It” available at www.ellerslie.com/sermons.
We are called to live holy, victorious, triumphant lives that truly reflect our King. But let’s never forget that God says this is accomplished, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). Let’s cling to His powerful promise: “Faithful is He that [calls] you, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:24 KJV).
Let it begin with me
I’ll never forget a moment early in our ministry when I saw a worship team preparing to lead a large church into God’s presence. As I watched them prepare backstage in the green room, I was frustrated and dismayed. Their conversation was worldly and crude, and their focus was on anything but the Kingdom of Heaven. The moment that they were called on stage, they suddenly seemed to switch into “spiritual mode” — lifting their hands and assuming an attitude of seemingly heartfelt worship. I didn’t like the hypocrisy I was seeing.
But just as I began to inwardly grumble about the compromise I frequently saw among modern Christians, a gentle voice spoke to my heart. “If I’m going to revive the Church, I must begin with you as an individual,” God seemed to say. At that moment, I realized that the change I desired to see must first begin in my own soul. “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me,” was the prayer echoing in my heart as I left the church that night.
To live a life of no compromise, a life that truly brings glory to our King, we must adopt a hunger for revival, and a willingness to let God begin that revival inside of us. We may not be able to attend the 1978 Keith Green concert, but we can bow our hearts before the very same God and pray the very same prayer that those Christians did: “Lord, have Your way in me.”
When we pray that prayer sincerely, our lives will never be the same — and neither will the world around us.
This article was originally published in Issue 41.
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