Unity, Individuality, and the Church

I have observed a rather worrying trend among Christians - specifically, Christians my age.

I have noticed a sad lack of passion.

Or perhaps I should say, a great abundance of unfocused passion.

There are a huge number of young people who are crazy about following Jesus. They're Bible readers, worshipers, active in the church.

But what happens if I bring up the subject of calling, of finding your own, unique place in the Body of Christ? If I ask questions like, 'what, specifically, are you passionate about?' or 'what are your spiritual gifts?' I frequently get a bunch of blank stares and confused answers.

'Cause that's not the sort of thing most people talk about.

I think it's time to change that.

We need to realize how important this stuff is.

We seem to live in a culture of specialist churches. My church is focused on community evangelism, while your church is really excited about discipleship, and the church down the road is all about overseas missions. But what if I, in my evangelism-centric church, am actually more of a discipleship gal? What if I get very little spiritual fulfillment from participating in my church's witnessing outreaches? What if I feel dry, empty, and dissatisfied because I'm not using my discipleship-oriented gifts? What if I don't know that it's okay to be passionate about something other than the thing everyone encourages me to do? What if I don't understand that, to follow my God-given passion and direction, to utilize my spiritual gifts, to walk in the fullness of what God has for me, is to be different...and that different is okay?

Then, what happens if one day, I accidentally find myself in a discipleship situation? I'm basically just hanging out and talking, and being intentional about caring for another Believer, but I feel fully alive for the first time in...how long? I feel the Holy Spirit working through me. I see God moving in powerful ways. I give, and give, and give of myself, and still come away feeling more full and refreshed than I did before. I think, 'this! This is what I want for the rest of my life!'

But then I return to my evangelistic church, and I have a crisis of identity. I love my church, I want to be part of it, but I'm no more passionate about witnessing, witnessing, and witnessing some more than I was when I left. I wonder, 'was I wrong? Did I make that experience up?' I do a lot of searching and praying, and finally, I stumble across 1 Cor. 12:

'Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

If the whole body were and eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were and ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.' (1 Cor 12: 12 - 31)

I am aware that witnessing is important. Because I am Biblically commanded to do so, and because I want to show support for my fellow church members, I still participate in some of the witnessing outreaches. But now I am also aware that my passion and giftings lie in a slightly different form of ministry, and so I prioritize discipleship. I have learned that I am different, and that in order to be a functional member of Christ's body, I must be different. I must use my gifts, and encourage you to use yours. We must hold each other up, support each other in our various forms of ministry, and work together to spread God's kingdom on earth.

My God-given passions will shape who I am, who I will become, what I will do, and where I will go. I know that, no matter what situation I find myself in, I will always be focused primarily on the work of discipleship.

And that's what brings me back to the opening statements of this post.

If you're not following your God-given passions, if you're living a spiritual half-life, if you're squeezing yourself into a mold you were never intended to fill, how on earth will you know who you are, what you're supposed to do, and where you're supposed to be going?

Simple answer: You won't.

That's a problem. A very big problem.

Without a clear calling, we have a tendency to fill our lives up with a vast collection of good works - things that are perfectly godly, perfectly moral, perfectly Biblical...and also perfectly deadly to our spiritual vitality (I wrote about that in a different post, if you want to read it here). This isn't to suggest that life will be all peaches and sugarpuffs, even if you are living in the fullness of who God made you to be. You will have hard times. You will face discouragement. You will fail. You will want to give up. But God's grace will always be there, waiting to catch you when you fall. God's strength will flow through you when you take a single, tottery step of faith. God's light will shine the brightest in your darkest times, and even when you've reached bottom, you will carry in your spirit that peace which passes understanding.

It's beautiful, really.

So, how to find that place where your passions, talents, and spiritual gifts connect and work together in perfect harmony?

I'm no scholar. I'm just a girl who thinks a lot of long thoughts and tries (frequently without success) to figure this whole 'life' thing out. My un-scholarly, based on personal experience (and therefore, probably crazy), advice to you is this: Do everything. Get involved with your church, and with other people's churches and with ministries. Do community outreach and international missions, get involved in Bible studies and small groups. Lead, follow, work with young people, old people, and all the ages in between. Do administrative work and hard manual labor, get to know people who are different from you, talk, listen, learn. Seize the opportunities that arise, and run with them. Try new things. Do hard things. Get out of your comfort zone.

Then analyze. Think about the things you did well, the things you did poorly, and the reasons why. Ask yourself what worked and what didn't, what energized you and what drained you. Which things made you feel excited, as though you were suddenly coming fully alive? Most importantly, where did you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit working in a powerful way? Because once you've felt that, you won't want it to stop.

Ask God to place His passion in your heart.

My prayer for the past few years has been the bridge of Hillsong's 'Hosanna':
Heal my heart and make it clean,
Open up my eyes to the things unseen,
Show me how to love like You have loved me.
Break my heart for what breaks Yours,
Everything I am for Your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity.

God has honored that prayer. He has given me a tremendous love for the outsider, the loner, the discouraged, downtrodden, oppressed. I don't care who you are or what struggles you face. I want to help you, to make you feel warm and cared-for, to let you know that you are loved, that you are valuable to me and, more importantly, to God. My passion is to give of myself in love and service to others. I find my life, my words, my thoughts, my decisions, centering more and more on this theme of encouragement.

That desire to care for others has always been part of my life, but it was tainted by selfishness, pride, and fear. Slowly but surely, God peeled away the layers of my ugliness. Slowly but surely, God is leading me through the experiences I need to fan the flames of my passion and keep it burning brightly. Sometimes, my sinful desires threaten to overwhelm that holy flame. But God protects, reminds, and rescues.

What are your desires? How are they tainted by sin?

Ask God to purify your desires, to conform them to His holiness and His plans.

Seek God.

Get to know Him...don't settle for just learning about Him.

Learn what His voice sounds like, and how to listen for it.

Study the Bible. Learn what God's passions and desires look like. What makes Him angry? What makes Him sad? What are God's people called to do? How are they called to do it? What did Jesus do during His earthly ministry? How did He do it?

Analyze which passages and stories stand out to you, and why. For me, it's usually the examples of God showing love and mercy to the lowest of the low. Widows, orphans, prostitutes, tax collectors, outsiders, foreigners, murderers - those who were shunned, ignored, and oppressed by the rest of society. But that's because I'm me. Who are you?

Be willing to be different.

Be willing to let God break your heart for what breaks His. Be willing to let His passion consume you.

If you are well acquainted with me, you know that I am far from living out God's purpose as fully as I'd like. There are many things I don't understand, many times I rebel, or slide back into sinful ugliness.

But I have a purpose, a calling, and a great and mighty God.
I have a passion.
And my life has changed.
What about you?
What are you passionate about?
What are your thoughts?