About fifteen years ago, I got sort of obsessive about the song “One Pure and Holy Passion.”
At the time, my life was pretty easy. My husband was a pastor of a church that paid enough that I could stay at home with our kids. I was just over thirty, strong, and young. My parents were healthy. My kids were smart and sweet. I had time to invest in people and to home school.
But as I listened to that song, I kept wondering what it would be like for God to become a singular focus of a person’s life. I loved the idea of loving Him more than anything, and I asked Him to help me find that kind of love.
After this prayer, my life slowly started to shift.
First, serious relational breakdowns began to hit at the church. I don’t think this would surprise me now, but because I was young and naïve, I had trouble believing that such bad things could happen in the body of Christ.
Our marriage began to creak and groan under the strain of church complications. My husband was feeling a lot of pressure from the elders, so he went inward emotionally. I pushed too hard because his distance scared me, making things worse. We fought some, but mostly we found ways to survive the practical partnership—always hoping things would just get better eventually.
Those relational issues at the church turned into domino chain of consequences. In a congregation of about 250, relationships intersect, and discord spreads. Like a wildfire that smolders and reignites, it seemed like peace was impossible to keep.
My kids started to feel the strain. Church is hard for a preacher’s kids.
Since this is a public blog, I can’t tell you everything that happened inside of my family over the next few years. The story isn’t just mine, and I want to respect the privacy of people I love. I will tell you this. One at a time, the Lord has allowed most of the foundational, earthly aspects of my life to be shaken or destroyed.
My financial security.
My physical home.
My church home.
My political party.
My physical body.
My personal identity.
My sense of dignity.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to look around in Christian business world and see so many shallow people thriving. At least in my part of the country, it seems like real character matters less to the church than flamboyance, networking, and a country club social posture. And since we have been stripped of so many earthly comforts, it’s tempting to look at the machine of what seems to “work” and feel cynical.
But then I remember that prayer I prayed so earnestly 15 years ago. I asked God to give me a single passion, a holy passion, to love Him and his glory above anything on this earth.
I don’t see how he could have answered that prayer without breaking down my lesser allegiances.
It’s really, really hard to see comprehensive brokenness as a gift. Living inside it, that sort of demolition can feel more like you’re being scorned by God instead of that you’re being given an opportunity by Him. But then I remember how Paul’s ministry passed through a stage of depression so deep that he didn’t even want to live. When describing that brokenness, he wrote, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (II Corinthians 1:8).
God let the main leader of the Gentile church hurt so badly, be afflicted so deeply, that he wanted to die.
But God was also intentional about this brokenness. He didn’t just allow Paul to hurt, he intended that pain for a specific purpose.
Paul says: “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (II Corinthians 1:9).
It would take a lot to break someone like Paul that deeply. He was a tough cookie, smart, capable, and chosen to meet God by a blinding light like none that anybody else in the history of humankind had experienced. But after that light, God allowed darkness, suffering, even despair. He had to let Paul be demolished deeply enough that he would learn to rely on God and not himself.
For fierce, bright, or capable people, this sort of obliteration has to be intense, or it won't accomplish the goal. When light trouble comes, strong people just switch gears—turning from one of their strengths to another one of their strengths.
You have to get to the very last strength, and then see that this strength is still not enough, to believe that you’re dead in the water. You cannot, cannot, cannot learn that God raises the dead until you’ve been slain.
Recently, God has provided another opportunity for our family to learn this. I thought we had reached bottom several years ago. Now I see there was more self effort and self righteousness that God needed to remove before we could walk in utter reliance.
It’s hard to be grateful for this opportunity right now.
And yet, Paul wrote "...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
I used to read those verses from a secure, young, educated, American position. I see them so differently now.
“I have learned," Paul wrote. Time inside of pain is involved here, not just intellectual knowledge. This is more like learning that comes from riding a bike. The only way to learn this stuff is in flesh, while being uncomfortable. And to really learn the lesson, almost everything secure has to be removed.
“The secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need,” he said. There’s a secret to being stripped bare. Something solid that lingers when your body and soul are hurting.
“Through him who strengthens me.” How could we ever know that God is strengthening us if we have strength of our own left to use?
God is still answering the prayer I prayed fifteen years ago. He trusted me when I told him that I wanted Him more than anything in this world—that I wanted Him as my deepest passion. Have I learned contentment in all things yet? Not really. My body, my soul, and my emotions want the aftershocks to stop.
And yet, there is also a tiny flicker in my spirit that says, “If this is what it takes for me to really learn Him who strengthens me, it’s worth it.”
Because during this life, we learn lessons that transpose into an eternal currency. We are being prepared for the fullness of a kingdom that runs on different sorts of values--a kingdom where the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.
In this kingdom, the American church is going to be jolted awake. The country club values, the CEO values, the earthly power and influence we have sought--all that will blow away like dust in the wind.
In that culture, only what was done in the Spirit will remain.
Charisma will mean nothing. EQ will mean nothing. Beauty will mean nothing. Political connections will mean nothing.
But those weak and broken ragamuffins who have met the end of themselves a thousand times, those who have been slain and resurrected, will find themselves inside of a familiar economy.
"Give me one pure and holy passion. To know and follow hard after you."
That’s not as easy to pray these days because I know God will grant it. But also, so much has already been torn away, I don’t want to hold anything back. We’ve come too far.
Life here is short, and eternity is long.