Daily practices for reigniting spiritual passion
Saint John of the Cross described his relationship with Jesus as the “living flame of love.” The two men Jesus walked with on the road to Emmaus testified that their hearts burned within them as Jesus opened the Scriptures (see Luke 24:32). How do leaders feed this living flame so that the daily pressures of ministry do not smother the fire that should drive our service in the first place?
In my own life, I experienced renewed love for Jesus as I began to see in the Scripture that God relates to His church as His bride and burns with passion and zeal for her. From Genesis through Revelation, one of the themes of the Scriptures is God’s ravished heart for His people. We discover Him as the one who leaves the Father’s home in heaven to cling to His bride and be united to her as a husband becomes one flesh with his wife.
We find Him in the prophetic pictures of Isaac and Rebekah, of Boaz and Ruth, of Esther and the king. We are strengthened by the king’s declaration of love for the bride in the Song of Solomon. We feel the anguish of the Bridegroom’s heart in the prophetic writings as He grieves the spiritual adultery of His people, and we are continually moved by the constancy of His longing for intimacy and commitment to restoration.
As preachers of the gospel, we can take no better biblical figure for our example than John the Baptist. Sent in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way for the first coming of Jesus, he is the prototype of the end-time messengers who will prepare the way for Jesus’ soon return. The source of John the Baptist’s joy is not the success or longevity of his ministry but His intimacy with Jesus.
“The friend of the bridegroom ... rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice,” he says. As Jesus begins His ministry, John asserts that “this joy of mine is fulfilled” (John 3:29). The voice of Jesus speaking to John personally kept his heart alive as a forerunner.
Similarly, Jesus told His dear friend Martha that only “one thing is needed,” and that is to sit at His feet to hear His words (see Luke 10:42). We need this instruction because it is so easy to replace the one necessary thing with many good but secondary activities. As a fellow leader, I want to share several helpful ways toward establishing the “one necessary thing” as a true first priority of our lives in ministry.
To start with, we must make the commitment of John the Baptist and Mary of Bethany and decide that hearing the voice of the Bridegroom is the most important thing we can do. There is no substitute for time spent alone with Jesus and His Word. We need to sit before Him in long and loving meditation on His Word, turn His Word into conversational prayer and listen for His voice sharing what’s on His heart.
This requires setting apart time in our calendars for this one thing and allowing nothing to interfere with it. Instead of going through an issue-oriented prayer list, organizing our day or answering e-mails and text messages, we do nothing but listen for His voice. Only the voice of Jesus will sustain us through the ups and downs of ministry life.
After we have set aside time to listen to God, we learn to differentiate between study and meditation. Studying the Scriptures is essential, but it is not the same as lovingly meditating on the Word of God. Meditation on Jesus’ words, His attributes and His character is distinct from intellectual study, and it is critical for cultivating love for the Son.
“My heart was hot within me,” wrote David. “While I was musing the fire burned. Then I spoke with my tongue” (Ps. 39:3). The principle is this: What we contemplate affects the fire in our heart, causing it either to burn more brightly or to weaken.
How does meditation work? It consists of muttering to ourselves, chewing over Scripture so that our minds and spirits are filled with truth. What I mull over is the focus of my meditation, and I want it to be centered on Jesus—on His words, His character, His attributes, His manner of relating with people as He walked the roads of Palestine. I want to stoke the fires of love for Jesus by constantly meditating on His beauty revealed in His Word.
We’re told that Jesus’ name is like “ointment poured forth” (see Song 1:3). Meditating on the names of Jesus is key to having a deep love relationship with Him. A tool I like to use to help me focus my meditation is a simple acronym, ARK. These letters stand for Agreement, Revelation and Keeping the Prophecy.
To illustrate, I may choose to focus on one of the names of Jesus in Revelation 1-3, such as “faithful witness” (see Rev. 1:5). I think of simple statements or declarations of agreement with the Holy Spirit about this identity of Jesus.
“Jesus, You are the faithful witness,” I’ll say. “You were faithful to everything the Father gave You to do. You fully revealed Him to Your friends. You manifested His name to those He gave You, and You did not back down when confronted with resistance, trouble or danger. I agree, You are the faithful witness.” In this way I turn the declaration of His name into conversational prayer, agreeing with Him about who He is.
Having agreed with truth, the next thing I do is pray for revelation as I search the Scriptures for examples of Jesus’ faithfulness. While this is a study of sorts, it is different from studying in preparation for a teaching or sermon. It is motivated by fascination with the One I love because I want my heart to be inflamed with love for Him.
To conclude my focused time of meditation, I ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to be faithful in keeping the prophecy (see Rev. 1:3). I want to live according to the revelation I’ve received. God promises in Scripture that by gazing on Him I will become like Him (see 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2-3), so I ask the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s promise to me as I concentrate on Him. Using this acronym is very helpful to me.
At other times, I like to focus on one of the stories in the Gospels that describe Jesus’ interactions with people in various situations of life. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I use my imagination to enter into the story and become one of the characters, feeling and thinking what they might have thought and felt. For example, the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11 can be used as a powerful meditation on receiving forgiveness for areas of sin and shame in our lives.
Alternatively, I can picture myself as one of the self-righteous Pharisees or even feel the compassion of Jesus as He sets the woman free. The stories of the Gospels, as well as the historical record of God’s dealings with His people in the Old Testament, all are rich for potential encounter if I will just pause long enough to discover His heart in each one.
Jesus Christ is the “living flame of love.” I pray that we will find fresh ways to hear His voice and grow in love as we set our gaze on Him.
Gary Wiens leads the International House of Prayer-Northwest, based in Washington state. Previously, he pastored the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Aurora, Colo., and helped start IHOP-KC in Kansas City, Mo., in 1999.