Passionate about People

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This August issue of Wineskins is centered on the theme of passion: “what Christians can and should be truly passionate about” or what it looks like to “have a passion for God” (from Matt Dabbs’ editorial introduction). This passion is based on the fact that we all have been impacted by the same gospel; we are all a part of “a story worth telling.”

I suppose I should begin by saying that I don’t think all Christians need to be passionate about the same things. Or, put another way, we are all a part of the same story but we are also all going to tell (and perceive and live) that story in a variety of ways. And this is part of what it means to be created in the image of God, because diversity is who God is. So, in short, I guess I would say that Christians should be passionate about whatever God has created you to be passionate about.

And for me, that’s people. This is different than an introvert/extrovert thing. I’m not saying that being around others is “energizing” or “life-giving” to me (although that is true); I am saying that the way I “love God” or “connect with God” best is through other people. Although one can certainly have a mixture of ways to connect with God, for the sake of explaining what I mean by loving God through other people, this is “in contrast with” those who connect best with God through learning, or through activism/service, or through worship, or through nature, etc. (See “Appendix” at the end if this is of interest to you.)

For me, what it means to be passionate about people in the presence of God is that I am both challenged and encouraged by my relationships with others, and am passionate about fostering relationships between other people where they can be challenged and encouraged as well. Although many people might say that they need to take time away from being with others so that they can spend time with God, this dichotomy does not make any sense to me.

Now, I know that even Jesus did this (tried to get away to mountains to pray, etc.), so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m not saying that there is no such thing for any person as “time alone with God.” I am only saying that, for me, those things aren’t separate. I am passionate about spending time with other people because, in so doing, I am acutely aware that I am also spending time with God. (And Jesus did this too, otherwise he never would have chosen disciples in the first place, and would have said something more like, “Get the little children away from me.” So, again, baby, bathwater: both important.)

Martin Laird uses the metaphor of a wheel with spokes centered on a single hub to describe this method of connecting with or centering on God: “The more we journey towards the Center the closer we are both to God and to each other. The problem of feeling isolated from both God and others is overcome in the experience of the Center.” (Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, [Oxford: 2006], 12)

So, for me, what it looks like have passion for God is to have passion for people – eating, playing, crying, walking, praying, talking, sweating, singing, sitting, and living with people. That’s what revives my spirit.

Appendix/Side Note
I was first exposed to the idea of spiritual temperaments (sort of like “love languages for God”) through Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) and Myra Perrine’s What’s Your God Language? Connecting with God through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament (Tyndale, 2007), which is based on Thomas’ earlier book.

As with any work that divides people into personality or spiritual types, the danger is that when one learns one’s “type” they will feel limited or constrained to interact with God or the world in that specific way. Also, no “type” perfectly describes any individual. However, I have always found research regarding personality/spiritual types to be profoundly helpful in understanding why I perceive the world and the church the way I do. Knowing my type(s) gives me permission to be who I am – aware of my strengths and weaknesses – and to allow others to do the same.

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