A Passion for Souls

A PASSION FOR WHAT?

The dictionary defines "passion" as an extreme and compelling emotion. North Americans have many great passions–for making money, watching sports, gambling, consuming alcohol, and for sexual excess. But what about those of us committed to Christ? Do we feel strongly enough about it that it molds and motivates our behaviour? Recent polls reveal a disturbing trend. In many cases, the goals and desires that animate professing Christians are not much different from those of unbelievers. That suggests the Christianity of many is only skin deep!

It was not like that for the Apostle Paul. Everything was invested in his service for Christ. But, within that broader aim, he had one particular "passion" he testifies to a number of times. As a converted Jew, he was especially concerned for the spiritual needs of his own people. He saw they had "a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2). Instead of claiming God's gift of salvation by faith, they were striving to find acceptance with God through good works, or relying on the privileged place their ancestry gave them.

Paul himself had tried that and found it wanting. He knew with certainty that salvation is "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:9), and "not by works of righteousness which we have done" (Tit. 3:5). It comes through personal faith in the finished work of Christ, and that alone (Jn. 3:16; 14:6). So Paul was deeply concerned for his kin. It was not their Jewishness that was the problem. He was respectful of the heritage he shared with them. But he knew that outside of Christ his Jewish brethren were eternally lost, no matter how religious and moral they might be. With that realization, he became passionate about getting the gospel to the Jews.

On his various missionary journeys, Paul made it a point to visit local synagogues along the way. There, he preached about Christ to the assembly. Some responded positively, others did not. But he had done what he could. He tells us, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Rom. 10:1). In other words, what would give him the greatest delight and satisfaction was their salvation. But he also confesses, "I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart....for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:2-3). Those who came to Christ brought him joy, but the ones who continued to reject Him were a heavy burden on his heart day by day. He was passionate about it.

Near the beginning of the twentieth century, a young Bible college student named Herbert George Tovey (1888-1972) prayed the Lord would grant him that very thing, a high and holy calling about which he could be passionate. He turned his prayer into a hymn, published in 1914, called "A Passion for Souls" One of Tovey's music teachers at the college (Moody Bible Institute) provided the tune. And God answered that prayer. Herbert Tovey went on to a long and fruitful ministry for the Lord Jesus, both as a pastor and a Christian musician.

His hymn is a prayer: "Give me a passion for souls, dear Lord, a passion to save the lost; / O that Thy love were by all adored, and welcomed at any cost." The chorus says, "Jesus, I long, I long to be winning / Men who are lost, and constantly sinning; / O may this hour be one of beginning / The story of pardon to tell."

What about you and me? Do we tend to be indifferent to the desperate plight of those who do not know Christ--especially among our own neighbours and kinfolk? Or do we share Paul's burdened heart? What if we were to pray, "Give me a passion for souls"? What could the Lord accomplish in our community and beyond it with Christians possessed of such a holy passion?