“When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn.” — John Wesley (18th Century Evangelist)
This quote is both powerful and true, but of course, it is not to be taken literally. It is speaking about passion. What he is saying, is, when you light yourself on fire with passion, people love to come watch you and follow you.
Jesus certainly did not lack passion, and there are not a lot of arguments to the contrary. In Week 9, I discussed Matthew 21:12-13, the story about Jesus overturning tables and driving the money changers away from the table. Jesus was certainly showing passion in this circumstance.
A leader who lacks the passion for achieving the mission will certainly not be able to lead others. Anyone who chooses to follow that leader will always have to see from that leader a passionate commitment to the cause. If not, they will not have any commitment themselves.
There are many things we can be “passionate” about being committed to. Our marriage. Our children. Our NFL team! Certainly, people recognize our commitment to the things we are passionate about.
The Bible also includes other teachings that focus on noncommitment. From these teachings, we can see that commitment is certainly both a good and godly thing. Take one of the most hard-hitting, raw parts of the scriptures,
Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
I believe what this passage is telling us is I will not accept you being lukewarm, and being lukewarm is not better than being cold. I want you to either be totally committed or not committed at all. If you are only half-committed, you might as well not be committed at all. This can be tough for a lot of people to swallow! However, it is clear that God wants all his children to love him and love others with a passionate and complete commitment, nothing less. Furthermore, Jesus constantly warned his disciples of the importance that they be fully committed to the cause.
Passion in a leader isn’t about how often they show it, it’s about how deep it runs. Undoubtedly, some passionate leaders are very loud, and they can stir up a crowd pretty quick by stirring up people’s emotions.
But, truly passionate leaders can be surprisingly quiet: passion in a leader is better displayed by a deep and abiding commitment to a vision or a mission.
We have to believe that our leaders won’t wander off, get distracted, or give up when the going gets rough (see week 10). It is only common sense that people would be attracted to this quality. True passion in a leader isn’t just stubborn closed-mindedness. We all want to see that a leader invites dialogue about his or her passion/mission, and acts accordingly/consistently.
After passion, an important concept to understand when talking about a passionate leader is the concept of destiny. Passion most often comes from a leader’s sense of his/her own destiny. Jesus may not have known every single detail of his 33 years on Earth, but he certainly felt a sense of destiny about his life. When a storm came that was sure to sink his ship, he slept just fine because he knew it was not yet his time to die. He knew that was not his destiny.
This is important because passion without faith isn’t real. I can be really passionate about something, but if I am not willing to follow through on it and believe in it, and even be willing to die for it, then I am not truly passionate about it. For instance, I could say that I am passionate about eating popcorn (which I am). But, I’m not willing to die for it. Therefore, I would say that my passion is “lukewarm”, and lukewarm passion won’t cut it for very long. Now, I could also say that I am passionate about my wife and my children (which I am), and I am certainly willing to die for each one of them. That’s REAL passion, and I would accept that as my destiny. That’s the kind of passion we are attracted to when we look to a leader.
I believe that it is difficult, if not impossible, to have REAL passion about anything you are not willing to die for. We can like things, sure. We can even love things. But, when someone is willing to DIE for something, man, that fire burns hot! I want to follow that leader!!
Having a sense of your own destiny is something that pulls you like a magnet. Jesus knew his destiny. There is no other way to explain why he would willingly allow himself to be tortured and crucified (if you like this type of deep thinking, go read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” – great book). Nobody else could have had that passion. You would have to be 100% certain that you were the son of God and that you had to live out your mission, which included dying — at that time, and in that way. There are plenty of “passionate” priests and pastors that I bet would not bow down and allow themselves to go through that (now, there are some that would, and I would call that “true” passion). As a Christian, I believe that all Christians are called to lay down their lives should it become clear that their destiny demands it.
I realize that this week’s blog is heavy into religious examples and scripture, but that doesn’t mean that it is not applicable to leaders that have no interest in religion or theology. These concepts certainly apply to the secular world as well, and I know this is true.
With that in mind, before I conclude, consider this last quote from Steve Jobs (you know, the Apple Computer guy):
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” –Steve Jobs
I love that quote, because, Steve really gets it. I am also very inspired by this quote, even though I know that he and I don’t share the same religious faith. I think what Steve is talking about is just that: faith. We must be faithful that we sense our destiny for a reason. You must trust your destiny and follow it with total commitment. Great leaders have this.
If we follow our destiny, it can become a flaming passion that can never be extinguished. Great leaders know that their sense of destiny makes them passionate, and they share that passion with others. One candle can pass a single flame onto a thousand candles, and a passionate leader can do the same to other people with their own “passion flame”.
Even more importantly, they are willing to back it up. Jesus clearly had a sense of destiny. And, he was clearly passionate about living out that destiny. If you are a leader, and you don’t have the passion for what you are doing (with a sense of destiny), I would encourage you to take the time to reflect and even go back to the drawing board. There could be another path waiting for you that you are passionate about. If you never walk that road, you will never yield to that sense of destiny and make a full commitment to your true passion, which is both good and godly. Jesus taught us this, and he lived it. And, he died for it.