How Leaders Cultivate Passion For Their Work

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

Passion leaks ...

You have probably heard it said, "Vision leaks." That is because one vision cast is not enough. Without regular infusions of vision we quickly lose sight of the bigger picture and we bog down. But vision is not the only thing that springs a leak---passion leaks out as well. Why would Paul say, "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding" unless lethargy, apathy, and discouragement were normal challenges to be faced?

Paul's admonition to the Corinthians has me asking, "Yes, but how?" How do I cultivate the passion I should be living? I think a good place to begin is by examining the things that drain our passion for God and his work.

What drains your passion?

It is not without reason that God tells leaders, "Pay careful attention to yourselves" (Acts 20:28) and "Keep a close watch on yourself" (1 Timothy 4:16). If you lead for God, it is your job to know yourself and that includes knowing what fills your tank and what drains your passion.

Right now I suspect your temptation will be to read that last line, give a nod of assent, and move on. Don't do that. Instead, pause for a moment and answer this question: "What drains your passion for God and for his kingdom?"

Here are three "passion drainers" in my life:

  1. An unrelenting pace. When my M.O. is go-go my soul is going to suffer and my passion for God will falter. Strength comes from rest, silence, and time with God. All those disappear during busy days.
  2. Negativity of those closest to me. I can handle criticism and don't mind contending with "unhappy campers." It goes with the job. Negativity by compatriots is a different manner. While I need and want healthy dialogue, I begin to dry up when dialogue turns to grumbling and complaining
  3. Good work for God. I have heard that giving a 30-minute message is the equivalent of working an eight-hour day. If that seems far-fetched, try spending 10-20 hours in preparation to pour out your heart and soul to communicate a message. Then tack on encouraging, counseling, and a few meetings all in the same day. It is a recipe for delightful exhaustion -- and it is draining.

What do we do to plug the drain and begin to fill our tanks so that we stay "always abounding"? We discover the answer when we look at the life of Jesus.

Lessons from the life of Jesus

Mark records an interesting moment in the ministry of Jesus and the disciples. Exhausted by the grind of day-in and day-out preaching, teaching and serving, Jesus encourages his disciples to get away for a brief retreat.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:30-34 ESV

Looking at this incident I see five important factors. There is nothing particularly new here, but don't let that stop you from reviewing the material carefully. I'm with Samuel Johnson, the 18th century author and literary critic. He said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” As we look at this incident from Mark's gospel we discover five important reminders for cultivating passion in ministry:

1. We need the Savior

Allow me to share the obvious: The disciples were with the Savior. Godly passion comes from God. Jesus said, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5 ESV).

We never stop needing Jesus. As Tim Keller has said, "The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s of Christianity, but it is the A to Z of Christianity.... It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Romans 1:16-17)." Tips and tactics -- apart from the indwelling power and presence of Jesus -- are not enough. What are you doing to abide?

Vector Illustration of winding road
Vector Illustration of winding road

2. We need space

Jesus said, "Come away." There is something about getting away from the hustle and bustle that helps us to endure it. We all need to disengage in order that we might re-engage more capable of investing in others, enduring the challenges, and passionately pursuing the cause of Christ.

Where do you find space? Your getaway may be the coffee shop, the beach, the mountains, a quiet nook in the house or on an early morning walk. The key is not necessarily a particular place, but necessity of regular space to be alone with God.

We can't always "get away" to the mountains or the beach, so it might be helpful to think of differentiating between your daily or weekly retreat and that place where you may get an extended stay on an annual or semi-annual basis. Are  you getting the space you need? If not, what can you do to change this?


3. We need sleep

Rest is your daily vacation from God. The Psalmist said, "It is in vain that you rise up earlyand go late to rest,eating the bread of anxious toil;for he gives to his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2 ESV). Most of us would probably consider a lack of sleep a mark of our tenacity or disciplined lifestyle. Some might acknowledge it as a bad habit that is negatively impacting their health. God says it is vanity. If we are regularly burning the candle at both ends we are not trusting God. Why? Because sleep is the gift he gives. It is the daily reminder from God that he has it all under control. God loves you enough to give you rest.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Cowardliness is not the only negative impact of overwork and "under-sleep." Lack of sleep slows metabolism and can negatively impact your brain. This is serious stuff. While not trying to over-simplify a complex subject: Rest leads to passion. Get you some of that!

4. We need Scripture

Walk with Jesus through the pages of the gospels and he will point you back to Scripture. Mark says, "He began to teach them many things." Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). He reminded us that "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mark 13:31 ESV).

The Word of God was the daily diet of Jesus. Can the same be said of me? Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”  God challenges us and encourages us and delights us and fills us and empowers us and makes us wise through his Word. It is our daily manna from God. What is your intake of Scripture? If you want to dig deeper or need some help, click here.

5. We need to remember the importance of souls

Interestingly, as important as this discipleship retreat was, it appears the disciples didn't get much of it. Why? Because Jesus saw the one thing that stopped everything for him: "He saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd" (Mark 6:34 ESV).

Traveling a little farther in Mark's gospel we come face-to-face with the incalculable value of the human soul. Jesus says, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?For what can a man give in return for his soul?" (Mark 8:36-37).  In a world of beautiful homes, shining cars, glamor shots, and destination spots, we can forget the value of the human soul. People matter. People are the only thing that outlive this life. Jesus prayed over people, healed people, loved people, took time for people, and saved people. They were sheep in need of a shepherd -- they were sheep with eternal souls.

Take a few moments and think about the sheep God has given you to shepherd. Each one is an eternal soul.

Always abounding . . .

Just now you may not feel like you are steadfast, immovable, and "always abounding." Don't lose heart. God supplies what you need for what he calls you to do. Review the lessons from the life of Jesus. Prayerfully ponder what you have read. What's your next step to cultivate a little more passion for the people and the work God has given you?


"The gospel is not ..." from "The Sufficiency Of Christ And The Gospel In A Post-Modern World." Accessed at Accessed October 27, 2014.