How to be Hot for God

Being Christian is not for sissies, I have heard some say. We must be bold, courageous and purposely enter into experiences of encounter that might make the average person squirm.

For starters, this is a life of serious love. And for us Christians, love is a verb, not a feeling. We have to love our enemies, not just our friends, even when it might not feel good or make sense. This love is done through countercultural actions: we have to forgive, stand up for justice, help the poor and marginalized.

All this love-in-action activity totally changes us for the better. Conversion gets the best of us. Our minds, hearts and behaviors change. For doing this love-work means we must hang out with prisoners, the people who scare us, the smelly— and we might become poor, scary, imprisoned and smelly ourselves in the process.

This being a Christian-thing: it’s messy, it’s complicated and totally challenging.

God really is demanding; God does ask a lot. We must give over our whole life and become totally transformed, and unite with God in our hearts, minds and spirits. For sure, this discipleship is an all-or-nothing thing. No pretending, going through motions, or half-assing any sort of faith-life; at least not if we want to really please God and build God’s reign of peace and justice.

Yes, like the verse in Revelation says, we must not be lukewarm with our faith.

I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.

So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 

Rev 3: 15 & 16

When we’re real with ourselves, though, we might be able to admit that we don’t always feel on fire for the Gospel and the love of Jesus. Sometimes we are just not in the mood to go to great lengths to care for others. And, other times we are full of doubts, confusion. We are hurting, exhausted and just plain weary.

“fire” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

So, if we’re feeling lukewarm and we don’t want God to spit us out, then what are we to do?

It’s important to understand the original context of the passage; it was written to encourage persecuted Christians to remain faithful and hopeful during the Roman Empire. Many Christians were hiding their faith or trying to participate in both the state religion as well as their Christian communities, in the same way that today some of us still participate in the sins of the common culture while still going to Church saying we’re a Christian. This is the type of lukewarm faith that doesn’t care, that is comfortable and not interested in growth or feeling passion for God and others.

But, what if we are lukewarm because we’re struggling? What can we do if we don’t feel hot for God like we want?

Here’s how to be hot for God:

  • Surround yourself with strong, faithful Christians who you can lean on for support. Recently one of my young nun friends posted a meme that totally summed this up for me. There was a picture of a bunch of ladies in wacky clothes and a statement: “surround yourself with people on the same mission as you.”
  • Study scripture and pray a lot. Ask God for a strong faith, for strength and keep in mind that faith is a gift, but faithfulness is required in all relationships. And, a life of faith is a life in relationship.
  • Do frequent acts of service because a great way to get to know God is by getting close to poverty.
  • Receive the sacraments and allow the graces of God to transform you from the inside out.
  • Listen and stay open to God’s beauty and love surrounding you all the time, whether it is nature, in art, your own acts of creativity or in the people you love.
  • Ask others to pray for you such as my community. By the way, we have a perpetual adoration chapel and are praying 24/7 and we love praying for all of you and all your requests! You can submit your prayer requests here.

Indeed, let us pray for each other, that all of us can burn brightly with our love for God! Amen!

(If you are wondering what inspired this very impassioned post, I gave a very similar sermon to my 9th grade Scripture students while we were studying Revelation this week. But, it also seems incredibly relevant for us all to reflect on how we can be more vibrant with our faith in light of Pope Francis’ prayer intentions for secularization nations during the month of May and the recently released data on “America’s changing religious landscape.”)

being hot water, not lukewarm or otherwise

On the bus this morning I had a conversation with a neighbor.  I heard her vent about having children. I listened and then acknowledged the challenge of working with anyone who is still seeking his or her identity.

“I know what you mean,” she said. “I didn’t know what my identity was when I was a teenager, but then I found it in God.”

Forty minutes later, one of my students approached my desk and asked a question.  “Sister, do you ever get sick of talking about God?”  I smiled and said it was amusing that he asked because just last night I was thinking about how I completely define myself by my faith.  The answer to my student’s question is no; I never tire of talking about the love of my life.

Related, I was asked why this blog suggests that Christianity has become too fluffy and watered down.  I wondered if it was an unfair statement.  I know that we’re all doing this the best we can, and the best we know how. Our seeking and our efforts are genuine.  We all desire to be closer to God and change the world and we’re trying.

Nonetheless, my concerns with Christianity are certainly summed up by the words fluffy and watered down. When I think of fluffy religion I think of a faith that soothes. When we say that the Bible isn’t a formula for social action we can read it as a comfy book about love.  Sure, we need to understand that God loves us, but that’s only the beginning. Yes, we are loved, but so are “they.” Do we live like we believe it?

I think that a watered down religion is sort of like a lukewarm religion.  I think it’s a type of oversimplification of the faith. We bend truth so it fits the ways of the world.  It’s mediocrity.

The book of Revelation warns us about the danger of not being hot about God:

“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches… I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.  Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, (then) I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.  I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. -Revelation 3:13-22
Ouch.  I pray God doesn’t ever spit me out.  Yikes, faith can’t be cozy nor simple.  When it comes to being a Christian, we are supposed to be all or nothing, hot or cold.  Apathy and indifference are disastrous.  We have to care.  It’s probably better if we hate or love, because then we have strong feelings one way or another.

I can’t let my faith life be a “when I feel like it” sort of thing. Honestly, this is the hardest part of being religious for me.  I have to pay attention to my excuses. I must make sure I am answering my prayers for social justice and union with God with my actions.

I worry about earth and oil but then I drive instead of walking, biking or taking the bus.  I pray for a cultural conversion away from materialism, but then I am excited to shop when I discover a really wonderful sale.  I am such a sinner, and I am sorry.

We all know that there is a such thing as “Christmas and Easter Christians.”  Sadly, history is stained with the inconsistent faith of religious.  Christians pray to love on Sunday and torture on Monday.  Slavery, world wars, the Holocaust, the crusades, racism and classism are our shared shames.  In a way, we’re all sort of “Christmas and Easter Christians” who need to be converted to the truth of Love in ordinary times.

As I have struggled through this, I am learning an important lesson. To do this better- to be really hot about the Way of Jesus- we need each other.  We best contemplate the challenges in community. We need to be called out when we settle and slack. We need to stir the hearts of one another with more awareness of God’s love and the ways it compels us to respond to injustice.  Together we learn the Christian how-to’s.

When we’re hot together then together we will survive.

Sin aside, how do you think you are doing?