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The great exchange


I have never lacked in desire.  This is not to say it was always a particularly noble pursuit.  In fact, for many years, quite the opposite was true.  Like nearly everything, these burning ambitions began in junior high, coming to life somewhere between the ski hill and the school room.  The winter slopes gave me the adrenaline, the classroom a place to argue.  What more could a young man want?

Quite a bit.  But this realization would not arrive for nearly a decade.  The entirety of high school and the better half of college were consumed by an insatiable appetite for a rush.  Skiing, climbing, mountain biking, anything as long as it combined mountains and a significant chance of broken bones.  Accidents occurred, but this did little to dampen my enthusiasm.  Now I simply had a cool answer for why I was on crutches.

Living in Missoula didn’t help.  Mountain towns breed a powerful elitism, branding as a sellout anyone with less adventurous pursuits.  Careers and grades were mere annoyances, a footnote in your identity. True social standing hinged upon what you could do with the 1.7 seconds in the air after hitting a ski jump. I couldn’t tell you which friend set the curve on the calculus exam, but everyone knew who nailed the new trick at the slope.

Eventually competition arose.  I began meeting Christians who were just as passionate, yet pursued very different goals.  Most I wrote off as inauthentic, but a few made it through the filter unscathed. A missionary in Honduras, a local pastor in Missoula, they all proposed the same wild thought:  It’s possible to love God as much as fresh powder.  Really?

I recall with complete clarity the moment this arrived.  Haiti, of all places, working at a mission for a few weeks with an old high school friend. We served under an elderly Baptist couple, Wallace and Eleanor.  Married at 25, they moved to Haiti for their honeymoon and never left.  They were 75 when I met them, running the mission with more passion and vigor than any adrenaline soaked brat slamming through the moguls.

It was clear my life stood in stark contrast to the world outside my bedroom door.  Hopeless poverty, murder, voodoo worship, these were gritty and visceral challenges, not the manufactured battle of man against mountain.  I faced dangers all the same, but my reward was vanity and glory.  Theirs was simply another day to suffer. And of course, I could stop anytime.

That night I hit my knees, praying a simple petition.  God, if you are willing, please give me the same desire for you and your service as I have for skiing and climbing. This may sound laughable, but I was quite serious.  I knew how much joy and depth would come if could just redirect my desires.  Yet I feared the result.  Most Christians told me the answer lay in banishing my passions.   Abandon myself to the drudgery of a plastic suburban life and call it contentment. This I could not accept.  Contentment always appeared to me simply a pious label for what a Christian told another believer when he was jealous of the passion in their life.

Change came slowly.  A little slackening of desire.  A little less satisfaction after a day of climbing.  While the Holy Spirit cut and pulled at the old passions, I sensed room for something new.  A fresh patch of forest floor awash in new sunlight after the fall of towering old pine.

“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”    Martin Luther


Comment from Elizabeth K
Time November 5, 2008 at 10:00 am

Awesome post James! I would even take it a step further and say that finding passion in Jesus actually deepens our other drives, so that one can use skiing or climbing (or writing) for the glory of God just as well as missions work.

Comment from Nate
Time November 5, 2008 at 2:01 pm

“God, if you are willing, please give me the same desire for you and your service as I have for skiing and climbing.”

I like that. You didn’t pray, “please take my desire to ski away” but to instead give you a correct perspective. Something I know I need to work on daily.

Comment from Heather
Time November 8, 2008 at 7:34 pm

Thanks for what you write! You have such a knack to express what you’ve experienced in a way that I can relate.

Comment from Melissa McEwen
Time November 11, 2008 at 11:07 pm

I love that Luther quote…. how fitting and true! Your prayer…. certainly not laughable. More along the lines of self realization and true honesty with what you believed the Lord wanted from you and how He wanted to mold you. How humbling. This is a difficult task for many of us, although deep down we want that, actually humbling ourselves enough to ask for Jesus’ perspective and balance in our lives is quite difficult. As humans, we’re so often caught up in our own pride.

Comment from Russ H
Time November 16, 2008 at 9:25 pm

It is very interesting to read the written words of so many of our conversations as we have both lived a similar journey in realizing that the joy of the activity is not in the activity itself, but rather in who you share it with and what we experience beyond the rush. Peace.

Comment from Jeff L
Time November 22, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Hey good work dude. The direction of our passions is so incredibly important. As humans we are going to go after whatever we are passionate about so getting it centered on the Lord is huge! Keep up the good stuff.

Comment from Daniel
Time May 22, 2010 at 8:56 am

Incredible read! If you were to write a book…I’d read it! I have pretty much the same story! I still love motocross and other wildness, but it doesn’t compare to the surpassing satisfaction of serving my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen bro!

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