Skill and Passion

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Years ago a student of mine entered a laboratory to prepare for an academic medical career. In the prior eleven years, she had amassed many skills; now with this further training, her future would be set. When her supervisor assigned her to his project, she worked diligently to master his techniques. Then, within a year, she quit the lab. Her experiments had succeeded, but her work lacked passion. In spite of the time invested, she realized she was living out her mentor's dream and not pursing her own.

When I read about Jesus' disciples, I also see a mismatch of skill and passion. In John 21:4-11, we read about Simon Peter after Jesus' crucifixion. Depressed by recent events—including his own denial—Peter reverts to the only skill he ever mastered. "I'm going fishing," he announces. The problem is that he trawls all night and catches nothing. Then he sees his risen Lord, switches gears, and makes a passionate leap into the sea. If Peter had matched his passion with his skills, he could have stayed in the boat and helped his friends drag in 153 previously elusive fish.

In another post-resurrection appearance (Luke 21:13-32), Jesus walks the road to Emmaus. Concealing his identity, he asks his disciples what everyone's talking about. Speaking for the group, Cleopas outlines the previous week's events, illustrating his skillful knowledge of Scripture about the Messiah. As Luke tells the story, however, Cleopas clearly has missed the point. The disciples had just spent three years at Jesus' side taking in his teaching, even performing miracles as he taught them to do. They had head knowledge of Scripture, but something was lacking. Then, Luke says, Jesus opened Scripture to them and passion enters the story. His disciples urged him strongly to stay. Later they report that their hearts burned within them.

Jesus never told Peter to stop fishing. He retooled him to be a fisher of folks (Matthew 4:19). He never told Cleopas that Jewish training was useless to a Christian disciple. He gave Cleopas the power to return to Jerusalem, a city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it (Luke 13:34).

When our work is drained of passion, our skills lose purpose and power. When Jesus blends our skills and passions, He gives us a place and a pace. Sometimes a new surge of passion helps us stay in a boat. Other times it spurs us out of hiding and back into the world. Like my student who left the lab, we lose our passion when we only dream someone else's dream. If we hold onto our passion as we hone our skills, we may just find that God is dreaming along with us.

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