It Happens Unexpectedly
In ancient warfare there were two ways for a walled city to face an oncoming army. One was to bolt the gate, store as much food as possible, and to prepare for either a direct assault or an extended siege. The other was to throw open the gates, change the flag, and to welcome a foreign king with oaths of loyalty and showers of confetti. Spiritually, captivation is what happens when we throw down the arms of the heart and eagerly recognize a new source of devotion as sovereign in our life.
My first experience of being captivated was as a child watching Michael Jordan play basketball. I could hear the crowd; I could see the glamor; I could taste the glory. Suddenly, my allegiance shifted. I am not sure what existed as the center of my gravity before that moment, but in a flash one sun had been replaced by another. I identified with a new ‘god’ although I would not have labeled it such. Basketball - along with its chief prophet, Michael Jordan - was my religion. I was a devotee to the cult. I was captivated. I lived, breathed, and dreamed of the glory that radiated from a hardwood court.
The Opposite of a ‘Balanced Life’
Captivation is what happens to a man when his heart is fiercely gripped by a vision of unparalleled beauty and goodness. From what I can perceive, not every man experiences captivation. A lot of guys are content to navigate life using a constellation of smallish goods like career, fun, family, health, hobbies, and entertainment. These goods are like stars in the night sky. Some shine brighter than others, but none shines so brightly that, like the sun, it overpowers the rest with a blinding light. You know when you meet a man who has not experienced captivation because his goal for living is a ‘balanced life’. He wants each object of value to orbit its own sphere. Something is wrong - even fanatical - if one thing bears such weight that the whole system of life must adjust to pay respect to a unique and incomparable center of desire.
In contrast, the first sign of captivation is imbalance. You know a man who has caught a glimpse of glory because one object towers in his heart like the sun over the earth. Only in this light does he see light; only by this heat is his heart warmed. This is not to say that other things do not have worth. There are other, lesser lights. But only one illumines his world. ‘Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You’ (Ps. 73) - these words are the prayerful anguish of a captivated heart.
Unhinging the Heart
Captivation by itself is not a good thing. Like gunpowder, captivation can be harmful or helpful. Hitched to the wrong engine (e.g. success, pleasure, or comfort), a captivated heart can lead a man into tempation, vice, and self-destruction. Captivation only takes on spiritual value when the heart is specifically smitten by the glory of Christ. Then, and only then, does captivation become an irreplacable means of spiritual transformation.
Personally, I am convinced that no man will make serious progress toward spiritual maturity until he is captivated by the person and work of Jesus. To attempt discipleship without captivation is like entering into a marriage without a deep and earnest desire to have and to hold a single woman. Any man who goes into his wedding day with a heart divided between three or four girlfriends will be a failure as a husband. The struggle will be no less for a Christian who reduces Christ to something smaller than the sum of all wisdom, goodness, beauty, honor, truth, and pleasure. There is only one face that perfectly reveals the hidden glory of God. That face is Jesus. There is only one door that makes divine life accessible to us. That door is Jesus. Not merely knowing this but tasting it is fundamental to sustained growth as a Christian.
When We Survey
But how does a man taste and see the glory of Christ? The answer is by sitting patiently at the foot of the cross. Only by fixing a sustained gaze upon the dying body of Jesus do we come to appreciate the nature of everlasting glory. And this is why our first challenge in the decathlon is to memorize the classic hymn ‘When I Survey’. If you will take the time to memorize and ponder the words of this hymn two things will happen. First, you will slow down and pause long enough at the scene of the crucifixion to see a light begin to shimmer from the suffering form of Jesus. Second, you will feel the magnet of your heart strangely pulled in a new direction. Above success, achievement, pleasure, comfort, fun, and family a higher light will emerge. The eyes of your heart will catch a glimpse of the beauty of holiness. Once that has happened, radical discipleship can begin.
Questions for Groups Discussion/Self-Reflection
What do you think it means for a heart to be captivated by the glory of Jesus?
How do you know if your heart is captivated by Jesus?
Describe the spiritual condition of your heart right now: what are you living for?
Why is captivation of such great importance to discipleship?
What can Christian men do in order to deepen their love, devotion, and commitment to Jesus?