A Few Thoughts About Zeal

I have a two-part question for you: 1.) are you zealous for God, and 2.) what is it doing for you?

What is zeal, you ask? It’s an old-fashioned word that embodies a lot of different things. I like the thesaurus entry for zeal. I think it describes it better than it’s direct definition:

Ross’s zeal for football: passion, ardor, love, fervor, fire, avidity, devotion, enthusiasm, eagerness, keenness, appetite, relish, gusto, vigor, energy, intensity; fanaticism. ANTONYMS apathy, indifference.

I think that’s easy enough to understand. Zeal, in its more extreme form, is what we see in absurd football fans who paint their half naked beer-bodies in team colors. It’s a parent trying to coach their student-athlete from the bleachers. It’s a baseball fan yelling at the manager from the cheap seats. In it’s most unhealthy form, it’s a terrorist with a bomb strapped to his chest. In what might be it’s purest form, it’s a soldier diving on a grenade to save his buddies.

Now that we understand what zeal is, I think the question that naturally follows is, should I be zealous for God? 

That’s a whole separate issue, and I spoke about it at length in a sermon a few weeks ago which you can listen to here. But the short answer is, “Yes. Absolutely.” If you want to know why I feel that way, go read the Psalms from beginning to end. It’s a good afternoon’s work, but when you’re done I think you’ll be astonished at the Psalmists zeal for the Lord and how our modern church just doesn’t feel the way the Psalmists felt.

Now, back to my original question: 1.) are you zealous for God, and 2.) what is it doing for you? 

Let’s hang out in part one for a minute.

I got to thinking about this because of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. He wrote forcefully to them about their struggles with judiazers that were turning the Galatians away from genuine faith in Jesus, and in chapter 4 Paul had this to say:

Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.

Paul thought zeal was a good thing, and implied that the Galatians should be zealous for God. This passage struck me, because for a long time I’ve been ardently avoiding zeal.

There’s a story. I grew up in churches that lacked zeal. My father pastored several small churches, mostly non-denominational churches full of every day evangelicals. They meant well, but when it came to a passionate love of Jesus, well… no one could accuse very many of them of inappropriate zeal because there wasn’t much zeal to be had. Needless to say, I came across some Christians in my teens that were full of zeal, and I caught up with them quickly. I became a full-fledged pentecostal with a belly of full of fire.

And then I went too hard. Ask people who knew me back then, and I was all zeal without much concern for the practical things of life. I was passionate for the Lord, but I wasn’t too concerned about getting to know people so long as I got them saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Years later when I got married, I was so concerned with fulfilling God’s call on my life that I didn’t properly provide for my family. You could say that I was so heavenly minded that I was of no earthly good.

About seven or eight years ago, God started working in my heart and showed me that loving Him meant more than just being passionate about Him. It meant that I needed to actually love people, that I needed to love God more than His miracles, that I needed to be the provider for my family. Of course, His voice got a little garbled through the filter of my heart and mind; in turn, I went too far the other way and pretty much shut zeal off. I wanted to be obedient to the Lord, but I felt that all of the excitement and passion had led me astray. So I dumped it out.

By God’s grace, He is now showing me I dumped out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s look at those words of Paul again, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good…”

So I’ve been letting zeal back in. I’ve been trying to find the balance of keeping my feet on the ground while also looking to heaven, trying to find the face of God. Here’s what I’ve learned in that time.

Healthy zeal for the Lord will result in a holy life.

Part one of my question–are you zealous for God?–should naturally answer part two, what is it doing for you?

Zeal should result in a disciplined Christian life. When we worship together on Sunday morning, we are caught up in the fiery emotions of God and the experience of His presence, but that fire should ignite an outpouring of love to those around us, a decided stewardship of God’s blessings, and a consistent pursuit of God’s presence in our day-to-day.

We can’t be all passion. We can’t be only practical. Our passion should fuel the practical steps of living for God Monday through Saturday.

Think of it this way. We are, today, unfortunately familiar with our own soldiers and terrorists. Terrorists are certainly full of zeal, but they have little in the way of military discipline, and so they are defeated. Western soldiers, however, are equally full of zeal, but it’s their discipline that allows them to stay alive and win the day. While it is wildly difficult to defeat the zeal of radical Islam, western armies do so through the methodical application of discipline fueled by zeal. It’s an example we Christians should follow.

So, please, come worship with me this Sunday and let’s get crazy for Jesus together. Let’s stir up our zeal for the Lord so that we can wake up on Monday morning with a belly full of fire for the work God has given us to do. We need the fire of God because the fire of God has a purpose, to accomplish the works that He set apart for us.