I have been really struck by a blogpost on ‘zeal’ by Tim Challies. Challies says, and I strongly agree, that “zeal” is a word that was once an important part of the Christian vocabulary, but has since diminished. I know that to be true in my own life, because I haven’t thought of this until now as a Christian virtue – and one that I desperately need more of in my life. I sense my great need for more zeal even in how Challies defines it as “the opposite of complacency.” When I think about the ways in which I have become complacent in my Christian life and in my pursuit of God, I am stabbed with conviction and driven to repent by asking God to light the fires of zeal in me.
What is zeal? Challies helps us understand it by looking at other areas of our life where we are zealous about something. He writes that “we are zealous for this sports team or that one, we are zealous for this brand of cell phone or that one.” Here, then, is how we focus in on what zeal is: “Zeal runs in our veins for what we love and against what we hate.” What do I passionately love in my life? What do I passionately hate? Would I characterize my pursuit of God and my struggle with sin in those terms? Christian zeal is helpfully defined by John Reynolds as “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men.” Challies gives the illustration of how zeal “is like a flame that brings a pot to a boil—it causes our affections for God to come to a boil so that we pursue what delights him and fight against what dishonors him.” That’s why zeal is clearly the very opposite of complacency.
Challies gives a helpful summary of the four means through which God stirs up the Christian’s zeal (as identified by the Puritans): (1) Since zeal is a grace God gives, we must ask for it in prayer humbly offered in the name of Christ. (2) Reading the Bible, meditating upon it, and hearing it preached is used by God to stir up our zeal by feeding our passion and love for God. (3) Faithfully attending and participating in the public worship and fellowship of a local church is used by God to stir up our zeal in the same way that the individual coals of a fire glow hottest when they lie close together. (4) Because our hearts grow cold toward the Lord when we are complacent about our sin, repenting from sin committed and growing in the desire and ability to resist future sin is absolutely necessary for our zeal to increase. As you can see, all these are simply the ordinary means of grace God continually offers to us. As Challies puts it, “Zeal is not a quality available only to those who have identified a secret means of grace or who have been given zeal as a spiritual gift. Zeal is available to all who will simply take advantage of the means God gives us.”
Finally, as a pastor, I’m greatly convicted by Challies’ comment that zeal has a contagious quality to it. “The pastor who wants his church to be zealous, must be zealous himself.” Yes, I want my church to be zealous in its pursuit of God. So I humbly pray for God to light the fire of zeal in my heart and continually stoke that fire so that it burns increasingly brighter and brighter in my life!