Zeal

In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer quotes J. C. Ryle on zeal:

"Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature--which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted--but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called 'zealous' men...

“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies--whether he has health, or whether he has sickness--whether he is rich, or whether he is poor--whether he pleases man, or gives offence--whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish--whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise--whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame--for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; that one thing is to please God, and to advance God's glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it--he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray. . . If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill (Ex 17:9-13). If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of 'zeal' in religion." (Practical Religion, 1959 ed., p. 130)

It is so natural for us to be "zealous" about practically anything. Anything, as long as it is not God and his glory. I am an avid sports fan, and when my teams are doing well you could say that I am zealous for my teams. I wear the jerseys and I wake up early to watch games. Others display this inner drive for their career advancement and their personal improvement. Still, some are zealous for their families, trying to ensure that their children receive the very best. If nothing else we all have considerable zeal for our own happiness and to make sure we get to live in the way we most desire.

But God and His glory? Such zeal is a rare commodity, even among Christians. We care minimally when we hear God's name commonly thrown about. We worry little about the conduct of worshippers in the house of God. We might care about our own salvation and our own personal well-being, but who among us really cares about the advancement of God's fame? Who among us is absorbed in the fact that God is pleased and honored?

Not many.

But though Godly zeal is indeed scarce, I have had the privilege of observing this "burning" in several in my life. And I want it.

But how do we get there? How do we get to the place where we no longer care primarily for our own comfort or our own acceptance? How do we get to the place where we lose sleep when we see God's name being mocked; going from creatures fixated on our own immediate desires to a life hidden in the one great object of pleasing God? How do we get to a place where we can’t rest, where we have to do something for such a God?

I am not entirely sure. Part of it is no doubt God given; Holy Spirit induced. But, I think, another part is that zeal just arises in us the better we know God as He is. It is just a byproduct of walking with Him. The more we know of God and His character, the more time we spend in His presence--the more we will care about His glory. The greater our affections grow for Him, the more zeal we will have for His Name.

So we need to know God better. This is not merely an accumulation of knowledge about God, but true knowledge of God. We need to read His Word more. We need to be more intentional with our time with Him. And we need to pray with severity that God would indeed give us a desire for His glory; a desire where nothing else really matters other than His name being held high. Where we are entirely "swallowed up in one thing...to please God."


"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."

-- Acts 20:24

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