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Be of Good Zeal



Romans 12:11

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” 


The virtue I want to look at this week is that of zeal. The word zeal is not used much anymore, but it is a cousin to the power of God we previously discussed before. Specifically, zeal is described as the “impulse to go forward, the urge behind all things.” It is the fuel that keeps us coming back regardless of what happens. 


Depending upon the translation used, the word for zeal can be rendered as eager, earnest, or committed. Zeal is the quality that allows us to follow through on things begun. It is zest, passion, devotion, and enthusiasm. and combines joy and power into something new and necessary to our spiritual expression.


Enthusiasm comes from the Greek word “en”, meaning “in”, and “theos” or “God”.  Literally, enthusiasm means “God within.”  Enthusiasm, rightly guided and wisely channeled, enables us to convert our dreams and goals into successes and realities.  It is the joy and exuberance we feel for life.


Zeal is not fanaticism.  Enthusiasm is not short-term infatuation, wanting a new job, new clothes or a new love interest and then tiring of them quickly.  Zeal is long term, soul-rooted, and sure-footed; it is the ability to follow through on projects, relationships, and any other worthwhile thing. Paul says in Philippians 3:14 - I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. That is Divine zeal.     


Zeal is necessary for attuning to God and connecting with Christ and each other. But it is not the focus of our spirituality. Our focus is on loving God through Jesus Christ. This is why Paul says in Romans 10:1-2. “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” The people Paul referred to were filled with enthusiasm toward God, but that zeal was based on ignorance. Zeal does not save us; love for God does.


He continues in verses 3-4, “Since they did not know the righteous-ness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Righteous refers to being morally right or morally justified. It is the quality of being right in God’s eyes, including our character, conscience, and conduct. It is acting in accord with divine or moral law.


To summarize God’s laws, it is love. If we are enthusiastic about something that does not include love for all of God’s children, we are acting out of ignorance. Our zeal is misguided.


So, this verse states that these people did not know the morally correct ways to live in accordance with God’s perspective, so they chose to do it their own way. Their zeal was directed toward their way of living and thinking, even though they claimed it was for God. Their zeal was based upon ignorance, not knowledge.

Zeal is a vital component to loving Christ and following God’s will, but it must be based upon the knowledge of God, based upon love. The ego is quick to interfere with enthusiasm and claim it for itself. The Rule of St. Benedict is a book written in 530 by St. Benedict of Nursia. In Chapter 72 he writes: “Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life.”  


God has given us this gift of good zeal; from that energy the ego creates wicked zeal, selfish zeal. We do this with many of our virtues. We take the energy of that virtue and discard the spiritual knowledge it is based upon and humanize it through the ego. It is not that we lack patience, or faith, or strength, but that through our ignorance we misdirect our focus. Therefore, good zeal, or Divine zeal walks hand in hand with wisdom and knowledge.


As I look around at what is happening in our country and around the world. There is much zeal, enthusiasm, devotion being paid, but not all of it is based upon the knowledge of God’s laws. There is a lot of wicked selfish zeal being shared without wisdom.


Part of the reason we go to church is to learn about love, about Christ’s love for us, and about God’s laws. These laws are written on our hearts, we intuitively know them, so there will be morally sound atheists who live by God’s love and have no idea about its source. But their ego is in check, so they say, “It is just the right thing to do.” But God has placed that concept on their hearts, so their zeal moves them in that direction.


There are also people who are ruled by their egos and are caught in ignorance. Even some who believe in God, even Christians, can be captured by darkness. They separate God’s children into ‘us and them.’ We are right and they are wrong. Their egos will rule them. They cannot see God’s laws written on their hearts, instilled within them. But those laws are there. It’s just that their egos use that zeal and redirect it toward selfish desires and ends. Same zeal energy but applied differently.


So, we come to church to be reminded of God’s laws and God’s love. But another reason is to connect with God directly, spirit to spirit, our consciousness with the consciousness of Jesus Christ. We can feel Spirit moving in and around us; that is why we pray – to connect with God and Christ. The more often we connect enthusiastically with God, the less we rely on the world.


Zeal rides on the backs of love and joy. It uses their energy to move us forward. We are told to add to our faith, power, knowledge, self-control, good will, and love. Zeal is another add-on that intensifies our faith.     


We have all the zeal we need to live a wonderful life. Sometimes we need to remove the debris of the ego that can cover our zeal and dilute it. One good way to do that is to actively look for joy every day. Do not hold zeal in check. Some people hear a joke and even if they think it's funny, go “Hmmm.” If we are going to laugh, let’s do it with fervor. Look for humor, excitement, and find delight in ordinary events.


We are often scorned, especially men, when finding delight in anything outside of football game results. Oh, men are allowed to find delight in some things, but they can only be ‘manly’ things: sports, guns, cars, explosions. We get ridiculed when we stop to breathe, to pray, to smell the flowers, or enjoy anything beautiful.


It's even worse for women. They are ridiculed for the way they look, for their bodily functions, for speaking out, for succeeding, and for expressing almost any kind of emotion. Women must deal with sexism and misogyny and unlearn much of what society tells them as girls just so they can find more delight in life.  


As a human male and female, we know there is accountability in life. But are we accountable to that critical person, that critical mindset? In the end we must ask ourselves, “Whose life are we living – ours or theirs?” Do we answer to that person or philosophy that is ridiculing us for doing what is natural, for enjoying the beauty of God’s Creation? If we lose the respect of that person or belief system, simply because we love our neighbor as Christ commands - then aren’t those the type of people we must love from more of a distance? We wish them well; we would help them if they were in trouble, but do we need to spend time in their presence? We can love someone but not join them on their negative path. Why should we give that person or that belief system control or influence over us? As CJ says, don’t let them rent space in your head, unless they’re paying for it; just know that their payment comes in the form of disdain and criticism.

By confining ourselves to an old self-image, or someone else’s image of us, we really are short-changing enthusiasm. It's OK to stop and smell flowers. It's OK to shine our light and it’s OK to show delight. It is OK to participate and be enthusiastic about starring in our own movie. We can get excited; it’s OK. It is OK to have zeal regarding our personal growth and our spiritual journey. It's OK to be involved with others, connect with them, talk to people, and make friends from all cultures and walks of life.


While some of us need to encourage ourselves to reach out and connect, others of us ought to tame it down a little. Some of us reach out enthusiastically but so aggressively that we invade privacy. We can choose to participate, to volunteer, to help people, to share, to serve the world, but not force ourselves into someone’s life and try to take charge and fix them.


We can learn to apply zeal with God’s knowledge. Part of that knowledge is that each of us is a beloved child of God. Part of that knowledge is that it is not about focusing on any single virtue, it is about focusing on love. What would love do? How would love move through this moment, through this connection with someone? Let’s be zealous about showing God’s love, and that can be from smiling and hugging, to sitting quietly, holding a hand, and listening without judgment or the desire to offer suggestions.


To show more zeal and enthusiasm in our lives, it must be on our minds. It is already within us; we need to keep that thought in mind, to direct our zeal toward the worthwhile, positive, and uplifting. Let us be of good zeal. Incorporate this thought into your prayer time and throughout the day: I am enthusiastic about being who I am, and to be living the life God has given me.


Having zest for life and for God is catching. It is my prayer that we become an enthusiastic contagion for God.  Our gratitude, our love, our joy is infectious. It can spill out and land on people.  Spread it around; get it on someone.


Christ expresses through us, through our lives, through our actions, through our attitudes, through our faces, and it is communicable. My prayer is that we live with zeal, love with zeal, laugh with zeal. I pray that whatever God asks of us, do not be slothful in zeal; have a single-minded joyous passion and enthusiasm for God and for life.


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