By Pastor Doug Batchelor
An Amazing Fact: Booker T. Washington, author of Up From Slavery, once travelled 1,000 miles one way by train to Atlanta to speak to a predominately white audience for only five minutes. He even paid his own fare. Why? Because he felt so passionately about breaking down racial barriers following the Civil War.
“Be … fervent in spirit.” —Romans 12:10, 11
Be zealous for God.
The early church of Acts 2:42 certainly was. Their holy zeal resulted in adding to their numbers daily. From their fervent preaching and heartfelt service, the early church exploded with new believers.
Have you ever longed for that same experience? Have you ever desired to have the love for outreach and the zeal they had at Pentecost? Well, the Lord desires it for you too!
Zeal is defined as the “enthusiastic devotion to a cause, an ideal or a goal; and tireless diligence in its furtherance.” In Galatians 4:18, Paul says it is always good to be zealous for a good thing, and Jesus said nothing is more good than God (Mark 10:18).
But Paul also says it’s possible to have misguided enthusiasm. “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2 NKJV).
He speaks from experience. Paul was the one zealously murdering Christians in the name of God! And there’s no denying the zeal of the Islamic fundamentalist who is willing to strap his body with explosives and blow up innocent people. He is certainly zealous … but for a terrible thing. God wants us to be zealous about a good thing.
What Happened to the Enthusiasm?
The word “enthusiasm” comes from a composite of two Greek words, en and theos. That means “in God.” Enthusiasm really means “God in you.” Originally, they said a person who was enthusiastic was “full of God.” Christians should be the most enthusiastic people in the world, but it doesn’t seem we are 2,000 years after Christ gave us the Great Commission.
An old book called Evangelism featured the results of a survey regarding a mainline church’s membership list. They discovered the following about the people on this list …
- 10 percent couldn’t be found
- 20 percent never prayed
- 25 percent never read the Bible
- 30 percent never attended services
- 40 percent never donated to the church
- 50 percent never went to Sunday School
- 80 percent never attended prayer meeting
- 90 percent never had family worship
- 95 percent never won a soul to Christ
… yet somehow, 100 percent planned on going to heaven.
It’s not much different now. If anything, it might be worse. Generally speaking, Christian churches today are dangerously apathetic about their faith, and they are certainly a far cry from the zealous early church of Pentecost.
Everyone Is Zealous About Something
All people have an innate desire to be passionate. I’m not talking about romantic passion, but rather a passion for life and a desire for purpose. Even if we can’t have it in our own life, we find it elsewhere. This is why reality TV is so popular. If someone doesn’t have an exciting life, he or she can live vicariously through someone who does. Hollywood takes their cameras into exciting situations so that by watching, we can forget the drabness of our own lives. The passion we should have for the kingdom of God becomes replaced by passion for earthly things.
People also get excited about sports. They’ll shout until they’re hoarse. They’ll go watch a game in a blizzard. Other people will stand in line for hours, sometimes all day, for tickets to a movie or a concert. These fans are excited and passionate, or they would never spend their time and money this way.
My message is that Christians should be much more passionate about the kingdom of God!
The great prophets of God were zealous for Him. Elijah said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts” (1 Kings 19:10 NKJV). King Jehu said, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord” (2 Kings 10:16 NKJV).
Are you zealous for God … or something else?
Charles Schwab once said, “You can succeed in almost anything for which you have unlimited enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson added, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
God wants enthusiastic workers. “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward” (Colossians 3:23, 24 NKJV).
So much of what we do for God is half-hearted, but He wants all of our hearts. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, [and] with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 6:5 NKJV; see also 1 Samuel 12:24). Indeed, when we consider all the great things God has done for us, how can we not be zealous for Him?
All of Your Heart
“You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV).
What does God want from you? Not much, just all your heart. He wants only what’s best for you, and He knows you’ll never be completely happy until you give Him all of your heart. If you only give Him part of your heart, you’ll never be completely satisfied.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5 NKJV). Christianity is a whole-hearted religion. God wants us to be zealous about what we believe and to have a worthy purpose for living.
Being zealous also has a direct bearing on our witnessing success. You can’t kindle a fire in somebody else’s heart until you have one in your own. The church in North America is, for the most part, stagnant. We truly are the lukewarm Laodicean church, but if we were more excited, I believe we’d start growing. And the North American churches that are growing are the ones full of carbonated Christians. Having the truth is not enough; we need to be effervescent about it!
It reminds me of Elihu, in the book of Job, who felt he would explode if he did not share what was on his heart. “For I am full of words; The spirit within me compels me. Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; It is ready to burst like new wineskins. I will speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer” (Job 32:18–20 NKJV).
I once heard about an insurance salesman who was making his rounds at a high-rise office building. He looked out one of the windows on the 20th floor and saw some window washers. He wrote a note on some paper and held it up to the glass. It said, “Do you guys have life insurance?” They both looked at each other and shook their heads, “No.” Then he wrote another note, saying, “You guys really ought to have life insurance working out there.” They smiled and jokingly waved at him to join them out on their washing platform so they could talk about it. To their surprise, the salesman made his way to the roof and lowered himself with some cables down to the scaffold. They were so impressed by his zeal, one of them bought $50,000 worth of life insurance.
That’s how a Christian ought to be about sharing their faith. The salesman had zeal for earthly life insurance; how much more fervent should we be about taking risks to deliver eternal life insurance?
Ultimately, the people in our lives will value what we value. Zeal is contagious. If we are apathetic about our relationship with Jesus, then people will be apathetic about our Jesus. If we are enthusiastic, people will want what we have. There is nothing more important than Jesus.
We might need to start with our prayers. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16 NKJV). The Bible often talks about these fervent prayers. Fervor means ardent, warmhearted enthusiasm with intensity of emotion. So often when we talk to God, it sounds like we’re reciting a recipe for cabbage soup or something that we’ve narrated to Him many times before. It’s all from memory, and there’s no fresh passion.
You can quickly tell how two people feel about each other by the way they talk. You often know when two people are in love by the tender way they talk to one another. In an office setting, you can tell if somebody is on a business call or a personal call by the sound of his or her voice. There’s a different tone when speaking to a spouse than when speaking to a client; still friendly, yes, but very different.
When we talk to God, there ought to be fondness there. When Hannah prayed, she spoke with so much heart that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. I’m not advocating that we look intoxicated, but who can deny she was praying with passion? She rocked back and forth, her lips moving constantly, praying with all her heart. Many Jews emulate this fervency at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem because they believe it’s irreverent to look like you’re indifferent when you’re praying at the holiest place in the world. They rock back and forth, even if only mechanically, to at least look awake. And when Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed with such earnestness that He perspired blood.
No Easy Formula
Now, nobody can order you to be enthusiastic or command you to be zealous. If someone tells you to be sad, that won’t make you sad. You can fake it, but you won’t really be sad just because you were told to be so. But what if your doctor says you have cancer? That could make you sad.
Nobody can order you to be happy either. There was a song from the 80s called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Do you think anyone ever got happy from that song? Maybe they did. But if your doctor says you have cancer, could he then say, “Don’t worry, be happy,” and you’d be happy? Probably not! But what if he said, “Don’t worry, we have a simple cure.” That could definitely make you happy.
You can’t be commanded to feel something. “Be happy” doesn’t work as a commandment. But if someone hands you a $10,000 check and says, “Be happy,” you have a good reason. The words were even unnecessary! You’d probably be happy without being told to be so.
This is an important principle. The biggest corporations in the world realize that if their workers are not enthusiastic about their product, they’ll do poorly. So these companies bring in expensive motivational speakers to get their staff enthusiastic about their goals and products. Taco Bell wants their employees to feel good about burritos or tacos or whatever because it’s bad for morale and profits if you’re not excited about what you’re doing or don’t know why you’re doing it.
Football coaches are usually really good at this. They’ll often give a half-time pep talk to their teams when they’re losing. The best coaches might not know all of the strategies and tactics required to win, but they do know how to motivate their players to come out of that locker room with a zeal to be victorious, to play the second half with great passion and win the game.
Some of the most successful Christians are the ones who know how to get a pep talk from the Word of God. They let the Holy Spirit inspire them. Indeed, there is inherent power in the Word where He says, “Be zealous.” Consider this your half-time pep talk!
Never a Better Time Than Now
Jesus says in Revelation 3:15, after speaking about the condition of the church being lukewarm, “I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold” (NKJV). There’s no zeal in this Laodicean church. “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (v. 16).
How important is it for us to get excited about God? What does the Lord say is going to happen to those who are indifferent about God? They’ll be spewed out of His mouth. He goes on to say, “Therefore be zealous and repent” (v. 19).
Jesus is not being condemning here. Whenever you see the word “be” in the Bible, it has intrinsic power. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. When Jesus said to the leper, “Be clean,” he was clean. And when God says, “Be zealous,” there is inherent strength within those words for you to be what He’s telling you to be.
Isn’t it worth it? Does He deserve our enthusiasm? Can you think of anything that is more meritorious of our zeal than God? Being filled with the Spirit, living forever, seeing people’s lives changed, filled with peace and joy, transformed from the addictions of sin and liberated—what’s worth more than these things? Nothing else measures up.
As Alexander the Great was conquering Persia, a sheik brought the Greek king three large dogs as a gift. He told Alexander they were the most courageous dogs in the world, his favorites. He said Alexander would never find dogs with more heart. After the sheik left, Alexander wanted to test the dogs for their hunting ability. He had a rabbit brought within the city walls and released it right in front of the dogs, but the canines just lay there by his throne and yawned. Alexander thought they might need something different, so his men captured and brought in a fox. The dogs raised their ears in curiosity but never even barked. Finally, they brought in a stag and, again, the dogs just yawned, rolled over, and went to sleep. Furious, Alexander said, “Oh, that sheik spoke grand words about his dogs, that they were courageous and brave. They’re worthless gifts. Kill them. I don’t want them around me.” All three dogs were executed. When the Persian leader came back, he asked, “Well, what did you think of my dogs?”
Alexander answered, “I had them killed. They were worthless. I brought out a rabbit, a fox, and a stag—and they didn’t even move.”
The Persian replied, “Alexander, you’re a brave king, but sometimes you’re foolish. You showed them a rabbit and a fox and a deer. Of course they didn’t move. But if you had brought in a bear or a lion or a tiger, you would have seen their bravery. You didn’t give them any prey worthy of their brave hearts; you didn’t give them anything to fight for.”
Some people lack passion because they need a cause deserving of their devotion. What cause in the world is more worthy of our enthusiasm than the life-saving gospel? And to serve a God that loves us so much, He sacrificed His Son to save us from sin and give us eternal life?
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Until a man finds a cause for which he’s willing to die, he is not fit to live.” Jesus found a cause He thought was important enough to die for: you. He is zealous for you to be saved and to live for eternity with Him.
So be zealous for Him.