Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6 v 9)
I don’t think about zeal much, to be honest. It’s a strange word, one you might only come across in an exercise like this one, or playing scrabble. It’s also because when I do think about it, I imagine thrusting pamphlets at strangers, knocking on doors, or preaching on street corners. I imagine selling or giving away all my stuff to live with those who have nothing. And all I do is imagine, because that’s not my life. And I feel inadequate. So I then stop thinking about it. But here it is, the last word in my alphabet series. I must relate zeal to my unremarkable life.
As an adolescent, I carefully avoided all the qualities that even hinted at zeal, to construct a persona that was a bit disengaged, distant and faintly disparaging. I think I did this for at least two reasons. First, I thought it wasn’t cool to get too excited about anything, and second, I was afraid of failing.
Zeal energises; its opposite, apathy, drains. Apathy walks when zeal runs, hangs back where zeal gets stuck in. Zeal promotes and encourages what apathy ridicules or dismisses. Zeal gets up and makes things happen; apathy lies on the sofa eating chips. Zeal is enthusiasm, commitment, energy. Apathy is… You can probably fill in your own words by now. You see where I’m going.
But there is enormous power in bursting a bubble. Collapsing an idea or plan with a few well-chosen words can make you seem stronger, more worldly-wise. More grownup. It also makes your target appear childish, diminished and foolish and camouflages your own performance anxiety. What a great weapon for the insecure.
I still indulge in apathy at times. Old habits are hard to break.
On holiday I once picked up a book by Dale Carnegie, of How To Make Friends And Influence People fame (famous in my house at least after my Dad got it in the 80s as a gift and was highly offended). The book was about enthusiasm. I read it from cover to cover during one of those first-night-on-holiday insomnia attacks. What interested me most was that the word itself means full of God. Being enthusiastic, he says, is about being full of God. Maybe that’s why it seems a bit other-worldly at times to get all fired-up. Maybe that’s why, when people speak of bringing someone ‘back down to earth’, they’re actually just puncturing their zeal.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (Rom 12 v 11)
Zeal is enthusiasm and energy with a focus. It needs a subject, a cause, an ideal. And the focus of my zeal should be clear by now. I may not be standing on street corners but in my own way my zeal is represented in this blog, which aims to try to describe and introduce God – father, son and holy spirit – to whoever is interested to meet Him.
Zeal does not come easily to me. I still tend to climb back on the couch. I still spend whole days, even weeks, there. I battle against what I naturally incline to do (very little, usually) and what I really want to do as the self I want to respect and become. I can get discouraged after a couch day, or week, but zeal reminds me that every moment on my feet, every word written, is a seed planted.