Never be lacking in zeal
Note: this is an excerpt from my new book, Incredible Teachers.
The problem with the church today is not what we think. I have read hundreds of books on the church, church growth, church health, evangelism and so forth. The problem is not what we think.
The problem is not a lack of methods. The problem is not that we cannot figure out how to double a class every two years or less, or grow a church or organize an outreach program. All those things are secondary to the main thing.
The problem is not a dedication problem. I hear some say it is, but I am not buying it. I do not think the fundamental problem of the church in this generation is lack of dedication, except in a secondary sense that we will look at shortly.
The problem is not lack of resources. I hear people say this from time to time. “We need money and we need buildings and we need people and we need this and we need that.” Uh-uh.
“What is the need of the hour?” Dawson Trotman asked after years of laboring in the harvest. “Is it more money or better equipment or more resources? No! It is for people who believe that God is God and will do everything He promised.”
The problem is not lack of training. I am a full-time Sunday School trainer. I do training for a living. I am not against training. But, as a full-time Sunday School trainer, I will tell you training is not the problem.
The problem is not lack of programs.
The problem is not lack of prayer or carnality or sin in the camp.
None of those things are really the problem.
What does the church need today? The church desperately needs people of joy and zeal. People who are obedient to the command of a holy God to, “never be lacking in zeal.” (Romans 12:11)
Show me a church that is consistently obedient to this single command and I will show you a church that is turning its world upside down. I will show you a church that is effective in prayer and worship and discipleship and ministry and evangelism. Everything a church is to do it will do effectively if we can discover how to be consistently obedient to the command of God to “never be lacking in zeal.”
How to stay full of zeal
Staying consistently full of zeal begins by accepting the truth that it matters. We must embrace the reality that it is our moral responsibility to live our lives with enthusiasm, passion and joy.
There is a fine line between saying that emotions are not the basis of our faith and saying that emotions do not matter. Emotions are not the basis of our faith, but they do matter. C.S. Lewis said, “It is our Christian duty to be as happy as we can be.”
I want to invite you to join me in repenting of apathy, grumpiness and boredom with God. I want to invite you to join me in turning from anything less than red hot zeal to setting the direction of your life of being a person of passion and joy. We will never do this command perfectly. But, we can be purposeful about setting the direction of our life toward zeal.
Set the goal
I have gotten in the habit recently of writing down my goals every day. For a computer nerd that loves to cut and paste, it is a real discipline to actually start with a blank piece of paper and write out my key goals every day. (Just to be clear, paper is a metaphor in this context. I don’t actually get out paper. It is a computer screen. But, I do write down my goals beginning with a blank screen each day. One of the things I often write is, “Enjoy God today.” You might do the same. You could use different language each day, but set the direction of your life each day to try to live a life full of zeal and passion for God.
I have been studying joy a long time and have learned a great deal. I still have much to learn. I have found when I speak on this, people tend to think, “Oh, this is the light and fluffy stuff. This is certainly not the meat of the Word. Give us the serious, heavy stuff of dedication and obedience and holiness.” Let me do that. Let me give you the serious stuff of dedication and obedience and holiness. We need to dedicate ourselves to be obedient to the command of a holy God to never be lacking in zeal. That is the meat of the Word.
You can spend the rest of your life learning this. I have written a book myself on Enjoying God and commend the writings of John Piper, especially Desiring God. This will come not come easily. It is a difficult command, perhaps the most difficult in all the Bible.
Be a student of yourself
Learn what makes you sad, what makes you blue, what makes you happy, what fires you up. How much time do you need by yourself? How much rest do you need? How does your eating can contribute to your emotions?
Joy comes from abandonment. Joy comes from losing yourself in the cause. Joy comes from plunging in.
There is no joy for the timid, the half-hearted, or the double-minded. Joy goes to the dedicated, to the committed.
We often see dedication and abandonment to God as an obligation–a difficult yoke that He would put on us. We want to give ourselves to God, but not fully. We never know the joy that can come if we do.
The enemy is not afraid of half-hearted Christians. C.S. Lewis put these words in the mouth of demon-trainer Screwtape to his demon-in-training, Wormwood:
“If he is of the more hopeful type, your job is to make him acquiesce in the present low temperature of the spirit and gradually become content with it, persuading himself that it is not so low after all. In a week or two, you will be making him doubt whether the first days of his Christianity were not perhaps a little excessive. Talk to him about moderation in all things. If you can get him to the point of thinking that, ‘religion is all very well up to a point,’ you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all.”
Balance work and rest
Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep. You can’t stay fired up all the time. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep. There comes a time to be still and know that God is God. The Bible says, “He gives sleep to those He loves.” (Psalm 127:2)
In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz argue for this balanced approach. They give some strange advice to stressed people: work harder. Many people never work hard enough to get really tired. Thus, they can’t really rest when they are not working. The solution is full engagement: work hard when you work and rest hard when you rest. Many people spend their working hours dreaming of being off and their off hours worrying about work.
Loehr and Schwartz trace this need for balance between work and rest to Flavius Philostratus (A.D. 170 – 245) who wrote manuals for the Greek athletes. I would trace it a little bit further back. . .to the garden! “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:3 (NIV)
What God modeled in the garden, He commanded in the 10 Commandments, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. Exodus 20:9-10 (NIV)
Notice the dual commands in this command: six days labor, one day of rest. Maybe we should call these the 11 Commandments.
Get your life together
The first great lie of the church in this generation is that feelings don’t matter. God wants you to believe right and behave right, but he doesn’t much care how you feel. It is a lie. God cares how you feel. It is your moral responsibility to feel as He would have you feel.
The second great lie of the church today is that circumstances don’t matter. It makes great preaching, but bad theology:
“How ya doin, partner?”
“Oh, pretty good under the circumstances.”
"Well, what are you doing under there?"
We are not to live under the circumstances, we are to live above the circumstances. It makes for a fun preaching, but the truth is circumstances do matter. It is easier to happy in the context of a well-lived lives. It is true that we can learn to have joy and enthusiasm, even in painful circumstances. It is also true that it is easier to enjoy God in the context of a well-lived life.
Communicate with joy
Joy is contagious. If you find the grace to be obedient to the command of God to rejoice in the Lord always and never be lacking in zeal, it will rub off on those around you.
If you can teach with joy, your students will pick up on the joy. Then, the joy they have will cycle back to you. It is a wonderful cycle. Pay special attention to your part of the cycle.
Proverbs says, “A wise teacher makes learning a joy.” Proverbs 15:2
Everything rises and falls on leadership. In this context, everything rises and falls on leadership at the small group level. I want to invite you to lay down your one and only life toward the cause of being an I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E. Teacher that can double every two years or less.