As you can probably guess, I recently had such a moment. I was preaching at the church at which I am currently a member, where my husband is the pastor. He was out of town; I was filling in. For some reason I decided to preach on the concept of zeal, of being zealous. But, it didn't go as you might expect. Rather than suggesting we all ought to have more zeal or be more zealous, I put forth the notion that maybe we ought to be more tentative in our zeal, not only as it pertains to our faith, but in our lives in general.
Maybe you are wondering the same thing I wondered after the service was over - "did she really say that?" "Why?" Well, I pondered the idea of zeal a lot before preaching the sermon and even more so afterwards, and I have to say, given the opportunity, I would indeed put forth the question again. And I decided to bring these thoughts to my blog post today, so that you can ponder the same question in your own life.
So, the backdrop to my message was the apostle Paul from the New Testament. And for some reason whenever I think of Paul, I think of the word "zeal" or "zealous". And so I said that was what I was going to talk about - having zeal and being zealous. I said that I came up with four questions that I wanted to consider: First of all - Can we train ourselves to become zealous? That question led to the next question - SHOULD we train ourselves to be zealous? I said that might sound like an odd question because "why wouldn't a Christian strive to be zealous?" But, I went on to pose two more questions: What are the benefits of being zealous? And finally, what are the drawbacks? Because, I said, every idea has at least one alternative point of view. Most ideas have many alternative viewpoints. And, to be fair, if we were going to consider that there were benefits of being zealous, we had to be willing to admit that even within the notion of being zealous, there could be drawbacks, downsides. To illustrate that point I talked about an article I had read in the Harvard Business Review which discussed this exact question, only they used the word "passion", which is virtually synonymous with "zeal." The article stated that there are two different types of passion - "harmonious passion" and "obsessive passion." As you can imagine, harmonious passion is good; obsessive passion not so good. Harmonious passion is aligned with the other pieces of your life so that this kind of passion adds to the intrinsic joy you feel in your life. Obsessive passion, on the other hand, is always at odds with every other thing in your life, good, bad or otherwise. Harmonious passion works WITH your goals. Obsessive passion works AGAINST your goals. Harmonious passion allows you to see other things than merely the object of your passion. Obsessive passion sees one and only one thing - that which is the object of your passion.
And so I suggested that while it is indeed perfectly fine to have passion, or zeal, in regards to faith, that it was possible for that passion to overtake us even to the point that we are no longer focused on doing God's work in the world because when we become too obsessed with God, then we run the risk of being able to ONLY see God, and we no longer see the world around us, the very people God wants us to be with and help. I mentioned a popular phrase: "So heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good."
I was not suggesting we don't allow ourselves to have passion or zeal. In fact I even said that if people want to train themselves to have zeal, by all means they should feel free to do that. I was merely suggesting that we need to recognize that every idea has a flip side and that if we don't at the very least acknowledge that there is a flip side, we run the risk of becoming obsessed by our ideas at the expense of others, other people and other ideas. And that if we just let passion be our ultimate goal, without evaluating what we are passionate about, and why, that is irresponsible.
I was concerned that some people would not be crazy about my message because they might have wrongly assumed I was suggesting we should not have zeal about our faith. In fact I was not suggesting that; I was merely placing before all of us the idea that there may be a downside to passion or zeal, even as there are certainly benefits.
So, why would I ask us to question having "unchecked" zeal in regards to our faith? The question was meant to be the very beginning of a much broader conversation that would take the following course:
First - If I have unchecked zeal in regards to my Christian faith, I might think my faith ought to be able to be practiced in any public setting. Which I do think is fine. For instance, prayer in school. I think kids should be allowed to pray in school. Even teachers, as long as they are not forcing students to do something against their beliefs, teachers should be allowed to pray in school. Schools should be allowed to sing songs about Jesus in a Christmas concert because that is what the holiday is celebrating, and denying that is ignorant.
But, this leads to the second step on this course, which is why I spoke about the benefits, AND drawbacks, of zeal. If I, or my child, is allowed to pray in school, should other students of other religions, such as Hindus or Buddhists or Jews or Muslims, be allowed to pray in their way while at school? If they would be allowed to pray in school, how would a zealous Christian feel about that? In all fairness, if a person of one religion is allowed to practice their faith publicly, others ought to be accorded the same freedom. So, then the question of zeal becomes very relevant as we live in a country that was founded on religious freedom, where our citizens would not be forced to adhere to one particular faith but that we could live side by side with one another, each person holding their own religious views and that as long as "your beliefs" did not impinge on "my freedoms" then we can all hold whatever beliefs we feel most compelled by.
If being zealous in our faith causes us to desire that all people believe in "the same faith I believe in, and that my zeal in my faith wishes that all the people with whom I interact on a daily basis believe the same things I believe", and that we wish that those who differ from me in my beliefs would "go away", that is a dangerous path to look down. For, where should those with different beliefs than mine "go away to"? A different neighborhood? A different school district? A different town or state? A different country?
So, that was not only my message, but the thought behind my message. I did tell the gathered people that Sunday morning that it was less of a sermon and more a journey of my thought-process. I thank you as well for taking this journey with me today. If my message leads people to dig deeper into this topic in their own hearts, then I guess I will feel good about that.
Thanks for reading, my friends.