“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11, ESV)
It is easier to lament a lack of zeal than to find its source. The word slothful means to “shrink from something worthwhile,” or to hold back. A lack of zeal, therefore, betrays a lack of commitment, a soul that’s not all in when it comes to the cause of Christ. Zeal always follows commitment. We can’t have the one without the other.
Several things can sap our commitment to Christ:
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers to “Lay aside every weight…” in order that we might run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1ff). Such weights are not necessarily sinful things— we'll get to those in a minute-- but most often such weights are legitimate things that have an illegitimate place in our affections. We want them more than we ought to; they challenge the priority of God in our hearts. Ask the Spirit to search you here: it’s hard to climb Jacob’s ladder with weights— even golden weights— tied around our ankles. As and old poet once said:
Few things blunt the heavenward desire of the soul like sin. Like lint to velcro, our souls are depressingly willing to embrace temptation. To run the race well with endurance, therefore, we must also lay aside “the sin which so easily entangles.” The Psalmist describes such entanglements on three levels: hidden (sins we didn’t know we had done), accidental (sins we didn’t mean to do), and deliberate (sins we knowingly and presumptuously embraced).
“Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12–14, NASB95)
Once again, ask the LORD to search you in this regard. Plead for restorative grace. God gives us such words in, “Keep back your servant….” because this is a prayer He means to answer.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22, NASB95)
As a rule, discouragement comes when we disconnect our emotions from right reason rooted in the precepts, principles, and promises of Scripture, when we take counsel from our fears, and when we build our theology upon our circumstances.
In such seasons, we must work hard to speak to ourselves and not merely listen to ourselves. An exercise, I always find helpful is to ask myself: what thoughts are feeding my discouragement (our emotions are always fed by our thoughts). Once I isolate these thoughts, I ask myself next: how does the Scripture assess these thoughts? And then finally, in light of the Scriptures, how then should I be thinking, feeling, and acting. Psalm 42:5 gives an excellent example of such positive self-talk. We can also read Psalm 11 as a conversation with doubt and how the Psalmist brings His fears to the light of God and His Throne, His Eye, and His heart!
In the final analysis, a lack of commitment to or zeal for Christ is always a vertical problem. The antidote is always upward and a fresh vision of God, His glory, His grace, His gospel, and His goodness.
“O God, restore us And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.” (Psalm 80:3, NASB95)
There is nothing like the shining face of God upon the soul to reorder our desires, reenergize our souls, and redirect our passions in the right direction. May God so bless us in the weeks ahead, that we, the saints of Christ Covenant, might be people of the burning heart.