The zeal surrounding every new thing wears off eventually. Many of last year’s Christmas gifts are somewhere collecting dust, new cars eventually become lemons, and new clothes work their way to the back of the closet. That’s just how life seems to operate. For most things, it’s not a major issue for the excitement to wear off.
However, one instance where we don’t want the excitement to wear off is our walk with the Lord. We don’t want to be like the people described by Jesus in the parable of the sower who endure for a little while then fall away (Mark 4:17). We want to be unlike those whom Jesus said would “fall away” and their love “grow cold” (Matt. 24:10, 12). Instead of being apathetic and lukewarm about the things of God, we want to be zealous and excited.
Truth-based zeal and excitement are the lifeblood of any church and any individual Christian’s walk. The Bible tells us that God’s people should be zealous: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11 ESV). Jesus even died so that we could be people who are “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Even though we know we should be zealous, sometimes we just aren’t. Sometimes the things of the world choke out our spiritual excitement (Mark 4:18-19). Or sometimes discouragement from our brothers and sisters in Christ can cause a “root of bitterness” to spiring up and cause us to be less enthusiastic about serving Christ (Heb. 12:15).
Whatever the cause, sometimes we, like Timothy with his gift, need to “fan into flame” the embers of what once was a burning zeal for the Lord (2 Tim. 1:6). When our zeal grows cold, and we are less passionate about spiritual things here are some things we can do to be zealous again.
Pray for Zeal
If we notice our zeal has grown cold, the first thing we should do is pray. We must never forget that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). When we are zeal-less but desire to be zealous, we should run to the Father of spirits to help give a boost to our spirit. Repenting of his egregious sin against God in his dealings with Bathsheba and Uriah, David asked God, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
When our zeal grows cold, we have the need for the joy of our salvation to be restored and a willing spirit to present within us. Think about how zealous you were when you were first saved and ask God to give you that joy once again. When we force ourselves to spend time in prayer, it gets us back into communion with God and can re-ignite the spark of zeal.
Spend Time in the Word
The other side of the equation of keeping our communication with God is hearing from Him in His Word. Prayer is awesome and powerful and helpful for keeping our zeal. But with the Bible we can have two-way communication with God, and hear from Him directly through His Word. God’s Word is often the fan He uses to grow the flame of zeal in the heart of man.
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According to Romans 15:4, God’s Word gives us endurance, encouragement, and hope. So, if we neglect God’s Word we can expect to feel like we want to quit, discouraged, and hopeless. How zealous would you be for God if you saw the LORD part the Red Sea? Or if you stood on that hallowed ground in front of that burning bush; if you saw the 10 plagues in Egypt; if you saw the walls of Jericho collapse without being touched; if you watched Jesus cause the blind to see, deaf to hear, and lame to walk; if you saw Him raise Lazarus from the grave and supped with Him in that upper room; if you were there in the garden and saw His sweat drops of blood.
How zealous would you be if you were able to stand at the foot of the cross and see the Son of Man lifted up, nailed to that tree? How zealous would you be if you were there that Sunday morning and saw the empty tomb? How zealous would you be if you spent time with Jesus after He rose from the dead, walking with Him on the way, eating breakfast with Him, and worshipping Him?
We don’t have a Time Machine. We can’t do any of that. The closest we can get (and it’s close enough) is reading the Bible. If we want our heart brining within us for the Lord, we are going to have to open the Scriptures (Luke 24:32).
Spend More Time with Other Christians
We should go into time with other Christians looking to encourage and be encouraged. Our time together can strengthen our zeal! The Hebrew Christians were admonished, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). It’s the meeting together to encourage one another that can “stir up” our zeal for love and good works.
We are passionate about what we are encouraged to do, what we spend our time doing, and what we do with other people. If we want to keep our zeal or we want our zeal to come back, we are going to need the help of our brothers and sisters. Even preachers can get discouraged, but I get a spiritual boost every single Sunday and Wednesday after spending time with brothers and sisters. That’s the power of fellowship and encouragement and exhortation. In my experience, If you don’t feel like coming to church, come anyway, and you’ll leave wanting to come back next week!
My dad and I spent a lot of time camping when I was a child. Some of the camping we did was on land my dad owned and we could be a little less careful when it came to putting out our fire at night. My dad’s usual method for putting out the fire when we were on his land was not to douse the flames with water or bury it with dirt. He would simply separate the smoldering coals far from each other. By morning, the fire would be out. But, if you put those smoldering coals back close together, you could have a fire again. Christians are the same way. Together, their zeal burns hot; separated their zeal is easily extinguished.
When Paul wrote his final letter to the discouraged Timothy, he instructed him to “Remember Jesus Christ…” (2 Tim. 2:8). Sometimes our zeal grow cold because we have lost our focus on the Son of God.
In John 6, the 5,000 who were fed by Jesus are seeking more food. Their zeal and excitement for the Lord was based on their appetites, not Jesus’ identity. Jesus tells the crowds to “not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). He tells them that He is the bread of life that has come down from heaven (John 6:35, 41) and that unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood they have no life in them (John 6:53). The Bible records, “after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). Their zeal had been snuffed out by Jesus’ hard sayings because they were focused on what Jesus could do for them, not who He was.
When Jesus asked the twelve if they would leave too, Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn. 6:68-69). Peter and the twelve still had their zeal for the Lord because they (to some degree) realized the “surpassing worth” of knowing and gaining Christ (Phil. 3:8). Sometimes our zeal grows cold because we forget that knowing and gaining Christ makes everything else in our life “rubbish” by comparison (Phil. 3:8).
I’m convinced that it’s easier to grow apathetic when we forget who Jesus is and what He did and what He promised to do. The only way to run the Christian race with endurance is to do so “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). If our gaze is fixed on anybody or anything else, eventually our zeal will grow cold and we’ll have reasons to quit. There can be a lot of discouraging things in the church. Jesus will never be one of them.
Do What You Would Do If You Were Zealous
What we often call “zeal” or “excitement” is really an emotion. The thing about emotions is, they are great as a thermometer and horrible as a compass. Emotions usually tell us something that has happened and cannot be trusted to tell us where we should go/what we should do. If your zeal has gone, it will not come back by living like a person without zeal. However, if we think about what we would do if we were zealous and do those things even when we don’t feel like it, the odds are our zeal will return.
Sometimes our zeal fades because of our own actions. The less we work, the less we feel like working. The less we evangelize, the less we feel like evangelizing. The less we read the Bible, the less we feel like reading the Bible. The less we pray, the less we feel like praying. The less we go to church, the less we feel like going to church. The way to get out of this cycle is to do what we know we should do even when we don’t feel like doing it. When we do this, we’ll often notice that the feeling to do the thing will return. We must act our way to feeling right, not feel our way to acting right. The last thing we can do is wait until we feel like serving the Lord to serve the Lord. We should decide to do what we can as soon as we can, no matter how we feel.
Maybe there’s something you used to do for the Lord, and you stopped. Why did you stop? Maybe there’s some act of obedience that you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t done it yet. What’s holding you back? Don’t wait to feel zealous. Choose to be zealous. Consider what Jesus told the lukewarm Christians in Laodicea: “Those whom I love I discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Jesus would not have commanded the Laodiceans to be zealous if they had no choice in the matter. Zeal is not a spiritual gift reserved for the top one percent of Christians. It is a choice we can make every day.
If you want your zeal to come back, throw yourself into the work of the Lord, the life of the church, and the daily habits of discipleship. A coal burning, no matter how dim, in the right circumstance, can be roused again to a blazing inferno. Especially when God is the one fanning the flame. What is impossible with man is possible with God (Matt. 19:26).