Friday, December 05, 2008

A Grounded Zeal

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked (Luke 3:10)

“It’s not how high you jump, but how straight you walk when you hit the ground.”

This is one of those lines that has worked its way into the public domain. As far as I know, no one holds the copyright. It cannot be footnoted. I’d gladly give credit for the line if I knew to whom credit should be given.

The first time I heard those words they were spoken by a preacher, and he had likely heard it from another preacher who had also heard it from another. With some effort we could likely trace the line to Elijah. At any rate, it was on a Sunday following a week of revival services. This pastor was trying to encourage the congregation, the emotional tides of revival having receded, leaving everyone with their normal everyday life again. I thought the line sounded a bit “preachery.” But more than that, I thought it sounded true.

It isn’t hard to conjure up a spiritual jolt. Our religious culture offers shelf after shelf of spiritual Red Bull: worship services that stir the emotions, conferences that ignite kingdom dreams, seminars that leave us determined to reform our marriages and our finances. All of these are good and feed the body of Christ in some way. I love the worship. I’ve been to plenty of the conferences. I’ve learned much from the seminars.

But once the benediction has been spoken and the last session of the conference has ended and the seminar notebook has been worked through, we are left with our lives. We still have to get the oil changed and pick up dry cleaning and close the sale and balance the books.

We’ve been thinking this week about a fiery spirituality, the zeal and fervor that ought to characterize our lives now that Jesus has entered the world. What we discover to be truly challenging is not igniting a flame, but sustaining it. As preachers of old might say, it isn’t how high you jump but how straight you walk when you hit the ground.

After John’s confrontational message to the “brood of vipers” and after his call to repentance, the people had a very practical but significant question: “What should we do then?”

The validity of our spiritual zeal and fervor will show itself in our ethics, in the way we live life and treat our neighbor and speak to our children and regard the poor among us.

John told the person with two coats to share one. John told the tax collectors not to cheat or defraud. John told soldiers not to extort money and to be content with their pay. Honesty, sharing, contentment. This is what a fiery spirituality will look like. Authentic zeal is grounded in ethics. Hearts aflame for Jesus produce lives that look like Jesus.

As Christmas approaches we often hear a lament that says “I just don’t feel like Christmas.” Some among us may confess to a lack of the Christmas spirit. If that’s you, don’t worry too much about what’s lacking. The good news is that Jesus has come and forgiveness is ours. The real question is “what should we do?”

Show me what to do, O Lord, and give me grace to do it. Let the truth of this season be grounded in my life and not my feelings only. Grant to your people a zeal that endures and produces compassion, honesty, and contentment. As you dwell among us, use us to change the world, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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