I have spent more of my life working with teens and preteens than I have without them. I have laughed, cried, fought with, defended, argued and loved my way through 33 plus years with “my kids.” I’ve learned a lot about this age group and one of them is, if you use the right approach, you can get them excited about even the most mundane activities. For example, one of my current responsibilities is to help my students become better writers. Many who walk through my classroom door want to write about as much as they want to go to the dentist. I have found, through trial and error, if I can convince them writing is fun, I’ve got half the battle won already.
In my middle school classroom, enthusiasm for writing has ignited as we learn the basics of the craft. It is seen when inventing a new creature in their writing when combining two existing animals or by describing things they wish they could uninvent. We have even written short stories using a group of random words such as, fox, toaster, cotton and hats. We have spent many days writing, sharing and laughing together. This spark, this excitement, are important components of a cousin of enthusiasm, and that is zeal.
Many think of zeal as a noun: I like to consider it more of a verb. Zeal is the demonstration of a passionate concern about a cause, person or object. Zeal is the lightning that energizes the causes I have adopted, the authors I admire and even the music to which I am drawn. Zeal contains energy, love, emersion, and passion. It longs to be shared and championed by others.
If you have ever been passionate about something, someone or a social issue, you want others to share your vision. An insightful, discerning person knows that you must help open the eyes of others so they can identify with the object of your zeal, resulting in a spark within them, too. There are, however, right ways and wrongs ways to go about this. People are divided on this. The best and most successful ways of approaching zeal divides people; opinions differ, sometimes strongly, on the most successful way to draw others to their “cause.”
Throughout American history there is a distinct divide between using aggression and assertion in our zeal for a cause, person or object. An example of this is in the two points of view Malcolm X and Dr. King advocated in their zeal for obtaining civil rights for their race. Those in agreement with one point of view would say the other side is not being aggressive enough while the other might accuse the first of being too aggressive and not assertive enough. There is one thing both have in common, and sometimes, for emotional issues, we forget to find that commonality. Both sides have a zeal, a passion, a desire and drive to convince others to join them in the object of their zeal. There is a place for both zealous approaches and it takes wisdom and insight to choose which is best.
There are things that occur within the human race that are non-essentials, and yet, can spark a zeal that burns with a passion. In contrast, there are injustices played out daily that hold the fate of many within its hands and no one seems interested in intervention. It is a difficult thing to discern between the two but, as Ecclesiastes 3:1 points out, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (NIV).
Some “seasons” Ecclesiastes 3 includes lend themselves to a more aggressive, zealous intervention. Uprooting (vs. 2), tearing down (vs. 3), and a time for war (vs. 8) are good examples. Sometimes we must take the bull by its horns and zealously fight for what is right and we would be irresponsible if we stood by and did nothing. There are, however, some minuses in using aggressive measures in our zeal.
- Most people don’t want to be pushed into our way of thinking.
In our zeal for a specific cause we sometime push people too much. Pushing someone in one direction takes away a vital ingredient when hoping to recruit people and that is, choice. When you push a person into a cause, you rarely reap the long-term commitment that could be received when giving others the chance to make up their own minds. Sometimes shining the light on a cause so that each issue can be considered and pondered is more successful.
2. Aggressive zeal often reaps an emotional response only.
While emotional responses to your cause is important, if it is the biggest motivator, others may only take up your cause for as long as their feelings burn. After these emotions settle, all that’s often left is a fleeting memory of something that passed through the heart; it did not settle there and put down roots. Stimulating others to ponder the object of your zeal coupled with the resulting emotions is the more successful way of recruiting others.
There are examples throughout the Bible when God uses both aggressive and assertive zeal, depending on the situation. Many Sunday School lessons center on God’s direct and swift intervention with those on the earth. Noah’s flood in Genesis 6–8; Jonah and the Whale in Jonah, chapter 1; Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in Mark 11 are clear examples of God’s aggressive approach in dealing with spiritual causes. There are also many examples when God had a gentle approach in His zeal.
A mob of people, in John 8, was seeking to stone a woman caught in adultery and Jesus calmly instructed her, and others around her in His zeal concerning repentance. He gently tells her in verse 11 to sin no more. In I Kings 19, God reveals Himself in a still small voice to Elijah, instructing him in an assertive manner.
The difficulty with zeal is knowing when aggression is vital and when assertion will be more successful. As Christians, God promises us in James 1:5 that He longs to guide us. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should as God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
When we depend on God to guide us in our zeal, the causes we champion will be influential and blessed.