How do you define zeal? In the past, I’ve associated it with activity. Zealous people were busy people who rarely slowed down, but now I’m not so sure.
Paul urges us to never be lacking in zeal, so it can’t equate to busyness. Even God wasn’t busy all the time. After six days, He rested from His work of creation, and He wants us to incorporate that rest into our lives. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for people, not the other way round. In other words, that extra day isn’t about religious ceremonies or keeping rules; it’s there for our refreshment. Sabbath should be about meeting God and refuelling for the week ahead. Church will be beneficial if we’re functioning correctly, equipping and building one another up.
I now think zeal is more to do with the state of my heart. Whether I’m resting or active, relaxed or motivated, there should always be a spark – the passion for God that He’s put within me. Romans 12:11: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord”.
Several years ago, I wrote a song with the line: “Make my will align with Yours”. To be yielded is to choose every day to surrender to God and do things His way.
The greatest example of this was Jesus at Gethsemane. When faced with dying such an excruciating death, He asked God whether it was possible to take that suffering from Him. Instead of flat-out refusing to endure it, He then famously said: “Not My will, but Yours be done”. Those few words started the chain of events that led to countless people coming to know God. Jesus had angels He could have called upon to rescue Him, but He submitted Himself to God. If He hadn’t, we could never have been forgiven for all our wrongdoing.
Since Jesus surrendered so completely, we can do the same. Luke 9:23: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”.
I hadn’t heard this word until recently. Xenia is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality (often translated guest-friendship). I like to think I’m hospitable. I enjoy having people over – the planning, the shopping, preparing meals … I’m not great if you spring something on me last-minute, which might mean I’m a control freak, but hopefully not too much of one.
I admire people who’ve opened their homes to those fleeing from Ukraine, or anyone who steps up to help in a crisis, but hospitality isn’t just offering a place to stay. It’s being available when someone needs you – a port in a storm; a safe place for people to relax and be themselves. Romans 12:13: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality”.
Somebody once said she thought the most valuable gift I gave the church was wisdom. This was a surprise to me and a massive compliment. Wisdom is highly regarded in God’s eyes. King Solomon asked for a discerning heart, so he might govern God’s people well. God was pleased he asked for this, rather than anything for himself, so He gave him wisdom as well as wealth and honour.
Wisdom isn’t something I’ve always had. At a recent Bible-study, the group-leader said: “This is a regular childhood Sunday School story”, but I didn’t hear anything of Elijah when I was a child. Some of the Old Testament stories others seem to have grown up with, I only found for the first time in my twenties when I read the Bible from cover to cover.
If you want to gain wisdom, the most important thing is to learn from God’s Word – and if you can pass your gleanings on to others, even better. Proverbs 9:10: “Wisdom begins with respect for the LORD, and understanding begins with knowing the Holy One”.
Yesterday I wrote about a message that goes against God, and today I want to say (to myself as much as anyone): Don’t shoot the messenger. People can feel judged by Christians because we don’t like what they stand for, but our hostility comes across to them as: We don’t like you.
The Bible says we were all made in God’s image. That must mean in every person, there’s at least one good quality. If I don’t agree with a choice someone’s making, there will be other things I appreciate about them – their thoughtfulness, their talent, or their generous spirit. If we concentrated more on those things which unite us, perhaps then people would get a sense of how loved and valued they are.
Jesus valued even the man who betrayed Him. During His earthly ministry, He put Judas Iscariot in charge of the finances, and Judas would help himself to some of the money. We don’t know how many times he let Jesus down, but that last time, when he approached Jesus to kiss Him (the kiss that led to His arrest)? I’m not sure I would have reacted the way Jesus did. I might have turned my face to him grudgingly, knowing what had to be done, but to call him ‘Friend’! Jesus must have loved him deeply – seen the seed of something in him which died that night. No wonder Judas was so remorseful afterwards. Matthew 26:50: “Friend, why have you come”.
God’s made us all unique, with our own unique perspectives, and He’s made us male and female. I sometimes wonder why transgender people can send hard-hitting messages to the press, like: “Stop trying to kill us”, and others don’t question it. Doesn’t their message oppose the God who created men and women?
I was thinking about when the angel Gabriel announced Mary’s upcoming pregnancy. Imagine this in 2023. The angel comes in all his awesomeness and tells Mary not to be afraid. God’s with her, and she’ll have a son … and Mary says: “Actually, I prefer the pronouns ‘He’ and ‘His’”. God’s always given us freewill, so she could have made that choice. People might have applauded it, but meanwhile Mary misses out on the privilege of carrying One who would later offer His rescuing love to the whole world.
It doesn’t really matter what I prefer. If I’m following God, it’s about what He prefers, and His way is infinitely better than mine. Isaiah 43:1: “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the One who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine’”.
This makes me think of someone I met over twenty years ago, who regularly calls me: “My thoughtful friend”. ‘Thoughtful’ is remembering little details about people – whether they’re a coffee-drinker, or which type of chocolate they like best. It’s listening to the other person and buying a gift you think they would like, or going out-of-your way for someone.
I have a favourite story about my uncle. When my best friend and I were at boarding-school, she went on a tandem with our outdoor pursuits instructor. They rode to the garage where my uncle worked as a car salesman. One of the school’s minibuses was being repaired, so the instructor left my friend in the waiting-room while he settled the paperwork. My uncle recognised her, went over and introduced himself. Then he sat and talked to her, so she wouldn’t have to wait on her own.
Jesus was also thoughtful. I wrote a song about the time He met a widow, grieving the death of her only son. In that culture, it was usually the men who provided for their families. I was impressed that Jesus could have said: “Find all you need in Me”, but instead He brought her son back to life. Luke 7:14: “Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise’”.
I’ve been told in the past: “You’re too sensitive”, as if it was something that needed fixing, but I don’t think it’s as terrible as people make out. In the foreword to “Sensitive and Strong”, the sensitive person ‘Perceived what hadn’t been said’. In Hannah Jane Walker’s “Sensitive”, they ‘Profoundly absorbed other people’s worries’. I see both these as good qualities, but they can be difficult to carry off. Those with less sensitivity may not understand the way my brain works, and I may not understand myself. Profoundly absorbing people’s worries means I can dwell on them. Praying can sometimes feel too upsetting, because God has the power to right things straightaway and doesn’t always.
Rather than regretting my sensitivity, perhaps I can find strategies to deal with the difficult aspects of it while embracing the positive ones. If I’m upset about something, immersing myself in a different activity (like writing a blog-post) can help in the short-term.
David seems a sensitive person. When he learnt the king of Israel was trying to kill him, he escaped to a cave, where he was joined by his family and others. 1 Samuel 22:2: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him”. I imagine these people rallied around David because he perceived their discontent and took a genuine interest in them. I hope I’m someone who does the same.
I’ve had good and bad experiences of counselling. When I was a teenager, my counsellor was pretty awful. Whether it was because she was an adult counselling a fifteen-year-old (whom she classed as a child) I’m not sure, but she certainly acted superior and wasn’t afraid to disregard my opinions. She told me once: “You’re very romantic”, in her sneering way that she had. Now, as an adult, I don’t think being romantic is something to be sneered at.
I remember how excited I was when one of my friends got engaged. Hers was the best wedding I’ve been to, and she and her husband have a forty-year age-difference between them. At their wedding blessing, the pastor said: “Love breaks down all barriers”. I’m glad they followed their hearts and weren’t swayed by anyone else.
These are some verses I would want at my wedding. They might seem strange, but when Christians marry, as well as being husband and wife, we’re also members of the same family – with Jesus our Brother and God as our Father. Song of Songs 4:9-10: “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice”.
When she came back to my hometown after a bit of time away, a friend said to me: “I miss your quirkiness” – what a fun compliment! I’ve always been a bit quirky. As a child, I would sit in the back of the car, copying the sounds from a TV-programme I watched. I never grew out of novelty records, and I never seemed to quite fit in with the popular kids at school.
The word ‘Quirky’ reminds me of the old-fashioned King James Version of the Bible, where it says God chose us to be a ‘Peculiar people’. As Christians, we’ll probably always have that feeling of not quite fitting in because this world isn’t our permanent home, but that’s not a problem when we belong somewhere better. 1 Peter 4:3-5: “In the past you wasted too much time doing what nonbelievers enjoy. You were guilty of sexual sins, evil desires, drunkenness, wild and drunken parties, and hateful idol worship. Nonbelievers think it is strange that you do not do the many wild and wasteful things they do, so they insult you. But they will have to explain this to God, who is ready to judge the living and the dead”.