Is Your Zeal Wasted?
We all have enthusiasm for church. There is a great fervor for Bible study, and there is excitement for the clothing drive at the local shelter. And zeal for worship abounds! But have you experienced the passion for prayer? Prayer grows ever more marvelous the more it increases in my life!
Recently I heard the whisper of the Lord in a deep, still quiet morning, “You have lost your first love for others.” I thought, wait a minute, my first love is about you! Isn’t that scripture about losing my first love for you? More to come on that in a minute.
I find this so true: we focus on a scripture out of context from the verse before or after it or take only part of the verse and lose the whole meaning of what the Holy Spirit was communicating through the writer.
A couple of examples:
Galatians 6:2, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ”. We usually read a translation that says something akin to, “Bear one another’s burdens…” We think, oh yea, we are supposed to help each other out when we are burdened down. No, that is not what the verse means. This particular translation says, “in this way”. What way? Rarely have I ran across anyone who knows the verse that precedes Gal. 6:2 and answers the question, “How do we bear each others burdens?”
Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted”. This is the way we carry the burdens of others, we become people who restore those who have taken a fall in sin, no matter what the sin. No matter what the sin? Bankruptcy, sexual sin, pornography, embezzlement, manslaughter, murder, the list goes on. And the answer is Yes.
How about this one:
James 5:16, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”. This is a verse most of us are familiar with. Not too long ago I decided to memorize the verse. I was shocked! Since taking a deeper look at this verse I have asked well over thirty people, “Do you know the first part of the verse? I have yet to get the right answer from one person. Do you know?
The answer is this, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Oops, Lord, do you mean that part of being a righteous man includes confessing my sin to other people and having them pray for me? How embarrassing. Kind of changes the verse by reading the entire words, Hugh.
Now let’s go back to that “first love” issue. In Revelations 2:2-3, eight signs are identified that show the great zeal of the church at Ephesus. But, there was something missing. The Lord said to them, “Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches” (verse 5). Wow! That is serious.
The same sin exists in the church today. It is alive and well in me and I am repenting as I write and confessing my sin right here. There is great enthusiasm for the study of the gospel and the truth. Oh, do we work hard serving! But, what does the Lord value most? He values–“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love each other or me as you did at first!” (verse 4). The sin is not loving God and each other as much as we are capable of!
What the Lord values most is tender, sweet, vulnerable, fervent love for Him and for each other. A Christian can work hard being a wonderful example to others; however, if this tender love for our savior and love for others is missing—it is all for naught in the eyes of Jesus.
My dear brothers and sisters, Revelations 2:2-5 speaks of our deep abiding in Jesus, making time every day to find the secret place in His presence. Absolutely everything in this journey with Jesus depends upon concentrated fellowship with Him in quietness, stillness, and intimacy—be still and know Him.
Is your zeal in religion to first know Christ? Does all your service, prayer and consumption of the Word flow from a profound yearning to know Him intimately? Let us declare with the Psalmist, “My soul thirst for thee, my flesh longs for thee”.
Is it more money? A promotion? Peace at home?
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.” (Mark 6:41, NIV).
Christ saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd, and He felt compassion for them. He had experienced the large crowds wildly running after Him from every city. It is probable that this particular crowd was just like the disciples that day–there was so much activity and the people were so excited they didn’t even take time to eat. You know there is a lot going on when you don’t even have time to eat. Christ was in the process of trying to set aside some time for the disciples to “debrief” with Him. The disciples had just returned from having been sent out by Jesus for the first time. So, they got in a boat and went to a secluded place. But they couldn’t evade the people. The people from all the cities ran ahead of them and waited on the shore. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31, NIV).
When they landed in the boat and Jesus saw the people and had compassion on the crowd, but how did he show it? He showed it in a way we wouldn’t normally think of. We think in physical, temporal realms. He thinks in spiritual and eternal dimensions.
The dilemma of our needs and wants
When Jesus saw the crowd He had compassion on them and He discerned what they really needed. His intimate relationship with the Father was built on purposeful prayer in the secret place and constant prayer during the day. Through His communion with the Father He had a true understanding of the people’s need. The result, He fed the crowd spiritual food before He did anything else. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Luke 6:34, NIV). Jesus knew the crowd’s heart. They were following Him because only He could speak the words of eternal life.
What do you really need?
Some years back I made a trip to India for a few weeks to visit one of my sons who worked in Bangalore. He made friends everywhere he went and had a close group of young friends that I met and spent time with. In India if you are poor you walk everywhere you go. With a little bit of money you graduate to owning a bicycle. The next step up the transportation ladder of success is to own a motorcycle. Tourists and wealthy people use the auto rickshaws or even rent a car. Ownership of a car is reserved for the wealthy.
One day I was visiting a friend of my son who was considered upper middle class. He had a small business that rented a tiny—approximately 20 ft. x 20 ft. one-room office. There he employed two other young men, and like every other business he also had a chaiwala, a young boy who delivered tea for the office. One afternoon we went to the friend’s apartment. It was a small, but nice apartment. While we were sitting on the couch he started quarrying me about life in America. When the subject of cars came up, he wanted to know if I had a car. At the time I had two older vehicles, a small car eight years old with more than 110,000 miles and a mini-van nine years old with 125,000 miles. When he asked if I owned a car I told him about my two cars, his response, “You must be a very wealthy man Mr. Cameron.”
There is a vast difference between what we want and what we need. I need reliable transportation. Truth is, I have always wanted a hunter green Jaguar sedan. There is a huge gulf between my need and my want when it comes to the subject of cars. But, the gulf between our needs and wants encompasses much more than transportation. How we treat this gulf is a litmus test of our love for the world or our love for the Lord. Which do we love more, the things of the world or the Lord? “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NIV).
If we are walking intimately with Christ we have a different perspective on the world–the lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life–than non-Christians. The mind of Christ and the discernment He gives provides us clarity concerning our needs and wants. With His spirit in us we are able to discern whether something is expedient or really necessary.
Jesus knew what the people needed first. It was for this that He came: to preach the Kingdom of God, to heal the infirm, and to bring life to many. He gave them what they needed first, His word. One of the most basic understandings of following Christ is that we need His word and prayer first, daily.
The parallel to God’s Word and our spirit is exactly the same as the parallel that exists between food and our body. We know that we must have physical food to function, and we function best when we eat daily. It doesn’t make any difference what shape you are in; if you don’t take in food you will eventually grow weak. Even the healthiest athlete at the pinnacle of physical fitness and performance fails quickly without food. The Christian with the most responsibilities at church and who is the most educated concerning the Bible and apt to teach, will eventually wither up and die spiritually without a regular intake of the word and prayer.
But a healthy spiritual life is more than picking up the word to read and praying each day. Contrast my eating habits with Isaac the son of my daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are physicians. My mom was a short order cook for three siblings and my eating habits are atrocious. I was well into my 40s before I ate my first salad. Growing up my vegetables of choice consisted of corn, potatoes, and green beans. And, I am a recovering carnivore; most of my life I ate some kind of meat at almost every meal, chased by a soft drink. Now meat is a special treat and I actually eat a variety of vegetables and drink water. Then there is our four-year-old grandson Isaac; he drinks water. What? Just water most of the time? Ask him what he wants for a snack and he might say hummus and carrots. It’s unbelievable. He eats every kind of vegetable and from all outward appearance, likes it. Imagine that from a four-year-old. What planet is this kid from? Thankfully, my eating habits have changed considerably. I’m still working on it. But, the message is clear, when I compare my eating habits vs. Isaac’s, it’s the junk food diet vs. the healthy diet. There is no guessing which of the two of us will be most healthy during our lifetime. Jesus is the bread of life. He is our spiritual food. “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35, NIV) What is the quality of your spiritual diet with the Lord in the secret place?
The critical factor with food is eating the right kind of food, that which is healthy and nutritious. Americans devour processed foods. It’s a function of our many dis-functions. We are too busy to prepare foods and we are addicted to sugar. When I asked one of our Chinese spiritual daughters what was her most problematic transition to America, she said it was that anything she ate had sugar in it. Sugar and processed foods are the staple of our diet, and we are experiencing the ramifications of this blight on our health. We have an epidemic of obesity and all the related health issues it creates, from coronary heart disease and high blood pressure to type 2 diabetes. What’s the quality level of your spiritual intake? Are you submitting yourself to regular bible study? Do you pray with others often? Do you meet the Lord daily in the secret place?
And there is more. It is not just about the right kind of food. You have to factor in the freshness of the food. There is something special about fresh food that can be eaten daily. It tastes different. It has more nutritional value. We try to do everything we can do to keep food fresh and make it last: we can it, we freeze it, shrink-wrap it, we dry it, freeze-dry it, we put substances in it to preserve the flavor and enhance its taste and appearance (additives), and the methods go on ad nausium. However, there is nothing like fresh food. We treat the word the same way we treat food. We do everything we can to hear the word without digging deeply into it in quietness before the Lord with prayer. We try devotionals, pre-recorded teaching, video recordings, television programs, radio programs, daily email devotions, and the list goes on ad infinitum. We try every other avenue except expending the time and focus that is necessary to have a full measure of His word and prayer daily. Granted, these other practices we try are good, but they can’t fully substitute for daily meditation on the word with prayer and meeting the Lord in the secret place.
Read the label
The pickings were slim as I rummaged for food at the condo where we were staying. However, there’s always the old standby, peanut butter and jelly; for my wife it is a mayonnaise and tomato sandwich. While making a sandwich I happened to look at the mayonnaise expiration date. It was one year and two months expired. Oops. It looked okay, but smelled somewhat questionable. It had every other appearance of the good old staple, mayo. I didn’t let my wife risk it. Off it went to the trash. I firmly believe that most spiritual encounters have an expiration date on them, like the food we buy at the store. That single encounter with the Lord isn’t meant to, nor is it going to sustain us for months and months. Elijah had an encounter with an angel and it sustained him forty days. “The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” (I Kings 19:7-8, NIV). Obviously an encounter with an angel would be a bedrock experience for any of us. But the Lord wants us to meet Him daily in the word and prayer in the secret place. You will not be sustained in your body for long by yesterday’s food. Correspondingly, you can’t be sustained for long by yesterday’s spiritual food. When God supplied the children of Israel with manna in the desert He gave them just enough supply for each day. He wanted them to know, as He wants us to know, we need His spiritual food fresh every day.
Thinking about eating food isn’t going to do much for your body. Eating is something you do daily. You have to eat food to live. You can know how to make food. You can know everything there is about its nutritional value. You can even have a month’s supply of the healthy food stored in the pantry. But your knowledge of food and a storehouse of food will not help you if you don’t eat. The same goes for our spiritual food. You can have a Masters in Divinity and be skilled at teaching or preaching the word. You can possess the best software programs for studying the Bible in the original language with wonderful historical commentaries. You can have email devotionals delivered to your smartphone every morning. However, all of this education, skill, and resources will not necessarily help you spiritually unless you take His word and prayer deep inside your spirit, daily. Jesus was tempted by the devil to turn a stone into bread while He was fasting in the wilderness. He quoted scripture to the devil: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deu. 8:3, NIV). Jesus taught us that we must take His Word deep inside us daily. We are more than just physical beings who need food to survive. We are spiritual creations who need to commune with our God every day.
Most of us are too busy to eat properly. Busyness also keeps us from praying. Busyness keeps us from taking time to study, meditate, and hide God’s word in our heart. We have an epidemic in the church of people who don’t meet Jesus in the secret place daily in the word and prayer. The admonitions in the scripture are numerous and pointed. Meditate on the word and pray. Your spiritual life depends on it. Here are just a few of the promised results on meditating and hiding God’s word in our heart:
A young person can be free from pornography and other sexual sins. “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:9-11, NIV)
You can have your prayers answered. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NIV)
You can have peace in your life. “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” (Ps. 119:165, NIV)
Success in all your endeavors. “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8, NIV)
You will have a life full of joy and contentment. “…but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither– whatever they do prospers.” (Ps. 1:2-3, NIV)
Ask the Lord right now to let yourself see with your spiritual eyes and hear with your spiritual ears. You need to meet the Lord daily in the secret place with prayer and the word. You need to hunger after His Word—hunger and thirst for it profoundly and passionately. Hunger and thirst like this: Students from Iris Missions School in Mozambique related in a blog post, [They (pastors from small, surrounding churches) stood up one by one. Upon their faces rested a countenance of fullness. Fullness of the Spirit. Lemon, one of the pastors we have befriended, stood among the children of God who knew suffering to a depth we can’t fathom. Each one of the pastors stood because someone in their immediate family has died from starvation: a mother…a child…a wife. One teacher spoke this afternoon about hungering and thirsting after righteousness, the kingdom of God. They have desperation for this righteousness with the same yearning they have for food.] The word ‘hunger’ has a whole different meaning to them.
We need a fresh revelation of our need for Jesus in our lives every day, even more than we need food, water, and air. Jesus is the only one that can provide this kind of spiritual nourishment our souls long for. We get it from being in His presence in the secret place. Are you desperate? Do you see that you are spiritually bankrupt and Jesus is the only answer? We need to see that we are helpless and only Jesus can satisfy our spiritual starvation. I don’t think we get it. There is a supply of God’s spirit and presence that will kill us and fill us. It will kill us to put to death the flesh with its appetites, passions, and addictions and in the process empty ourselves of our own spirit as much as is possible. It will be painful–try fasting and praying for three days. But, it is a hurt that satisfies and electrifies our soul. Then we will be filled with His spirit and presence to overflowing. We will be so healthy spiritually that we will have something to offer every person in our path.
Here’s the deal
The Lord’s word is inseparably linked to prayer. It is in prayer that we seek to have a relationship with God and to know Him intimately. It is in the Word that He most often speaks to us. A full measure of daily prayer with little of the word gives life; however, it leads to a lack of steadfastness. Much of the word with little prayer leaves us unhealthy and prone to judgments and legalism. Being able to stand the tests and storms of life necessitates having the word embedded deep in our souls with a full measure of prayer, daily. As the psalmist says, “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble.” (Psalm 119:165, NIV). A full measure of the word and prayer daily are indispensible in living the Spirit-filled life.
He is always enough
Because it was getting late the disciples encouraged Jesus to send away the 5,000 men–actually the total number of people present was probably 12,000 to 15,000 when including children and women. The disciples wanted Him to send the crowd into the surrounding countryside and villages to get themselves something to eat. “But he answered, ’You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ’That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?’” (Mark 6:37, NIV). The disciples were startled and didn’t know what to do. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and multiplied them to feed the thousands and thousands of people with over twelve baskets full left over. He showed the disciples that He is sufficient for all things. His word is sufficient; His supply is inexhaustible. He was always teaching his followers. Did they have eyes to see and ears to hear? This is what we discover in the secret place with the word and prayer—He is always enough.