Reflections on the Book of Acts #22: Zealous for God

Here’s the link to Acts 22.

So here Paul revisits what evangelicals would traditionally call his “testimony.” He explains who he was before he met Jesus and then shares how he met Jesus. And he does this before a crowd of people, many of whom are violently opposed to him and the gospel. He’s got a bold faith.

When he shares what he was like before he met Christ, he refers to himself as zealous for God. This means passionate and devout. It can mean fervent. Think about someone today who might be described as “on fire for God” or “sold out to Jesus.” Sounds like something that should be true of followers of Jesus.

However, zeal isn’t always good. Look where it got Paul initially. He approved of the stoning of Stephen the disciple. He persecuted Christians. Later in his life, Paul points out how zeal isn’t enough. In Romans 10:2, he says this of fellow Jews who have not yet come to faith in Jesus: I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

For Paul, eventually that knowledge came his way. The same zeal that led Paul to oppose the way of Jesus is the same zeal he had for sharing Jesus after the Lord grabbed his heart and soul on the way to Damascus.

We who are Christians could use more of this fire. Or maybe I’m speaking just for myself. Sometimes when you’ve been a church-goer for all of your life, a Christian for most of your life, and, in my case, a pastor for almost 20 years, it’s easy to become spiritually humdrum.

But while part of me admires such zealousness, it also throws me off. Maybe it even frightens me a little. People who are really enthusiastic and emotional about their faith sometimes make me feel uncomfortable or spiritually inferior. That’s partly my temperament. Heck, I don’t know if I have zeal. I’m not even sure what it would look like for me to have zeal.

Even so, I can’t just ignore what Scripture says. In Romans 12:11 Paul says, Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord.

Although like everything else in life, I can bring this into my prayer life, into my conversations with God. I do love that. I love how God cares about all the details of our lives, that there is nothing off limits when it comes to what we bring before God in prayer.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be as zealous as Paul or what being more zealous for God would look like in my life. I am aware that I can confuse being zealous with certain spiritual temperaments and maybe because of this I find the whole topic off putting. Makes me wonder what might be wrong with me! (Answer: plenty, no doubt!) But I am also aware of my need to be more passionate about my faith–in all of its facets. May God by his grace fill me with however much zeal he wants me to have for what he calls me to do.

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