Today, a look at two powerful words: zeal and awe.
First, zeal. Here’s a definition:
Fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor.
Fervour. Eager desire. Enthusiasm. Ardour. Are you moved yet? Because you should be. They all lead to that over-used word, passion.
And so I turn to one of sport’s most enduring icons: Basketball legend, Michael Jordan. He, along with others, gives life to our first word, zeal.
What is it that sets apart the great from the highly talented? Zeal. Determination. Drive. Inside the truly great sportsmen and women, there resides a will to win that burns like a fire. It never goes out, it is there all the time. It blots out all other pursuits and interests.
Great sportspeople never settle for defeat.
They dig deeper, train harder, fight harder to achieve their goals. Losing hurts so badly, they never want it to happen again. Michael Jordan’s drive to win is legendary. It is, to many observers, what sets him apart. Yes, he was very talented, but then so are most players in the NBA. He had something extra.
Determination. Drive. Desire. Passion.
Though it’s now disputed, he played in a game known as The Flu Game in Utah in 1997. It’s sometimes called Pizzagate. Jordan ordered a pizza the night before a critical game in that year’s playoffs, and, as recounted in the Last Dance documentary, it gave him food poisoning. Whether it was flu or food poisoning will never be known. What is undeniable is that Michael Jordan was very ill during the game. He was sweating profusely, covered his head with a towel on the bench, and struggled to run up and down the court. Nevertheless, he managed to lift himself in the second half, ending with 38 points, and carrying his team to victory. That’s what great players do. They overcome adversity. They don’t give up. How?
Whether you like it or not, the Bible is the story of one vast, millennia-long struggle. It’s a fight. There are conquerors and conquered, victors and vanquished. No wonder many of us love sport so much. And at the centre as the mightiest of all mighty ones is God himself.
Victor. Warrior. Supreme in battle.
How does he treat his enemy? Hear St. Paul’s words.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
He triumphs over them by the cross.
He does not travel to Jerusalem to cast out the infidel. He does not call his people to fight the Romans. His victory is earned in blood. His own blood. And as his followers, we demonstrate our zeal by fighting with him and for him. We give up our lives for him. Hear the power of these lyrics from Our God Reigns by Delirious:
Yes he reigns, yes you reign, yes you reign,
For there is only one true God,
But we've lost the reins on this world,
Forgive us all, forgive us please,
As we fight for this broken world on our knees.
As we fight for this broken world on our knees. What passion! What drive!
Hear now Isaiah’s words.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Our God is zealous. He is determined, committed, driven by his desire to establish his kingdom.
Can you feel the passion? Let it ignite a fire inside you.
So how should our zeal be expressed?
Zeal is simply the drive and determination to love God with all of who we are. It’s a burning desire to do his will, to see him glorified in every sphere of our lives. And it is produced by our second word: awe.
An overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.
A growing bank of research shows that awe is good for us. Here is a list of some of its benefits.*
Improves your mood
Good for your health
Helps you think critically
Improves time perception
Produces a generous spirit
Makes you feel more connected to others
If scientific research supports the idea that awe is good for us, it’s not just a good apologetic for our faith but a reason why so many areas of life point to God. It seems we’re made for awe. Not just at a football match or in an art gallery, but in the many, varied experiences of life. What produces awe? Not just sport, though sport produces many moments that commentators describe as “jaw-dropping.” Here’s a list that begins with some of my favourites, but takes you further.
A Roger Federer forehand
A Lionel Messi mazy dribble
A Ronaldo headed goal
A Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper
A Hamilton over-take
A Mozart sonata
Almost any painting by Rembrandt
The Sistine Chapel ceiling
Edmund Hillary, Tenzing, Ernest Shackleton (one of the truly great leaders)
Moses and Elijah
A supreme act of kindness
An ocean swell
A literary masterpiece
A Shakespeare . . . anything. Anything at all.
A newborn's fingers
A weightlifter’s muscles
Volcanoes, mountains, rainforests
The night sky
I could, of course, go on. The entire list is a pale reflection of God himself – his majesty, his beauty, his goodness and love. Each one in this list echoes to the wonder of his grace towards us.
Where does our zeal for God come from?
It’s not from justice or peace or even love. It’s not from the desire to put things right, do the right thing, or build the kingdom of God. None of these things are sufficient to ignite zeal within us.
Instead, it comes from a vision of God himself. God alone inspires awe that leads to zeal.
For he is truly awesome. Worthy of our awe. Our worship.
If your zeal ever flags, there is only one place to go to re-ignite it.
You need a fresh vision of God, whose majesty and beauty are beyond our ability to conceive, our language to express.
Take some time to worship him today. You will soon find your zeal for his glory set on fire so that it burns bright until close of day.
* Source: Greater Good Magazine – Science-based insights for a meaningful life. 2018. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_reasons_why_awe_makes_your_life_better