Living Zealously

A lot of books go through this house, and we learn from all of them. But once in a while, one comes through that realigns how I think and how I live. Living Zealously for God’s Glory is one of those books. Apart from the Bible and a few good biographies, the last book that so impacted my approach to Christian living was Owen’s Mortification of Sin.

In a series by Joel Beeke and James LaBelle that collects Puritan observations on particular topics (including living by God’s promises, zeal, and marriage) and synthesizes them for today’s reader, Living Zealously examines the nature and marks of Christian zeal, the necessity and motives of zeal, regulation of zeal, objects and outworking of Christian zeal, and the means to develop and sustain Christian zeal.

Perhaps part of this book’s appeal and usefulness comes from a dearth of modern teaching on Christian zeal, and the resulting aimless lukewarmness of much of modern evangelicalism. It stands out in a rather empty field. The book is also helpful in its unapologetic (and biblical) assertion that a believer’s first duty is personal communion with God and pursuit of holiness by use of the means of grace. Reading it has enabled me to better able to prioritize, focus spiritually, and keep on keeping on. Here’s a paragraph from the first chapter:

“So by nature Christian zeal is the grace which invigorates and inflames all our affections towards a sole purpose, and more specifically, a holy purpose. It is the gracious propensity given to the soul by the Spirit of God that incites and inclines all our affections toward God and His Kingdom. It is the divine grace that enables the once barren affections to bring forth the fruits of righteousness in every area of life. Without it, we would make our way to the Kingdom at a snail’s pace. Rather than taking heaven by a storm of holy violence, we carry on as if someone will run the race for us; rather than burning with a desire for Christ that refuses to be denied or put off, our affections are as good as asleep, flowing thick and heavy within and hardly moved by anything without. May God rid us of lukewarmness and grant us this fiery zeal.”

If you don’t feel as though you have the zeal that you should in the areas in which you should, this book will be a great help. If you have loads of drive and don’t know how to direct it, or in what ways, this book will be a great help. It is a simultaneous rebuke to those who are inclined to laziness and spiritual lukewarmness, as well as those who are mis-directing their zeal, even by putting potentially good things (like church programmes or soup kitchens) ahead of glorifying God through pursuit of personal holiness. The book is also truly encouraging – such zeal is not beyond the reach of a single believer, and is rewarded with the Lord’s blessing. If you are feeling spent from the spiritual effort of running the race well, this book is like a great coach, pointing you to the means of grace and encouraging you to press on to the goal: the Author and Finisher of our faith. This is not a book for the extrovert; it is a book for the believer.

At 140 pages of very readable text, I did not think it would pack the punch that it did. It was refreshing and challenging – a firm and gentle rebuke to my slacking. It was also helpful in getting me back on the path again, with much practical advice on sustaining and directing zeal. In other words, it helped me reorganize my life according to Scripture’s blueprint.