Confessions of a Zealot (Part 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 I confessed my regrettable mismanagement of my zeal for Christ and I drew a parallel between my mistakes and those of David’s when he ill advisedly brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem on an ox-drawn cart instead of on the shoulders of priests. In both his case and mine, people paid for our errors. On David’s watch a man died. On my watch my marriage died, my kids got less than they deserved, and some of those I served over the years were wounded. I sincerely grieve over my errors and their consequences.zeal2

But, like David, I won’t allow myself to drown in guilt. “Grace,” says Anne Lamott, “is like water wings when you feel you’re sinking.” It’s that grace that both keeps me afloat and propels me forward.

Some counsel

After he had time to reflect on his debacle, David observed how the Ark brought blessing to the family that housed it for those three months and was inspired to venture out and take another shot at bringing it to his capital city. This time he did it in the way that God prescribed, on the shoulders of priests. No matter how decorous they may be, oxen and swanky new carts were retired as a means of Ark-shipping. Previously he had rushed headlong without consulting the Word or asking the Lord for direction. Now he’s ready to do it in the “prescribed way.” This time the Ark made it all the way to its destination and David’s worshipful procession was the God-glorifying spectacle of the century! Conferring with the Book and consulting with the Spirit mark the difference between reckless and wise zealotry.

But even when we do the right thing in the right way at the right time, it doesn’t insure that everyone is going to be as happy as we are about it. David did it right, the Ark got all the way to Jerusalem, and no one died. That’s progress! No one was hurt but not everyone was impressed. As he brought the Ark into the city David celebrated with such abandoned praise that he embarrassed his wife, Michal. She felt that he had made a fool of himself in front of his subjects and despised him for his outlandish display of enthusiasm.

Couldn’t you just maintain some decorum and act a little more kingly? What will people think of you (and me!) cavorting around in common peoples’ garb, shamelessly performing your religion out in public like that? How will anyone even know you’re Israel’s King? I’m ashamed that you would denigrate your high position and be so undignified in front of your subjects. Show a little restraint! (My loose paraphrase)

Talk about a downer on what was turning out to be such a good day! The last thing he expected was for his own wife to so harshly criticize his passion for God. His zeal got him in trouble again! Only this time, instead of God’s disapproval, it was his wife that was upset with him. David couldn’t win for losin’!

But this time, rather than repent for his zeal, he stood his ground. This wasn’t something he was ashamed of.

“It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (NIV)

In the previous scenario, people suffered for his impulsivity. But in this case, he did what God wanted him to do in a way that was pleasing to God. He loved the Lord so much that he had to show it with spontaneous and unbridled praise! He couldn’t keep it in; his joy in God had t`o find an outlet. His heart was just too full to cap off. Though his wife didn’t approve, he made no apologies; he had no regrets. This wasn’t pretense; he wasn’t showing off. “It was before the Lord.”

As opposed to his previous parade, this Public Display of Affection (which may be an apt description of corporate worship!) was for the audience of One. He was in love with God and he didn’t care who approved!

His unrestrained praise was instinctive. I don’t think he had it written on the “Order of Service” – “Remove kingly garb and dance wildly before God!” Without forethought he simply reveled in the river of God’s love and presence. He left self-consciousness aside and couldn’t help himself but to “play before the Lord” (the King James Version of “I will celebrate”).

Every fiber of his being – plus all the parts of his being that have no fiber – were engaged in David’s worship romp. You have to admit it’s pretty radical for the king to whoop it up in worship in front of his subjects like that. In some churches that kind of unbridled worship would get you the left foot of fellowship! Our zeal won’t always make sense to everyone around us. And on some level we’re not trying to make sense to them. We just want our response to his lavish love to be proportionately lavish.

Michal’s take was, “A king should look and act kingly!” But when is a king not a king? When he’s worshipping God. Before God we step out of our distinctions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a king or an artist or a janitor. When we’re worshipping, truly worshipping, the last thing we should be thinking of is ourselves and our image. If his mind is on us, then our minds ought to be on him, especially when we’re worshipping.

I have no doubt that the Lord was so pleased with David’s praise that he danced alongside him – the worshipper and the Worshipped. After all, dancing is best done in pairs!

Nevertheless, even when your zeal hasn’t outrun the Word and the Spirit, some people are liable to object. Even when your radical ways are wisdom-tempered you’re still likely to offend people don’t contain your same passion. Zealots, even the wisest ones, will always provoke disapproval. “You’ve taken your faith too far,” they’ll say. “You’re just way too into it!” I even had someone tell me, “You make too much out of God!” Is that possible?

When you’re a fulltime follower of Jesus – as opposed to a “part-timer” or a “two-timer” – not everyone’s going to appreciate your brand of faith. Granted, there will always be a myriad of faith expressions and varying biblically-founded, Spirit-inspired convictions about what God requires. But that’s an entirely different issue. The difference between David and his wife was his whole-hearted walk with God versus her half-hearted one. It wasn’t about theology or cultural preferences, but about their contrasting levels of passion for God.

Someone said, “The definition of a fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do!” That may be a bit overstated, but it does express a certain reality. If you’re sensitive to others and exert your zeal for Christ in a God-pleasing way, you have no apology to make when someone criticizes you for it.

Jesus’ zeal got him into all kinds of trouble throughout his brief life and eventually got him lynched. Remember when he booted the profiteers out of the Temple? His disciples recalled David’s Psalm (69:9) “Zeal for your house has consumed me.” (John 2:17) The psalmist gushed in cathartic prayer: “(They) hate me without reason… enemies without cause… I’m a stranger to my brothers… zeal for your house consumes me and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Otherwise put: All I did was try my best to do your will and all it did was incite a riot against me. Everybody’s irritated with you and they take it out on me. I’m consumed with my love for you and your house and they hate me for it! Help!

 

If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re in some good company.

–        –        –        –

But what about all those Christians who bring persecution on themselves by being idiots in public? (Excuse the snide terminology. But I stand by it. We can be such idiots sometimes!) Someone said, “Courage is not measured by how many people you can offend!” There’s no excuse for self-promoting spirituality. People who pompously strut their zeal and are rejected for it get what they deserve. We have no room in our ranks for arrogant zealotry. If we’re censured because of an air of superiority, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

We deserve the pushback we experience when we’re being foolish and socially clumsy. Our passion will attract some and repel others, but it should never be because we mismanage it. Some people (Christians and non) have little-to-no filter for how they come across to others. Some of us should repent of spiritual arrogance and others should take a course on how to interact with people!

On the other hand, though compromising your convictions might make you everybody’s sweetheart, it won’t influence people toward Christ. The cure for over-reaching is not under-reaching. We shouldn’t lower the bar in order to get along with people whose bar is lying in the dust!

Many, in their effort to be liked by everyone, rush to the opposite extreme and create a benign brand of faith that is more about political correctness and social acceptability than about a kingdom advancing Church of revolutionaries. We shouldn’t shove religion down anyone’s throat, but neither should we hide it from those who are hungry enough to eat it on their own volition it if we’ll just offer it to them.

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