His tattoo was the head of a German Shepherd, colored in the traditional dark green of long-standing tattoos, faded and slightly distorted because of age. Unlike most of the people in line ahead of us, he was not in a slightly-stooped stance, focused on a cell phone. Instead, he stood looking around and was thinking. As we were herded into another line, I finally broke the invisible barrier that had stood in the 12 inches between us for well over an hour. “So, you have a German Shepherd?”
It was as if I had shattered an unseen wall with that question, revealing an entirely different person. He became instantly animated and personable, open and intense. The conversation went on for another hour. Many times my son, engaged in a game on his phone, looked up and subtly smiled. The guy was just too much. Four words summarize his enthusiastic half of the conversation; he loved his dog. When I had revealed one thing about myself, that we, too, had German Shepherds, camaraderie sprung between us. Our mind-numbingly boring wait had become a volley of dog talk. Actually, it was German Shepherd talk. The difference was of infinite importance to this man.
Now, I am fond of our dogs, but not that fond. It didn’t matter. His zeal more than compensated for my lack. He didn’t notice because he was so excited to share amazing facts about his dog, and to brag unashamedly about his devotion to her. We exchanged cell phone photos. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked. He said she was the “Marilyn Monroe of German Shepherds.”
I was certain that this man could have changed a good chunk of the world if that devotion were redirected.
We recently followed a truck with one small sticker on the rear window. I realized that I knew only one thing about the person driving that car, the one thing that he chose to reveal to all that drove or parked behind him. It was a decal of his favorite sport team. I bet he could holler up a storm at a home game. Passion. We rarely apologize for it when it comes to the things of this world that enthrall, engage and excite us.
I traveled this last week and my Bible never made it out of my suitcase. I drove into the wee hours of the morning in order to avoid traffic, and stayed up late every night talking to my Canadian brother. We seldom see one another and drink pots of coffee to counteract our human limitations and need for sleep. This extends our moments of togetherness until even coffee no longer keeps me thinking straight. Then within 5 minutes of rising each morning, I have another doctored cup of strong coffee in my hands, engaged in a warm conversation with either my dearest friend or another family member. It’s all wonderful, but God takes a back seat.
We rarely apologize for it when it comes to the things of this world that enthrall, engage and excite us.
I was out of my routine, and in an environment where God-talk did not blend well into the conversation. I slipped away, a little tiny bit, but it was in the wrong direction, nonetheless. Did I sin? No, I don’t think I did. God is not like that. He saw that I was feasting on the presence of the people that He put in my life. Enjoying their stories, reminded of how wonderful they are, seeing what their lives look like, even though I live so far away. Reminding me that He knew them and loved them even more than I did. It was a wonderful time.
It took just a few days for inertia to set in and become a force to fight to regain the spiritual place I had just vacated for a short time.
My trip had been wonderful, but it now required that I get back into my routine. How easy it would be for me to leave my Bible on the pile of stuff that came out of my suitcase. How easy it would be to sleep in and miss church tomorrow while I was still in vacation mode. I briefly lost touch with those day-in-and-day-out friends who care about what God is saying to me, doing with me, on any given day. And I had not heard about what was happening to them. Wow. It didn’t take long to break my spiritual stride.
These are the enemies of zeal; broken routines, relational disconnection, stress, deadlines, fatigue or sickness. In Romans 12:10-13, Paul talks about zeal;
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
We retain our spiritual fervor when serving the Lord motivates all of our actions. When we are joyful in hope, we anticipate the goodness. When we are patient in affliction, we do not let stress, fatigue, illness or trials turn our eyes away from Him. We know that He ministers to us, and true comfort and help is given by His Holy Spirit. Prayer is constant and is key to keeping us connected to God. Concern for His people made manifest in sharing and hospitality keep us in fellowship.
A day away from His word becomes a week, then a season.
Paul knows that we are all at risk of falling away from God. Each and every one of us has the potential to live “good” lives, to go to church regularly and to blend easily into any Christian group, but to have lost our passion for Jesus. Revelation 2:4-5 warns us,
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
How does this apply to each of us? It is possible that we will lose our place and ultimate calling if we allow other passions to replace our first love. The Lord requires devotion and righteousness from us in order for us to walk in His true purposes for us. Anything less compromises our calling. Clearly, the message is that we must nurture and guard our passion for Jesus, for it must be in place in order for us to make an eternal difference with our lives.
The Lord requires devotion and righteousness from us in order for us to walk in His true purposes for us.
Exodus 20:3 tells us the first commandment given to Israel; “You shall have no other gods before me.” When asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) God wants our devotion.
God is passionate about us. He longs for us to be passionate about Him. The amazing thing is that when we know Him and are devoted to Him, He trusts us. That’s when our lives get really exciting. But we need to fight the things of the world to see through to Him. We must nurture and protect our time with Him. We must sincerely dedicate all we are, have and do to Him.
Isaiah 40:25-26 says, “'To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?' says the Holy One. 'Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?'” He created it all! We must guard our relationship with Our King jealously. When we know Him, we will marvel that we believed that anything could ever compare to Him. Nothing does. How blessed we are to know that! If anything or anyone is worthy of our deepest passion, it is Him!