Zeal

As Christians, there is a prominent emphasis on confessing sin. However, what has bothered me incredibly is that the focus is always on the major obvious sins that are of continual discussion. However, there is not a focus on the deeply entangled sin patterns inside every single one of since our birth into sin. Sin patterns so hidden that it is common that one is most likely not even aware that it is going on, or more importantly, the severity of it. For me, my deep sin patterns of coveting fuse every facet of me. What causes my heart ill is that why is this sin never spoken of or focused on? When was the last time you heard someone stand up and confess their intense slavery to the vile behavior of covetousness? It is extremely important to recognize that this is not a sin that you commit once and are “clean” for a while before you fall again. It is a pattern that is so deeply embedded in the mental functioning of every human being and it cannot be denied. You cannot honestly look someone in the eye and say that you have never experienced coveting in one form or another.

In her book The Envy of Eve, Melissa Kruger defines coveting as, “an inordinate or culpable desire to possess, often what belongs to another.” (Kruger, 24). I have learned that this takes more forms in our lives than I am even able to recognize. I am confident in saying that this sin pattern hinders God from being magnified and being honored in our thoughts, words and deeds above and beyond what we can imagine. This is a sin pattern the majority is not even aware of, and how it is actively hindering their own personal ministry, communion with the Lord, evangelizing, relationships, and the glorification of God. I write this with great caution to you who are reading this. I write this in strong confession that I am enslaved to coveting and am daily growing in repentance in this incredibly horrific sin pattern in my life.

Reflection by the grace of God has revealed to me that this pattern of sin hinders my zeal, and I am undoubtedly certain that I am not alone. When we consider zeal, it is a strong emotion and enthusiasm in pursuit of something. In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer defines zeal in religion as,

“A burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature- which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted… A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say he is earnest, heartily, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he only cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that thing is to please God.” (Packer, 173).

This is the thought processes that we are called to have. This is the zeal that we are called to posses in living in accordance with the word of God and his revealed will at this time in our lives. Devastatingly, our enslavement to this sin pattern creates great rival in hindering us from looking up from what we do not have, to everything that is greater and more immeasurable than we could ever ask or imagine.

These thoughts take a multitude of forms. Including seeing a shirt you want in a store window but cannot afford, seeing a friend have a boyfriend when you are single, or worse, watching them get engaged. It includes an engaged young woman longing for the day of her wedding because oh, life just looks so much better, for sure the grass will be greener! (Just where I find myself now). It includes another athlete competing just a little better than you or much better than you and finding yourself resenting them, longing to be in their shoes. It includes having resentful thoughts towards another for their grades, their awards, their successes, their possessions, their relationships, their food, their clothes, their hair, their money, their job, their everything. Coveting can take every form you can think of and it is rarely even spoken about. I feel ill that I am just being confronted with this vile sin pattern at age 21. Grace be to God for my membership in a local church. I exhort you and beg you to examine your heart and ask God to reveal the areas of your life in which this sin pattern is established. By now, it is most likely rooted more deeply than you will believe it to be. Every thought that we have that is covetous is selfishly taking away from the glory that God deserves, the worship he deserves, and the reverence and awe we must have. It is taking away from seeing the provision that each and every one of is so graciously receiving, for it is far better than we will ever deserve. Therefore, we cannot properly live as we have been called, furthering the gospel as we have been called and worshiping as we have been called, if our thoughts are continuously glazing over the richness and beauty of provision.

The danger of these thought patterns is that it is a true domino effect. It begins with the eyes and then it leads to our thoughts. From our thoughts it becomes a desire of the heart and will even culminate to unwholesome talk, vile actions and the deprivation of the love of Christ in relationships. Ultimately, our zeal is stuck underneath the barbed wire of our covetousness for us to serve the Lord in a way that is glorifying and honoring to him. In our sin, we are striving to take characteristics that can only be true of God. The first step must be intentional in growing in the fear of the Lord. I mean this in that our thoughts, words and deeds must flow from a heart that is worshipful and in awe and reverence of the breath that is in our lungs. How can we grow to this point in a world where our worth, value and acceptance are placed in exactly what we do not have? How can we grow in our communion with God instead of coveting others? Or trying to take on the characteristics of God, such as taking our thoughts and actions into our own hands? How can we live in wholly unabashed worship in all that we do? I have just begun the book, None Like Him, by Jen Wilkin. She says,

“Could it be that this process of growing in the fear of the Lord is a simple matter of relearning how to count? By learning to worship God in his immeasurability, by learning to take the measure of ourselves, our sin, our circumstances, and others accurately, we might at last come to say with David, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance.” It’s in that frame of mind that rivalry ceases and reflection commences.” (Wilkin, 28).

I absolutely love this wisdom from Wilkin. I am confident that the ultimate reason that we covet so deeply, our zeal is hindered, and our actions are not glorifying to God, is that we do not understand what true provision is. We consider success, love, relationships, grades, jobs, financial resources all apart of the blessings that come from following God. We are very slow to consider that we are called to be content in our provision. We are not promised to follow God and have success, wealth, the fairy-tale relationship, the high-level job and everything that your heart desires to be added to you. In fact, we are instructed in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” When we look carefully at “these things” it is of utmost importance that we understand that it means that God will provide what we need when we need it. It is rest in this understanding that spurs growth in contentment, which will lead to a strengthening zeal in following Christ.

As easy as this is to say, I understand the difficulty in that everyone seems to be better off in every aspect that we endure. I want to focus on a brilliant section from Kruger’s book. She begins by saying, “God knows that each of his children are individually formed and made. He created each of us in a particular way and brings to our lives just what we need to be conformed to his image.” (Kruger, 64) To illustrate this, she provides an incredibly helpful depiction, comparing us humans and how we look towards others as if we were china in a cabinet.

“Both items are created for the potter’s purposes. They each, in different ways, are useful to the potter and display the potter’s glory. The potter knows exactly what kind of clay was needed, how hot to heat the kiln and what purpose they serve in the china cabinet. Their comparison just leads to discontent with the potter, as well as discontent with their own design. In the same way, our Lord knows your frame intimately. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He ordained all your ways before one of them came to be. He knows your frame and understands how to care for you and shape you more than you even know yourself.” (Kruger, 65).

As you are reading this, write down everything that you desire that someone you know possess. Why do you desire it? Is it to be more successful than them in certain areas? To have a better relationship? To be elevated above them in a specific way? Well if they are too in Christ, then they were created for a purpose that is not yours and yours is not theirs. They need different means and circumstances to achieve the plan that God has predestined for them, and yours is unique to you and only you. What they need may not be what you need. Their success does not need to be your success and vice versa. The plan that God divinely orchestrated before you took your first breath is perfect for you and only you. His intentions for you are so good and so kind.

We therefore need to change our measurement system and how we count God’s love towards us. When we grow in contentment by realizing that our lives are supposed to look different from those around us, we can begin to truly see and taste that the Lord is good. We can see the unique provision in our daily lives for what we need when we need it, we can begin to grow in contentment with our place in God’s plan for redemption right now. Seek first the Kingdom of God in all circumstances and your zeal will not be hindered from furthering the name of Jesus Christ by your deep sin pattern of covetousness. Join me in no longer hiding this sin and pretending that it nonexistent or not severe. Examine yourself, confess this sin pattern and process it with someone who pours into your life. Alongside other believes in fellowship, the word of God and prayer is how to truly combat the deep entanglement of such a depraved sin pattern. Seek to strengthen your zeal for advancing the gospel in your thoughts, words and deeds. Desire rightly, one thing and one thing only.

Resources:
Kruger, M. B. (2014). The envy of Eve: finding contentment in a covetous world. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.
Packer, J. I. (2013). Knowing God. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Wilkin, J. (2016). None like Him: 10 ways God is different from us (and why thats a good thing). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

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