I’m really glad that Jesus loved Peter.
It is far easier to identify with the faults of the people in the Bible than their virtues, at least for me. Doubtful? Ungrateful? Willfully stubborn? Ah, that is my day-to-day war, raging mostly in silence, inside. There is, though, mixed in there, giving fuel to any other emotion that passes through; zeal.
Let us examine that word. It is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as: fervor, ardor, enthusiasm. Synonyms: passion, intensity. Antonym: apathy. Whether it has a negative or a positive connotation would depend I think on personal sympathy for a cause a zealous person was championing. Football fans can be quite zealous, painting a generously proportioned belly with his team’s colors, wearing a big foam wedge of cheese on his head, hollering epithets at unfavorable calls on the field. Mostly this elicits nothing more than an amused smile, even from fellow fans. But a corporate executive in a $4,000 suit on her way to an important merger meeting sharing an elevator with him would likely have a less affectionate view of him and all he stands for. She has her own brand of zeal.
I know I have fire in my belly.
But that doesn’t make me a dragon.
It doesn’t mean I want to unleash it in a harmful way, charring everything in my path. It means that there is a wellspring of fervency to draw from, for better or for worse. It can mean that I’ll step into the middle of an attack and get right up in the face of a wild man brandishing a knife. I’ll look him in the eye and in staccato, indignant Spanish ask him just what in the world he thinks he’s doing. I’ll boss the onlookers around to get an ambulance, call the police, get water, stop just staring. I’ll wrap my rowing pants around the victim’s bleeding head while keeping a wary eye on the attacker.
It can mean that light slanting through the trees in a magical way, hitting the moss and striking the dew into diamonds just may very well provoke me to burst into song and dance. To forget my age and dignity and go romping through the forest.
It can mean that I must grieve the very real loss of ever being thought of as mild, balanced, and even-keeled.
There I was, last night, engaged in debate with two ministers, both men whom I respect greatly. The thing about fire in the belly is that it has to come out somehow when excited. Romping through a forest was not an immediate, nor appropriate, response to my zeal. Neither was bursting into song and dance (imagine that, ha!). So I bounced. Sort of hopped around, made expansive hand gestures, threw my head back when I laughed. Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever make it in politics.
Oh, Peter. I get you, I really do. All your impetuousness. Your fervor. Your bravado. Your foolishness. Your wild love. I’m sure you drove some of the other disciples absolutely crazy. The thing is, though, when Jesus really got a hold of you, when he asked you over and over “Do you love Me?” and told you over and over “Feed my sheep”, your fire was called into service; you were a changed man. You went from fear at being known as Jesus’s follower to dying for Him. Your passion and love wouldn’t accept the honor of being crucified as Jesus was, but instead were crucified upside-down. It gives me hope that Jesus chose you, with all your wildness and passion. It gives me hope that He used that fire to kindle a kingdom without end.
And here I plead understanding from my milder brethren. Don’t be put-off by my passion, from the puffs of smoke that escape, or the emanating heat from my wild self. I’ll do my best not to char the furniture or sizzle your eyebrows. I’ll fail. You may fail too, in being too silent or too accommodating, too vested in the desire for peace that you do not address wrongs which your voice could challenge.
Be you cool as a cucumber or a fire-bellied zealot, may God be honored in our words, deeds, and life. May we surrender to His guiding and be filled with His love.