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Wednesday, October 5, 2016
My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
Now hear me while I pray;
take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day
be wholly thine!
May thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire,
as thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire!
Ray Palmer’s “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (tune: Olivet)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
Zeal is a word that could use a good publicist.
It has a pretty negative connotation. To call someone a zealot is usually not a compliment. The etymological root of zealous is identical to the root for jealous: that burning, not-to-be-reasoned-with emotion that we know we’re not supposed to feel and of which we’re ashamed when we do. All of us can get too intense, sometimes, about the wrong things: our own desires, our own agendas, our own appearances. That’s zeal gone wrong.
The flip side of zeal, though, is the kind of enthusiasm that produces amazing results. It can be the capacity to make connections with others that builds community. It can be the thirst for justice that works tirelessly, over a lifetime, to right one particular wrong. It can be the sense of beauty that creates more beauty. It can be love that generates new life.
That’s the kind of zeal the hymn’s author is asking God to inspire. The author wants to be “on fire” for God and for the kind of life that comes from that ardor. And when we sing or pray this hymn, that’s what we are asking for, too.
Let’s rehabilitate the image of the word zeal by the lives we lead: lives of intensity toward the good and true and loving.
O God, source of faith and grace, breathe your life into our zeal. Make it the good zeal that glorifies you and drives us out beyond ourselves. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning
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