What Happens When Zeal Confronts Quietness

A poignant and moving story about the true, God-given roles of both zeal and quietness.

Quietness was having his quiet time when Zeal burst in.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Quietness responded, “I am praying and meditating.”

Zeal said, “We have a lot of work to do today.”

“I know,” said Quietness. “I am getting ready.”

“Well, I’ll wait outside,” said Zeal.

A little later, they were both walking along a path, going to meet Jesus.

Zeal said, “I know prayer is important, but sometimes you seem a bit passive. I think you need to be more zealous for the gospel.”

Quietness said, “I really appreciate your passion, but I wonder if you spend enough time in meditation and reflection.”

Zeal said, “People are perishing! Time is short. People need to be warned, stirred up. We must have passion for the gospel! We’re too quick to be satisfied with things as they are. If you don’t move ahead, you fall behind.”

“You’re right,” Quietness responded. “But if we don’t spend enough time quietly with the Lord, we end up doing things in our own strength. We can get burnt out. Or run on ahead of Jesus.”

“That easily becomes an excuse,” said Zeal.

* * *

Zeal may become fanaticism on the one hand, or perhaps legalism on the other. Quietness (or peace, or calm) may become sloth on the one hand, or perhaps presumption on the other.

Right up to today, Jesus has his followers named Zeal and his followers named Quietness. Perhaps you know them.

Perhaps they carry on conversations like this:

Zeal: “We need to pray passionately for revival!”

Quietness: “We need to rest in God’s promises.”

Zeal: “We must stir ourselves up to pray more fervently!”

Quietness: “We need to bring our ardent concerns to God and trust his good timing.”

Zeal: “The Bible says, ‘Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord’ (Romans 12:11).”

Quietness: “The Bible also says, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15).”

Zeal: “Jesus gave himself to redeem and purify us so we would be ‘zealous for good deeds’ (Titus 2:14).”

Quietness: “‘I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother’ (Psalm 131:2).”

So the exchange continues —

“Onward, Christian Soldiers!”

“Blessed quietness …”

“Launch out into the deep!”

“Peace, blessed peace …”

“Hear the battle cry …”

“In shady green pastures, so rich and so sweet …”

“To the work, to the work!”

“Be still, my soul …”

“Work, for the night is coming!”

“There is a place of quiet rest …”

* * *

Back in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Zeal and Quietness continued their conversation.

Zeal said, “Sometimes you’re quiet. Too quiet.”

Quietness said, “Sometimes you’re noisy. Too noisy.”

“Quietness can lead to quiescence or acquiescence,” said Zeal.

“Noisiness can lead to nosiness,” Quietness replied.

“Quietness can lead to passiveness,” Zeal protested.

“Zeal can lead to folly,” Quietness countered.

“Quietness can lead to drowsiness.”

“Zeal can lead to disaster.”

Just then, Jesus walked up. They hadn’t seen him nearby.

“I have been listening to your conversation,” he said. “You are both right.”

Turns out that Zeal and Quietness are coworkers walking together in the light of the kingdom of God, helping and strengthening one another.

“Keep stirring me up, and I’ll keep calming you down!” said Quietness.

“OK. Keep me centered, and I’ll keep you moving!” Zeal said.

They laughed easily together and went on their way.

Howard Snyder
Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); now engaged in research and writing in Wilmore, Kentucky. Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Formerly taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Howard Snyder’s main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. He has written on a range of topics including church history, cultural trends, globalization, worldviews, evangelism, and various cultural issues.