James Bond, Jack Bauer, and Jason Bourne have got nothing on him. He had a license to kill, and he most certainly knew how to use it. He connived to assassinate two kings, the queen mum, the royal family, and an entire religion. And he managed rule as king himself for nearly three decades. His name: Jehu, son of Nimshi, and you can find his story in 2 Kings 9-10. These two chapters of the Old Testament read much more like the plot of a modern action movie than the script of a Sunday school lesson as Jehu zealously carries out his duties God’s chosen agent of retribution against the murderous and idolatrous house of Ahab. In fact, at one point, he tells one of his allies, “Come with me and see my zeal for the LORD!” (2 Kings 10:16).
But Jehu’s zeal—even his so-called zeal for the LORD—wasn’t enough. The epilogue of Jehu’s story spells it out:
Yet Jehu was not careful to follow the instruction of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins that Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit. (2Ki 10:31)
In case you don’t remember Jeroboam, he was the first king of Israel’s northern kingdom (called “Israel”), and he made his own religion, placing golden calves in strategic places in the kingdom (1 Kings 12:25-33). His idolatry became the standard to which all future wicked kings would be compared. Jehu was just such a king.
At first glance, Jehu’s story seems pretty far removed from our own. I haven’t been anointed as king, nor have I been appointed to wipe out an entire dynasty. Yet, I’m a lot more like Jehu than I’d care to admit. And my guess is that you are too.
“Come and See My Zeal!”
Like Jehu, we are zealous people, a trait that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Do any of these sound like you?
Zealous for Theology
You love Bible study. You’ve got colored pencils, highlighters, note cards, Greek/Hebrew dictionaries, and shelves full of commentaries. You love to get down into the nitty-gritty of biblical interpretation in order to mine the diamonds out of a text. And if there’s one thing you can’t abide, it’s heresy. You can sniff bad theology out like a bloodhound. Whether it’s in a movie, a book, a sermon, or a hymn, you will make a mental note to rehash the theological misstep later with anyone who will listen. You know the definition of all the ology’s—hamartiology, anthropology, soteriology. You’re not daunted by discussion of eschatology, and you’re ready to debate your stance on the TULIP with anyone brave enough to take you on. By all accounts you’re zealous for theology.
Zealous for Politics
You vote in the primaries, campaign for your favorite candidate, and you’ve seen every episode of The West Wing at least three times. You can name all nine Supreme Court justices, as well as their appointing president. You know your rights, and you’re ready to stand up for them. CSPAN actually gets air time in your house as you enjoy listening to the goings on of Congress. You’ve written letters to your Senators, and you take notes on the annual State of the Union address. You can recite the Preamble of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Order of Presidential Succession. The votes are in. You are zealous for politics.
Zealous for Social Causes
Watching the evening news give you a stomachache as you see yet another act of injustice perpetrated against a vulnerable image-bearer of God. You don’t just talk about fighting back. You actually do it. You’ve fostered endangered children, served in homeless shelters, financially supported communities in the wake of disaster, and opened your home to refugee families. You take seriously your obligation to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus; consistently and compassionately, you hold out a cup of cold water in the Savior’s name. Pro-life isn’t just a political position with you. It’s a way of life.
Zealous for Ministry
When the church doors are open, you are there—and not just there filling a seat, but serving. From teaching Sunday school and VBS to decorating every season to visiting shut-ins, you are willing to serve. Whether a need fits the niche of your spiritual gifts or not, you have a passion to build the Church by serving the church. First Peter 4:11 sums you up nicely:
If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1Pe 4:11)
Zeal Doomed to Fail
If you found yourself in my vignettes, don’t despair. God does not condemn zeal in any of these areas. A passion for theology, ministry, social causes, and even politics is good and can serve the Church and the country well. The problem Jehu had—and the problem we often have as well—was that he thought zeal was enough. He thought that as long as he zealously carried out the orders of the Lord, he would be just fine.
But he forgot to guard his heart.
Though he wiped out the temple of the false god Baal, and all the prophets who served there, Jehu still fell into idolatry. Solomon warned his son,
Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life. (Pro 4:23)
Zeal from an unguarded heart is doomed to fail, so what does it look like to have a guarded heart?
Step 1: Admit Your Need
In order to guard our hearts, we must first recognize that they need to be guarded. Though they often deceive us into believing that they’re strong, our unguarded hearts love to stray and succumb to temptation. I must admit that Jeremiah 17:9 describes my heart, not just other people’s:
The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable – who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)
That’s why I must guard my heart. It can’t guard itself! If I rely on zeal alone, I will quickly find myself in the ditch of self-confidence and hubris.
Step 2: Embrace the Word
Perhaps like the psalmist, you’ve got this question:
How can a young man keep his way pure? (Ps. 119:9a)
That’s just another way of wondering, “Yeah, but how do I guard my heart?” The psalmist gives the answer too:
By keeping your word.
I have sought you with all my heart;
don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have treasured your word in my heart
so that I may not sin against you. (Psa 119:9b-11)
We must not just be zealous about God’s Word, but allow it to act as the guardian for our hearts. That requires that we receive it humbly, even when it hits us between the eyes (James 1:21) and that we recognize that only the Word of God can restore our souls, open our eyes, and make us wise (Ps 19:7-9).
Step 3: Ask for Help
Finally, we must recognize that we can’t guard our hearts alone. Yes, we need the Word. But we need others as well. Above all, we must depend on God Himself to guard us, to do as He’s promised in Psalm 121:
The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
Humble yourself under His mighty hand and ask that He guard your heart. Cry out to Him and declare your dependence upon Him to protect your heart from the wiles of the flesh, the world, and the devil.
As you bathe your heart in prayer, reach out to others for help as well. If you’re anything like me, this is the hardest step to take. We like to keep up appearances that we’re not that bad. But, my friend, I need help from trusted friends. And you do too. Don’t try to guard your heart alone. It won’t work.
Zeal is good. But zeal from an unguarded heart is doomed to fail.