I previously blogged about lukewarm Christianity and zeal, and I wanted to add a couple more thoughts.
I think differences between someone who is beginning the work toward obtaining zeal and the person who is lukewarm are fairly simple. The zealous Christian puts more effort into remembering God throughout the day. Remembrance of God in all things is, I think, what divine zeal looks like.
Such a Christian awakens each morning and forces his mind to begin prayer. The prayer may be something like, “Lord, thank you for letting me wake up this day. Be with me in all things” or he may begin the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”
The wording of the prayer matters less than the intent of the heart. I know when I wake up in the morning I’m “grog-stumping” as my wife and I call it. While I have a hard time putting together coherent thoughts for the first several minutes, it is amazing how quickly the mind will wander. For that reason, I attempt to begin prayer immediately upon awaking, even if the prayer is as groggy as me. Many mornings I don’t remember so quickly, but as soon as I do remember I try to begin praying.
This isn’t meant to be something complicated, and one does not have to be a saint in order to have some degree of divine zeal. God is more than happy to condescend to wherever we are in our spiritual struggle, just as long as we are putting forth our own effort.
Progress comes slowly, and oftentimes, invisibly. As we embark on this spiritual life, we will stumble and fall repeatedly. Divine zeal is the spark within us that cries out to God, “Lord have mercy!” and then encourages us to stand back up.
TWO TYPES OF COOLING
There are two ways in which St. Theophan says divine zeal is most commonly cooled within us: when we become spiritually slothful and due to sickness or weakness.
COOLING FROM CARELESSNESS
The first type of cooling is dangerous. In it, we are like the seed in the parable of the sower that landed on the rock: it grew quickly but then faded away with the scorching sun. When we turn away from remembering the Lord and from following His commands within our hearts, we too will lose our zeal. Spiritually, we are then like a creature with no heartbeat or no breath.
When that happens we must repent. God will gladly accept our repentance and ignite the spark within us, but it will take effort on our part. Regarding this cooling, St. Theophan says, “Fear this more than anything, fear it like fire, like death. It happens as a result of losing attention toward oneself and the fear of God.”
In modern western culture, falling away from constant remembrance of God is quite easy. We have so many distractions with our daily lives, jobs, family obligations, internet, social media, television, radio, etc. We are constantly bombarded by noise and distractions — all of which have one aim: to pull our minds from the remembrance of God. It is important to make an effort throughout the day to remember God and quietly pray short prayers such as the Jesus Prayer.
COOLING FROM SICKNESS & WEAKNESS
The second type of cooling is neither intentional nor dangerous. It is a result of bodily sickness and weakness. The soul is worn down by such conditions and cannot maintain both the inward and outward zeal. When this cooling happens, we must follow St. Theophan’s “one rule: Be patient and do not violate any established and pious ways, although in carrying them out, you may just be going through the motions. The cooling will quickly depart from whoever endures this patiently, and the usual warm and sincere zeal will return.”
I believe that if we cannot maintain a posture of thankfulness for bodily ailments, we should at least bear them patiently. In doing so, we are completing the ascetical obedience that we have unwillingly received and we will obtain at least a small measure of divine grace. Some of the saints, including Porphyrios, prayed for bodily ailments, seeing them as a sure way to attain to the Kingdom of God when suffered with patience and thanksgiving.
St. Theophan closes his letter with this:
When you begin to work on yourself, you will see that all outward direction and instructions are only guidelines. What is really needed by the soul, or how best to act in a particular instance, each soul must decide for itself with the help of God’s grace which guides it invisibly. A person who sincerely wishes to please the Lord, and who has completely devoted himself to Him will always end up doing the right thing, but he succeeds by humility.