hunderous applause rocked the lavish hotel ballroom as more than 200 young adults cheered, whistled, and clapped for the parade of peers marching across the stage. Sales figures, broken records, and energetic little speeches punctuated the applause. As the final protégés shook hands with company representatives and crossed off the stage, almost every person in the audience was on their feet, joining in the frenzied celebration.
I too was on my feet, dutifully yet half-heartedly clapping. I glanced at the two guys who had ridden with me from our town’s sales office. They both rolled their eyes. We had wondered what a regional meeting would be like for the marketing company we had summer jobs with. Now we knew. Feeling apart, feeling guilty, we nonetheless couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm that gripped the vast majority of the room. We couldn’t jump for joy when “Suzie” told how she made her sales goals in three days and was going on the Bahamas weeklong vacation. And while we appreciated the drive and determination that got “Dave” two top awards and vice president status of his branch office in less than a year, we didn’t swoon giddily.
As the afternoon wore on, one of the guys whispered to me, “Are these people for real?”
I shrugged and replied, “They believe they’re for real. . . .”
Wrapped up in our thoughts, the ride home was quiet. We had learned something—we were not sales zealots—and we were dealing with it.
That summer job, and the regional sales meeting, spawned an aha moment for me. What I had suspected about myself was revealed clearly to me. While not a bump-on-the-log type of person, I certainly wasn’t a zest-and-fervor kind of gal either. Yes, I sold the products well that summer (at one point I had a woman cry because she wanted the merchandise but couldn’t afford it—which my manager actually thought was a good thing since I had completely sold the woman on the concept). But I couldn’t work up enough energy to shout my successes; and in actuality those successes were quite average. I made some money to take back to college; I didn’t make the Bahamas trip.
In spiritual things, I was no different. My legs would usually sprout roots during altar calls. I’d never shout God’s praises during a personal testimony at vespers. I appreciated those who did, but I always had the question tooling around in my head, “Are these people for real?”
As I joined the workforce after college I still felt at times both suspicious and guilty—guilty for not having that “Ms. Sunshine Christian” component; suspicious of those who seemed to have an unending supply. With some shame I recall my reaction at overhearing a young person tell one of my supervisors that they thought God was sending them visions. I sucked my teeth and rolled my eyes in disbelief.
In the last few years I’ve done some serious thinking about zeal: who has it, why do they have it, how did they get it, can it be real, and would I ever have it? And on the job I’ve had the blessed opportunity to interview those on fire (in their own unique ways, of course) for God. What I’ve discovered in every one of these dozen or so interviews, regardless of person or personality, is that each individual brought a God-focused intensity. Peeling away charisma, humor, boldness, humility, shyness, or whatever a person’s character bespoke, this one thing remained with each subject: they were seriously intent on loving the Lord and sharing Him. They all had zeal for real.
I’ve also discovered that I cannot discount others merely because of my discomfort; nor can I discount myself because I don’t measure up (in my mind) to the ardent Jesus enthusiast. Zeal is in the eye of the Beholder. And if I’m honestly, truly serving the Lord with all my heart and mind—if I’m loving my neighbor as myself and wanting to share Him with others—then I too have zeal.
It might not be the roaring fire of some. It may be more of a quiet storm, a gentle flicker. But He’ll see it. And so will others. For real.
Kimberly Luste Maran, an assistant editor of the Adventist Review, endeavors to always “keep it real.” Good thing God is helping her.