The unmistakable whistle of a steam engine was regularly heard 130 years ago in the United States. It was the sound of progress.
In 1781, Scottish inventor James Watt made steam-power technology widely accessible for the first time. What he tapped into forever changed the world. A simple combination of water, heat and pressure made it all possible.
Steam power played a central role in the expansion of the United States. The first commercial steam locomotive in the nation, nicknamed “Tom Thumb,” began running routes around Baltimore, Maryland, in 1830. It was the first working example in the U.S. of the potential steam power possessed.
America’s global prominence was greatly enhanced by this technology. By the time of the golden spike—the ceremonial final railroad spike in Promontory, Utah, which marked the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869—the steam engine’s place in history was sure.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. Society is no longer reminded of steam’s power by chugging trains. But studying this incredible technology is useful for Christians. It can help you better understand and tap the immense power of the Holy Spirit.
In simple terms, steam-powered trains use burning coal (and sometimes wood or oil) to heat water in large tanks. The process creates steam pressure, which operates pistons that push the locomotive forward. This method allowed one train model in the 1930s to pull 19,000 tons. That is 38 million pounds!
Similarly, Christians require the Holy Spirit, which is likened to water (John 4:14). We also need “heat” to build God’s holy, righteous character. Without action, this divine power eventually dwindles and disappears.
The apostle Paul recognized this. He wrote: “Wherefore I put you in remembrance that you stir up the gift of God, which is in you by the putting on of my hands” (II Tim. 1:6).
“Stir up” has more in common with steam power than it appears. The term can mean “to kindle up” and “inflame one’s mind,” according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. It can also mean “strength” and “zeal.”
The Greek word translated “zeal” throughout the New Testament adds to the analogy. Its root word zeo means “to boil with heat, be hot.”
The combination of water (Holy Spirit) and heat (zeal) can propel us toward the goal of the kingdom. With God working through us, we can gain more of His Spirit and apply heat so that He can use us more effectively.
Just as steam power supercharged the growth of societies around the world, we can use the power of God’s Holy Spirit to supercharge our Christian lives!
Once steam locomotives are up to speed, they generate an enormous amount of momentum. In fact, while moving, they can take one mile or more to completely stop!
Building and sustaining momentum is essential for them to clear the many hills and mountains along their journeys. If a Christian is zealous, he will find himself picking up speed and momentum to overcome various challenges in his way.
This type of zeal can spread to others. We are told in I Corinthians 14:12 that we should be “zealous of spiritual gifts…that you may excel to the edifying of the church.”
Just as a train operator had to throw more coal in a boiler at regular intervals to keep up the train’s speed, so we must use zeal to maintain our own spiritual momentum.
Think back to when you were first called into God’s truth. Everything was exciting and new. Having zeal and focusing on Christian growth were of primary importance.
The challenge, though, is to keep this “first love” (Rev. 2:4) alive—or reignite it if it has waned.
Losing spiritual speed can be deceptive. As mentioned, a steam locomotive takes a long time to fully stop. Similarly, Christians can coast for quite some time—by neglecting prayer, Bible study, etc.—before it is apparent they have lost momentum. It then takes extra work to accelerate and get back to where they were.
Focusing on good works and growth will help you to sustain your “first love” and keep your priorities straight. This requires balance. Being overly zealous in serving others will eventually wear you down if you are not close to God. Galatians 6:9 calls this growing “weary in well doing.”
Understand that “human steam,” without God’s Spirit leading and directing you, can only get you so far. If you notice you are beginning to lose momentum and do nothing, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Just as a steam engine can run out of water, you can become low on your precious water supply—God’s Spirit. When this happens, the vitally important details of living the give way of life can be pushed to the side—and you can become “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19). The stage just before this is what Revelation 3:15 calls a “lukewarm” state.
The cure for this condition? Verse 19 charges such a person to “be zealous therefore, and repent.”
Putting all these elements together, properly applied zeal will supercharge you, bring great power to your daily life, and keep you burning hot. It will also help prevent spiritual burnout—and bring you back up to speed if you find yourself lagging.
Focus on the Basics
How can you increase the amount of God’s Spirit and zeal in your life? By focusing in a balanced way on the basics—prayer, Bible study, meditation, fasting and exercising God’s Spirit.
These important tools of Christian growth should be the foundation of your life. Our Creator put them in place for us to use. Even if you have been in God’s Church for many years, a review of these tools is helpful.
Prayer: Daily contact with the Father through prayer is of utmost importance. It is the way we share our innermost thoughts and feelings with Him. We can ask God directly for more of His Spirit as well as the ability to create the necessary heat to keep our waters roiling.
Make time for prayer and you will see the benefits! Use the model prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 as the framework for discussions with God.
Read the thorough article “The Keys to Dynamic Prayer” for additional guidance. It takes you through the vital knowledge that is necessary to having productive prayers every day. And keep in mind that God commands it!
Bible Study: Opening God’s Word and studying it daily will increase your faith as well as help you tap into the source for gaining more of the Holy Spirit. If your Bible is sitting on a bookshelf, only to be dusted off once a week for Sabbath services, you are not receiving the maximum benefit from God’s Word. Every time you open it, you directly access the mind of God. By studying diligently, you fill your reservoir with “pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
Reading the Church’s literature is a great way to expand your understanding of Scripture and can help make your daily study more productive. Use the articles “Study to Show Yourself Approved” and “The Rules of Effective Bible Study” to measure yourself. The more you regularly study the Bible, the more you will want to dig into this valuable resource!
Meditation: Thinking on God’s Creation and your place in His Plan is vital. Extended consideration of physical things, such as the power of steam, leads to a better appreciation of those things that are spiritual.
Throughout the year, the seven annual Holy Days (Lev. 23) provide specific topics to meditate on. For example, Pentecost is a perfect time to dwell on God working in you—as this was the day that the New Testament Church began and its members received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).
Psalm 1:1-2 shows that we should avoid exposure to sinful attitudes and instead meditate on godly things. Notice: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.”
Fasting: This action allows you to grow closer to God. Aside from its proven physical benefits, nothing puts trials and hardships into perspective like abstaining from food and water for at least 24 hours.
Conversely, a lack of physical water (and food) can lead to an abundance of spiritual water! Fasting is a vital reminder of how weak our fleshly bodies are and how much we truly rely on God. Looking to Him to help us “stir up” the gift He has given will boost the amount of zeal we have.
Exercising the Spirit: This final tool is crucial to building true spiritual power! At baptism, an individual receives a measure of God’s Spirit. This power, however, does us no good unless we are led by it (Rom. 8:14). Actively using the four previous tools on a regular basis and putting what we learn into practice is how we exercise God’s Spirit. The more effort we put into this process, the more God can allow His Spirit to grow in us.
Remember, the Holy Spirit is a gift. If you do not exercise it on a regular basis, it can be lost forever!
These building blocks of Christian growth will allow you to bring real power to your life. They will ensure you are “running hot” and God will be better able to use you to help others.
Zeal is not the only way Christians experience heat and pressure. Another source is the trials we inevitably face.
Satan, as our adversary, wants to throw us off track. If he had his way, he would destroy us! He capitalizes on trials—such as chronic illnesses and work-related problems—in an attempt to do just that.
Yet God allows trials for an important purpose. They apply heat to our lives, which leads to more growth. In fact, the Greek word often translated “trial” in the New Testament can mean “a crucible or furnace for smelting” (Thayer’s).
Trials are an integral part of Christianity, as evidenced in Philippians: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (1:29).
There are two ways you can react when you encounter trials. Either you learn and grow through them or you allow them to crack your foundation until you have little firm ground to stand on. Satan, who deceives the entire world (Rev. 12:9), wants us to fail. But you can trust God’s words and His promise that He will never test you “above that you are able…that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).
Remember, God wants you to build His holy, righteous character every day!
If you exercise the Spirit daily, you will better be able to ward off the devil’s attacks and concentrate on forging ahead. The apostle Paul said we must use “the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), to withstand trials.
The journey you have chosen is not easy or popular in the world’s view, but it is the only right choice to God. Matthew makes this clear: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it” (7:14).
Step back and look at the big picture. Those called out of this world in this age are “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (Jms. 1:18), and are given the promise of ruling alongside Jesus Christ at His Return. You will only reach this goal if you are “fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11). The word fervent is translated from zeo. We are “to boil with heat, be hot” in spirit!
Utilizing proper zeal through the tools of Christian growth, and doing so under pressure, will allow you to build your defenses and move forward with abundant spiritual momentum.
Start Your Engine!
God promises that “all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26) if you are faithful in keeping His commandments.
Since you now know ample ways to become and remain more zealous every day, the time has come to do it! Find ways to serve, fundraise, help the elderly, truly put your heart into your offerings, be more fervent in prayers, and be more willing than ever to sacrifice for God’s Work.
The heat that zeal produces will allow us to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24). This command means to provoke fellow brethren in a positive way by being a good example. Read II Corinthians 9:2, and work to ensure it applies to you.
Consistently use the tools of Christian growth: pray, study your Bible, fast and meditate. The result? You will exercise God’s Spirit, overcome and prevent sin, and grow in godly character.
When Jesus Christ returns, He expects to find us “so doing” (Matt. 24:46). Allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and you will be on fire for God’s Work. Use this spiritual water to produce real power—which causes action.
Be a steam-powered Christian!