Chances are, the phrase spiritual fervor brings to mind images we would associate today with pentecostalism, or something of that nature. Why has spiritual fervor been co-opted and associated with one particular expression of the faith, though? Why do most of the terms we use to describe the elements of Christianity and/or faith become associated with one particular expression and lose their meaning for the whole of Christianity?
Spiritual fervor is not the sole property of the pentecostals! If that were the case, spiritual malaise would naturally be the sole property of everyone else. But yet we still cling to such skewed notions of common descriptors of Christianity.
Spiritual fervor is present through all aspects of the history of our faith. From the Nazirites in Numbers (chapt 6) to John the Baptist, the early church in Acts, and the subsequent martyrs we have a picture of what it means to have spiritual fervor. Even the "dark ages", as we modern westerners like to call it, was replete with persons of intense spiritual fervor (see: st. francis and thomas aquinas).
So why have we come to associate spiritual fervor with only one expression of faith? Maybe it's because we have a warped view of what spiritual fervor is really all about. After all, most of us probably have a negative connotation of spiritual fervor anyway. But what if it is the one thing we are lacking in the Church in the west? We have all this gnosis, all this head knowledge about God, about theology, about how to balance faith and praxis. We live at a time of unrivaled educational opportunities, yet our numbers are declining with each generation!? Why?
Lack of spiritual fervor. Our faith barely informs how we live and treat other people. We have become so acquainted with our position of cultural power that we have lost the ability to understand suffering and humility. We are so trapped, now, by being powerful and being relevant that we've totally chucked out the Gospel (the euangelion: good news in greek).
The Psalms have a lot to say about spiritual fervor, as do the Prophets and the entire New Testament. Spiritual fervor exists when complete devotion to God meets humility and submission to His Lordship in our lives. Faith gives us hope, and in faith we have the love of God poured out on us from above.
So spiritual fervor is not a crazy, out-of-body experience (a notion we still cling to, given to us by plato and his followers) that causes us to become so entranced with the spiritual that we lose sight of the world. It is the opposite. Spiritual fervor is embedded in the love of God, the love shown to us through Christ, and that love came down from heaven to change the face of the earth forever.
Neither is spiritual fervor a sort of social gospel, where we make it our mission to establish a visible kingdom where wrongs are righted and justice is served (doing good is wonderful, but it is not our starting point, God must be our starting point, otherwise we will run out of gas). Spiritual fervor gets its energy from God and gives fresh eyes with which to see the world. Spiritual fervor recognizes that God is in control, that He is present through His Spirit wherever there are believers, and that the victory is won in Christ Jesus.
So spiritual fervor has more to do with balance than it does with hyper-extremism. But it is a weighty balance, one that has such faith in God and His plan and promises that we are loosed from the chains of our own selves. Christ unlocks the prison door and calls us into new life with Him, where we learn to submit to Him and obey His voice and His teaching in our lives. This is certainly something that would lead to spiritual fervor, right?
But maybe we don't really see the Gospel as heavy and as important as it really is. Maybe we see Christ as just another item to collect, a genie who will bless us along our own way. Or maybe we just want to get eternal life-insurance. But when our eyes are opened to see the awesome, amazing, and astounding transformational power of Jesus Christ to deliver us from our lives of sin and death, we should get a little glimpse of what it means to have spiritual fervor. Is our conception of the Gospel big enough? Do we really believe that Jesus Christ can transform lives?
Maybe it's time for a new conception of spiritual fervor.