A zeal for patience and good works

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Galatians 6:9

“My heart was strangely warmed.” That’ s how John Wesley described his spiritual experience whilst at a Bible study meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, on 24 May 1738. Every year in the month of May, Methodists celebrate this event in the life of Wesley because it is thought to have been pivotal in providing Wesley with renewed zeal and passion for God. This renewed zeal and passion would lead to the eventual formation of “a people called Methodists”.

Wesley began a sermon “On Zeal” 1 by saying, “There are few subjects in the whole compass of religion, that are of greater importance than this [subject ‘ On Zeal’ ].”

Since this is the month we celebrate Wesley’ s zeal-renewing heart-warming experience, let me describe two points made by Wesley in his sermon “On Zeal” for our prayerful reflection.

Firstly, true zeal is marked by humility and patience. Wesley recognises the danger of misdirected zeal which promotes extremist tendencies (something our 21st century world is terrifyingly aware of). Wesley says that true zeal is marked by humility (rather than brash pride) and also patience (rather than passionate impatience). I confess that when I think of the word “zeal”, I usually imagine a picture of impatient and almost aggressive passion to do what is right. I don’ t usually associate humility and patience with zeal. Wesley’ s idea makes me wonder what type of zeal I should be praying for.

Secondly, Wesley says that Christians should be zealous in doing both “works of piety” (participating in the Lord’ s Supper, prayer, and fasting) and “works of mercy”(extending love to all, especially those whose body or spirit is in greatest need). But Wesley made me sit up when he spoke of real life situations where we may sometimes struggle to find time to do both types of works. Wesley said that in such times, works of mercy should take precedence over works of piety! Here is what he said: “Whenever, therefore, one interferes with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred. Even reading, hearing, prayer are to be omitted, or to be postponed, ‘ at charity’ s almighty call’ when we are called to relieve the distress of our neighbour, whether in body or soul.”

Postponing Bible reading and prayer for the sake of doing good works?

Is Wesley right? Is this why Methodism has traditionally stressed the importance of what is usually termed Social Concerns? (Praise God for the work of our Methodist Welfare Society and Social Concerns Committees!)

Is Wesley echoing what the apostle Paul wrote: “Let us not become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9)?

In any case, let us pray for zeal that we may “not become weary in doing good”.

Prayer: Lord, renew zeal in my heart this Aldersgate month. A zeal that makes me more patient and humble, and more eager to extend mercy and kindness to my neighbours. Amen.

Picture by Dragon Images/

Young volunteer picking up plastic bottles in the park
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The Rev Dr Gordon Wong –was elected President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years, and was a lecturer at Trinity Theological College from 1995 until he was elected President.