Two words come to mind when I think of our "I" List of character traits God would like for us to possess: Integrity and Intensity. At first, these two seem to stand alone, but I think you will come to see how they are uniquely interwoven traits which actually compliment each other. As you can see from our passage below, Paul begins with "Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it." Now, consider our two traits - he asks for us to have some intensity (fervor) in how we love (from the center of who we are), but he also expects us to have integrity in our love as he asks us to be real in our love (don't fake it). They are indeed integral to each other.
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. (Romans 12:9-12 MSG)
At first, we may only think of integrity as honesty - some adherence to a moral code within. I believe there is a little more to integrity than meets the eye. In the most literal sense, integrity is a state of wholeness - speaking to the "entirety" of something. When Paul asks us to love this way, he is asking us to make our expression (action) of love complete - thorough, lacking nothing, completely undiminished in any way. It also carries the idea of being unimpaired - nothing stands in its way of expression.
We may think of intensity as something which burns hot - has some gusto to it. You wouldn't be far off if you went with this definition, but there is just a little more I think we need to see. It is a focusing of energies - so what is produced is more powerful than when energies are unfocused. It includes the idea of height and depth - for something with intensity is sharpest when it is focused. For example, take a regular light bulb and put it in a lamp. The light gives a glow to the room. Now, put a spotlight bulb in the same socket and what happens? There is light for the whole room, but the intensity of light is in the direct line of the "focused" light of the bulb. What makes the bulbs different? They add a "mirror" effect to the spotlight bulb to get the light to focus in a direct path. So, for our purposes today, begin to think of intensity as being focused, intent, and directed.
As we glimpse the instructions Paul lays out for us, we can begin to see how each of these must have both character traits in order to be fully met. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. He reminds us of the importance of focus - running from evil, turning toward what is good. He also reminds of the integrity we must maintain in doing this - it is as though our entire life depended upon this action. Indeed it does - for what we run toward determines the outcome of our pursuit; how we run toward it determines how quickly we will attain our pursuit. Are you getting how these two traits are related?
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. This is probably the hardest part of this passage. We all burn out at some time or another, in one pursuit or another. Why? Well, maybe the pursuit was not right for us at the time - we were simply running after, focusing our energies toward, without thought of whether it was the right thing for us, the right timing, or with the right intent. When we do this, we find ourselves kind of running on a hamster wheel - just spinning and spinning, but not really getting anywhere. There is nothing more exhausting than just spinning your wheels. So, how do we avoid burn-out? In the first place, burn-out is never God's fault - it is ours. We didn't keep the right focus. So, being vigilant to consistently evaluate our focus is paramount to avoiding burn-out. When a pilot is going from point A to point B, his eyes are on the gauges - not just the wings of the plane. He could focus intently on the wings, but it he never notices he is nearly out of fuel, he will find those wings do him little good as he is plummeting toward earth! The gauges show him his air speed, the fuel remaining, the altitude he maintains, etc. We have some similar "gauges" in our lives we'd do well to watch with diligence!
What gauges do we have? There are all kinds, but here are just a few. We have the gauge of our time - what are we giving our time toward? Most of us "spend" our time - God's method of operating is to "give" our time. We have the gauge of our emotions - when we find ourselves getting a little frazzled or fraying around the edges, it may just be time to pull back a little. We have the gauge of our inner spirit - giving us a little "check" here and there to remind us our "prayer" gauge is a little low. We need to make connection with the one who refuels us - so when our prayer gauge sends off a warning light, we likely need to get connected again! These are just some examples of what we have been given as gauges. You will likely think of others. Let God show you those which often "scream" their warnings in your life the loudest. When you identify them, begin to see how they relate to your focus and your intent. Remember the light bulb? They both serve the purpose of casting light into the room. Each has an effect - but only one does it with intensity. The gauges can help us to focus so our intensity allows for a brilliant display of God's light from within. Just sayin!