Mar 12, 2012
Anyone not know trouble?
Mar 12, 2012
Anyone not know trouble?
The danger of sloth is always near at hand—and here’s what you can do about it.
Just before Christmas 1975, a novelty gift item hit the market and became an instant success. For a mere $3.95, you could buy your very own “Pet Rock.” It came in a cardboard box with straw, breathing holes, a leash, and a 32-page instruction manual. The fad started as a joke between friends when Gary Dahl, its creator, boasted he had the perfect low-maintenance pet—no walks, no messes, no food, and no expectations. And more than 1.5 million consumers snapped up the gag gift. When Dahl died in March 2015, his New York Times obituary noted that “the concept of a ‘pet’ that required no actual work and no real commitment resonated with the self-indulgent ’70s, and before long a cultural phenomenon was born.”
YOUR PET ROCK SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
Unfortunately, the same can be said about our spiritual lives. According to ancient and medieval Christians, a low-maintenance, “no real commitment” approach to following Jesus has been around for a long time. They called it acedia, or as it’s more commonly known, the sin of sloth. It had a nickname—“the noonday demon”—because it felt like the unrelenting, oppressive midday desert sun baking the earth, wilting every living thing in its path.
Acedia isn’t laziness. It literally means “a lack of care,” or more specifically a lack of concern for one’s salvation and growth as a Christian. In contrast to the sin of pride, which raises a defiant fist in God’s face, sloth is more like a shoulder shrug followed by a weary snivel: “Yeah, whatever, Jesus. I want to follow You, but that looks like a long dusty road, and I’m pretty cozy right now sitting in my recliner, channel-surfing my way through life.”
Real discipleship will change me. It will cause me to restructure my priorities, care about people I don’t like, call for sacrifices I don’t want to make, and reorder what and how I love. Unlike a relationship with a Pet Rock, the Christian life requires commitment, inconvenience, and a lifelong journey of small and large changes that will make me more like Jesus. As Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung writes, “God wants to kick down the whole door to our hearts and flood us with his life; we want to keep the door part-way shut so that a few lingering treasures remain untouched, hidden in the shadows.” Or to put it more simply, someone in the grip of acedia makes a sad, quiet bargain with God: I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me.
Think of Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3-4). He had a decent life—a cushy outpost in the desert with his wife, a supportive father-in-law, and a few sheep—until God interrupted with His “you’re My man to deliver My people” speech. It’s a glorious moment, charged with wonder, excitement, and adventure. But after meeting the awesome “I Am Who I Am,” Moses begs God to send someone else, presumably so he can slink back into his safe, adventure-gutted hovel in the desert.
Or think of the third guy in Jesus’ famous “parable of the talents” (Matt. 25:24-30). Despite having only one talent, he was called by his master to a life of greatness and adventure. We can imagine the master (God) exuberantly ordering, “Risk, weep, work, love, and die if necessary, but use that talent!” Instead, the guy responds, “You expect a lot, so I just took that wee little talent called ‘my life’ and buried it in the ground. But, look, here it is: sterile but untarnished.” Like everyone in the grip of sloth, he has a simple, unspoken credo: “I believe in not too much. I believe in not doing anything uncomfortable. I believe in avoiding risky battles.”
DIAGNOSIS: A BAD CASE OF SLOTH
When acedia gets into your spiritual bloodstream, there are two predictable symptoms: not doing what’s required, or pouring ourselves into something else. An early Christian thinker named Evagrius of Pontus observed that acedia “instills in [a believer] a dislike for the place [where he lives] and for his state of life itself.” According to him, this leads the slothful believer on a wild goose chase “for other places where he can easily find the wherewithal to meet his needs and pursue a [life] that is easier and more productive.”
In other words, the “acediaholic” constantly thinks, Ugh! I can’t follow Jesus under these subpar conditions or with these flawed people. If I just had a different ____________ (job, church, spouse, house, body, circle of friends, set of problems), then I could obey Jesus. He burns up most of his spiritual energy fantasizing about such greener grass.
That leads to the second symptom of acedia—pouring oneself into something other than surrender to Christ’s lordship here and now. This is the trickiest aspect of acedia. We assume if we’re busy—really busy—we can’t be soul-sick with sloth. But those ancient Christians believed that it often hides under a flurry of activities and distractions—work, entertainment, celebrity gossip, sports, and mindless web or TV surfing. The activities aren’t always bad, until they become an unconscious strategy to avoid the transforming demands of God’s love.
Here’s my confession about sloth: I know a lot about it from personal experience. I am a recovering acediaholic. About six years ago, I started acting much more like a spectator than a participant in God’s great plan to woo the world to Himself. I noticed that spectators don’t sweat or bleed or twist their ankle on the field of play. I just wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch the action for a “short season”—one that dragged on for about four years. Without consulting God, I had made that sad, quiet bargain: I won’t ask much of You, so return the favor by not asking much of me. And it’s truly a sad arrangement because sloth always leads to spiritual tedium. The things that should fill us with delight—honoring God, sharing Jesus with others, growing in Christlikeness, freeing the oppressed, and even suffering for Christ’s sake—now feel flat, unappetizing, dull, and oh so tiring.
THE RX FOR WELLNESS
My recovery from sloth started with a simple spiritual reality—repentance, a turn from sin back towards the living God. As people say in Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous, I admitted I was powerless over acedia and my life had become unmanageable. I didn’t just have wounds or bad habits (which was partially true); I was also in the grip of sin. Like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ story, sloth had taken me into a “far country,” and I had to start praying, “Lord Jesus, ‘restore to me the joy of Your salvation’” (Ps. 51:12).
It also meant humbling myself before a few other human beings and confessing my sin of sloth. During the worship service at our church, we offer prayer ministry. So nearly every week I would go to Stan or Steven, two Christlike older men, and ask for prayer. Sometimes I didn’t even know how they should pray, but they joyfully laid hands on my shoulders and in one way or another asked Jesus to restore my shriveled, acedia-laced heart. Steven and Stan helped me to once again start asking much from God.
But those ancient Christians had another basic prescription for sloth—stabilitas, a Latin word that means “firmness” or “stability.” The implication is that we should stay put, persevere, stick to our posts, and bloom where we’re planted. Of course, we need to change our geography sometimes to start a new job or to care for family. But the primary posture of a disciple is to work through conflict and difficulties rather than flit around them. In other words, we usually get somewhere as a Christian by giving up our fantasies and putting down roots—right here, right now, with this group of people, in this marriage or single state, with this set of responsibilities and challenges.
In his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry describes a character named Roy Overhold, a quiet, smiling man who was never on the attack or on the defense “but merely not present.” Berry writes: “As a rule when the pressure was on, Roy eased away. He was not by nature a man who was very much in evidence.” The call to stabilitas says: When the pressure’s on, don’t ease away into one of a thousand distractions or evasions. Be present. Be very much in evidence—at work, with your children or your spouse, with your friends and Christian community, but especially with the God who “rejoice[s] over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17 NIV).
If someone asked me, “So how did you start to overcome acedia?” I would say, “I didn’t. I was okay with my sloth; God wasn’t. I didn’t even know I had a problem, but God noticed and found it unacceptable. Like Moses, I was perfectly content with my cozy, uninvolved life off the spiritual grid. But God didn’t let either of us stay there.”
That’s how God responds to sloth: He won’t let you wallow in it. God isn’t a Pet Rock. Biblically speaking, He’s more like a “refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal. 3:3), or a lion poised and waiting to pounce (Hos. 13:6-8), or a dogged woman flipping the house upside down to find a precious gold coin—and that gold coin is you (Luke 15:7-10).
He won’t let you go without a fight. He will hunt you down, He will find you, He will jolt or draw or woo you out of your sloth and into real life, and then He will lavish you with grace.
Illustrations by Peter Oumanski
By Matt Woodley
Victory is God’s will for the life of a believer. But sometimes we can find ourselves repeatedly falling into the same sin. As a result, our prayer life is marked by broken promises to end wrongdoing. We tell the Lord that we yearn to do what is right, but often our desire wanes when virtue is no longer convenient, pleasurable, or profitable. Many believers become angry with God for withholding the victory, but sin is always our choice—not the Lord’s.
If a stinging conscience and misery are the result of our decision to sin, why do we continue to transgress? One reason is incomplete repentance. It is possible for us to experience grief, embarrassment, and shame over sin without being truly repentant. The reason is that penitence isn’t a matter of weeping or feeling guilty; rather, true repentance is a change of mind about sin so that we no longer hold on to our own perspective but instead agree with God’s viewpoint. When we do this, the heart turns in the opposite direction from persistent wrongdoing.
The second reason for failure is an inadequate view of our true identity in the Lord. We, as completed children of God, have Christ living within to empower us. When we grasp this truth, we will recognize that sin does not fit who we are, and we’ll stop rationalizing our offenses. Our genuine repentance is based upon an honest and full understanding of our identity.
When we put these two truths together, we create a powerful tool against Satan and temptation. Our Father wants us to be victorious, and we triumph over failure when we remember that Jesus Christ is the source of our lives.
“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:5-6)
Time is the most precious resource available to us. Obviously, it becomes available moment by moment, and there is absolutely no way to recapture what has moved into the past. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Our lifestyle should be recognizable from the wisdom that comes from the “fear of the LORD” (Psalm 111:10). So much so that our everyday conversation should not be “in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
“Every idle word that men shall speak” will one day be evaluated “in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). It is clear that “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
That is why we are to “redeem the time.” The Greek term is exagoradzo, meaning to buy up or to make the most of time “because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Our speech must be consciously planned to “answer every man” in such a way that it is “alway with grace, seasoned with salt”—two apparently opposite characteristics.
Our words should be “as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24), “but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it?” (Mark 9:50). It is the combined power that is important; “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). HMM III
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven,
that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. —1 Corinthians 5:6-7
No sin is private. It may be secret but it is not private.
It is a great error to hold, as some do, that each man’s conduct is his own business unless his acts infringe on the rights of others. “My liberty ends where yours begins,” is true, but that is not all the truth. No one ever has the right to commit an evil act, no matter how secret. God wills that men should be free, but not that they be free to commit sin….
Coming still closer, we Christians should know that our unchristian conduct cannot be kept in our own backyard. The evil birds of sin fly far and influence many to their everlasting loss. The sin committed in the privacy of the home will have its effect in the assembly of the saints. The minister, the deacon, the teacher who yields to temptation in secret becomes a carrier of moral disease whether he knows it or not. The church will be worse because one member sins. The polluted stream flows out and on, growing wider and darker as it affects more and more persons day after day and year after year.
Lord, this is especially true of us who are leaders in the church. Show to me and my fellow servants this morning the horror of the consequences of our sin. Keep us pure and faithful, for Your glory. Amen.
Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32
Some time ago I heard a man attempt to pour ridicule upon the custom of pastoral preaching. He made a strong point that after conversion, a person should go out at once and begin to win souls, not go to church and hear preaching.
For illustration, he reasoned that a farmer candles his eggs once, not every week, and sends them to market.
But there was one very serious weakness in the argument: Christ did not say to Peter, “Candle my eggs”; He said, “feed my sheep.”
Christians are not eggs to be candled; they are sheep to be fed!
Feeding sheep is not a job to be gotten over with once and for all; it is a loving act to be repeated at regular intervals as long as the sheep live. Peter well understood His Lord’s meaning and years later admonished certain elders of the church to “feed the flock of God which is among you.” Not one word did he say about candling eggs!
Figures of speech should illustrate truth, not originate it. Christians are living creatures dependent on food, and must be fed well and often if they are to remain healthy. Our Lord selected the figure of sheep because it accords with the facts. The figure of eggs does not.
Beware the man who makes a figure of speech teach doctrine. There’s something better in the Bible than figures of speech to be twisted to fit our own prejudices!
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. ROMANS 4:8
When the eternal Son of God became the Son of Man and walked on this earth, He always called individuals to His side. Jesus did not come into the world to deal with statistics!
He deals with individuals and that is why the Christian message is and always has been: “God loves the world! He loves the masses and throngs only because they are made up of individuals. He loves every individual person in the world!”
In the great humanistic tide of our day, the individual is no longer the concern. We are pressed to think of the human race in a lump. We are schooled to think of the human race in terms of statistics. In many nations, the state is made to be everything and the individual means nothing at all.
Into the very face and strength of this kind of humanism comes the Christian evangel, the good news of salvation, wondrously alight with the assurance for all who will listen:
“You are an individual and you matter to God! His concern is not for genes and species but for the individuals He has created!”
Father God, Your Word says that You knew each one of us before we were born (see Jeremiah 1:5), You personally knit us together in our mother’s womb (see Psalm 139:13), and You planned each day of our life (see Psalm 139:16). I praise You, Lord! My only response to this can be to live every day for Your glory.