If you are involved in a local church and have attempted to encourage others in their walk with Christ then you have probably said or heard the following countless times:
“I need to get back in the Word.”
“My prayer life has been kinda dry lately.”
How do you respond?
It’s a common reflex for us to reply with the super-spiritual, muppet-faced grimacing sigh: “Hmm. Hmm. I will pray for you that God would help you to be more faithful in prayer.”
But, is this most helpful?
Let’s put the response to the test. Try it out with other things that God says not to do or to do.
In the context of a small group,
Bob discloses, “I’ve had a hard time staying sober lately”
Response: “Hmmm. I will pray for you that God would help keep you sober.”
Sally says, “I haven’t been paying for my cosmetics lately. I’ve been struggling with theft.”
Response: “Hmmm. I will pray for you that God would help you to pay for your stuff.”
Fred says, “I’ve been smoking a lot of meth lately.”
Response: “Hmmm. I will pray for you that God would help you to not be a junkie.”
This is unacceptable, and we all know it. We would be quite right to urgently and lovingly admonish our drunk, thieving, drug-using brothers and sisters. However, with spiritual disciplines, we somehow just accept that we will be unfaithful. Why is this? How has apathy in the Christian life has become so common for contemporary evangelicals.
Has mediocrity become the new normal? And, if so, are we then aiding and abetting apathy?
We must remember that this perspective is entirely foreign to the Bible. There is no indication, anywhere, that either personal or communal apathy is even close to acceptable. In fact, apathy with the Bible is what we are supposed to be on the lookout for! We mustn’t miss this central tenet of our calling as Christian people (Heb. 3:13; 5:11-14).
If your small group or church or group of friends are aiding and abetting your apathy–or you their’s, it’s a good time to get to work to change the culture of these relationships. With some intentionality and prayerfulness God may use you to help bring reformation. Here are some ideas:
1. Start with yourself. Ensure that you are reading the Bible, praying, and endeavoring to apply what you are learning. It’s obvious that you will be more help to others if you are doing it.
2. Make sure you are loving people biblically. Sometimes we love people selfishly with a veneer of spirituality. Biblical love always pursues holiness. To shelf holiness to promote self (i.e. comfort) is not biblical love, it is hypocrisy.
3. Invite others to join you in God-honoring Christianity. In the context of a small group or just friends together, be intentional with discussions and meetings so that a culture of Bible reading and godliness becomes the expectation rather than the rare interruption to spiritual mediocrity. Sometimes this involves a personal confession of a struggle with superficiality. Often God uses one person’s transparency to fuel others’.
4. Refuse to tolerate apathy but don’t destroy people. There is a way to confront sinful behavior without obliterating people. Richard Sibbes’ book A Bruised Reed highlights the need for us to maintain gospel holiness while being compassionate with fellow sinners. We want to help hurting people. Holiness and compassion are not mutually exclusive.
5. Resolve to not be fake. When some people get serious about holiness sometimes others get serious about acting. Instead of pursuing true Christlikeness we like to pretend that we have it all together so that we are not uncomfortably outed in the midst of our weakness. This type of performance does nothing to help bring reformation.
Sometimes we have to just take a step back and ask, “What are we doing here?” Christians are converted by the Word of truth (1 Pet. 1:23) and we are to long for the pure milk of the Word like newborn babies (1 Pet 2:1-3). When this is not happening it means that something has gone wrong. There is a clog in a spiritual artery somewhere. We need help in our sickness, not affirmation. If we are either aiding in apathy or ourselves mired in it, then we have work to do. When people open up and confess their apathy with the Word and prayer, resist the urge to do nothing, but instead, aim to help them grow. This is something to pray for God’s help in, even as we aim to resist the urge to simply nod and sound spiritual.
Do you remember Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” How we answer this question determines how we interact.
I think the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”