“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelations 3:15,16 NIV
“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” 2 Peter 3:34 NIV
The Holiness Project – Day 4 “Spiritual Drift”
My youngest girl just turned 18 this month. Wow! Do they ever grow up fast! My other daughter is already living on her own in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. But, although she is far away and my youngest is close by, they always need their parents. Especially when it comes to boys. Sometimes the relationship is hot and sometimes it’s cold. Sometimes they are getting along fine and sometimes they are fighting like cats and dogs.
And when things are going well, I tell them that the fact they are angry or upset means that the relationship matters to them. Hot or cold, they are engaged. It’s when they don’t care, when they shrug their shoulders and have no problem walking away, when they are lukewarm….that’s when you should start worrying.
Apparently God thinks the same way. Whether we are passionate or upset, whether we are super excited about the things of God or whether we are depressed and in despair, we still care, we are still engaged. And that’s good.
The problem is that most people, even in the church (maybe especially in the church) are simply lukewarm about God and the things of God. Most churchgoers are experiencing what I like to call “spiritual drift.”
The truth is that I have been in “spiritual drift” myself, sometimes for days or weeks at a time. Looking back, if I am honest, sometimes for years at a time. It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a Christian. It just means that I was not engaged, not caring, lukewarm. And that isn´t a good place to be for very long. I’m not exactly sure what it means for God to spit a lukewarm church out of his mouth (not just individuals but churches which is who He is talking to here in Revelations), but I don’t really want to find out either.
A lukewarm church filled with lukewarm Christians will not actively seek the anointing that comes with spiritual unity and maturity and, if that is what God is talking about, turning His face away from us, spitting us out of his mouth as individuals and as a fellowship of believers, then that is bad enough. Maybe it is necessary for us to understand and appreciate that the anointing of God on our lives and ministry is not automatic nor easy but rather a result of who we become in our spiritual walk.
Turning away forces us to evaluate the relationship, explore our real commitment to following Him, and, especially in light of His promises of powerful anointing, to ask whether He is slow to keep His promises or we are slow to fulfill His conditions. The real question, just like any other relationship, is whether or not we are ready to receive the intimacy of His presence which is the source of His anointing.
But let’s get back to this idea of “spiritual drift.” It was a real eye-opener for me when I finally grasped the idea and I want to try to help you to see it for yourself.
Lately, I have been listening to some pretty good motivational speeches by Tony Robbins, Denzel Washington, Arnold Swartzenegger and others. I always filter what they have to say through the lens of Scripture but, still, a lot of the basic teaching is ver biblical (at least in my opinion).
As some of you may know, I am diabetic, type 2, which is treated with a radical change in lifestyle, eating a ketogenic diet, regular exercise and the right supplements. Losing 20 or 30kg to get down to your ideal weight is key to mitigating the long term effects of diabetes on your health.
Motivation is always hard.
Yes, diabetes is a disease but it is not called “the silent killer” for nothing. Generally, at least at the beginning, there aren’t any severe symptoms to alarm you. Yes, my eyesight is going, but I am also turning 61 in a few weeks. Yes, I am losing some feeling in my feet (circulation problems), I have a hightened need to go to the bathroom more often (kidney problems) and my “blood numbers” are not healthy (high glucose and cholesterol levels etc).
So the logic is there. Make a change in your lifestyle or diabetes will slowly but surely kill you. More than 80% of diabetics die of a heart attack earlier than they otherwise would. But logic doesn’t seem to motivate me enough. Nor fear, which followed quickly in the footsteps of the logic (or truth) that the doctors shared with me over and over again. Make a consistent and permanent change in your lifestyle or diabetes will win out. Fear tends to be a short term motivator anyway. Good for sprints but not marathons.
What I did accomplish was to get myself educated about diabetes, the ketogenic diet and how to read my “blood numbers.” Education is a good long term strategy, but I was still in denial and not really making any headway. I would get motivated for a few weeks and then fall off the bandwagon and take my time getting back on.
Then I realized that I was “addicted” to destructive behavior patterns (like anxiety based “junkfood” eating) and emotional “comfort zones” (no pressure allowed, even from myself). I had enough to deal with in life, I didn’t need the added stress of trying to accomplish something so difficult as a radical change in lifestyle, eating habits and, God forbid, exercising daily. The supplements weren’t so bad, so I started with that. But the rest? No way.
But knowing what the problem is doesn’t always translate into doing. At least not in my case. But I was getting closer. I decided to start listening to motivational speeches and see if that would help.
And they were good. Very good. But not what I expected…
The basic message was that motivation was not the problem. Self-discipline was. I didn’t want to hear that, but I knew it was true. I would argue that I needed to be motivated to be self-disciplined. They said that that wasn’t entirely true. It’s more like a simbiotic, interactive relationship. All virtues are that way (spiritual and creational).
Like love (and the other virtues), there is an element of truth in that it must first of all just be there. The motivation must exist. But, like love, self-discipline is a lifestyle choice that also creates motivation. Like all virtues, self-discipline is a muscle that you have to exercise, a skill to be learnt and applied, a lifestyle that must be lived.
Success breeds success, they say. Maybe so. But what I do know is that love breeds love. Self-discipline breeds more self-discipline. Motivation can get things started but habits and routine is what builds up the momentum to make changes happen in your life. Period.
The problem is that the majority of people do NOT live self-disciplined lives towards a specific goal or purpose. The 80-20 principle applies here. Leave spirituality out of it for a moment, only 20% of people in any group, Christians or not, live actively and proactively working towards a goal. Only 20% have created a lifestyle based on delayed gratification, personal authentication, and clear purpose and goals.
Many want to be olympic atheletes, few discipline themselves enough to get there. It isn’t only about talent but about preparation. There is nothing more common that talent that is wasted on people unwilling to do the work or pay the price.
Many want to have successful businesses, few are willing to discipline themselves enough to accomplish that goal. Whatever area of life you want to talk about, the ones who accomplish goals, who achieve greatness, who get the job done, are those willing to pay the price.
Even more impressive are those who face great adversity, who have suffered loss or a terrible accident and have had their “normal” life taken from them, or their health, or opportunity, or resources but have come back stronger than ever, inspiring the rest of us with their stories of heroism and courage.
How true it is that the value of a self-disciplined life dedicated towards a worthy goal, even in the face of adversity, is the person you become on the way. I believe that God sees it that way too.
God is interested in our character, in our values, in our identity as His children and whether or not we take that seriously enough to change our ways. The whole point of adversity, and evil, and sin (none of which will win the day) is that they are the context of God’s molding of our characters into the likeness of His son, Jesus Christ. It is a purpose worthy of our greatest efforts.
Yes, our efforts. It isn’t just what God is doing but how we respond. Are we engaged? Does it matter to us? Are we hot (passionate) about what God is doing in our lives or cold (upset, depressed, desperate) towards God because we don’t like the way things are going? Why did He allow me to get diabetes? He would ask me the same thing, no doubt. Why did I allow myself, through bad lifestyle choices, to get diabetes? Yes, we are intimately involved in the process.
Ok, I get it.
Logic (and even education) is not enough. It helps but most Christians are educated in spiritual things far beyond their ability to obey. Fear won’t get you far and fear as a motivator for spiritual things is an affront to God and our relationship with Him (just as it would be with my wife). Yes, it is true that we are all addicted to sin and a rebellious lifestyle to one degree or another. That should give us pause but it doesn’t necessarily motivate us to make changes.
So what’s left?
Gratitude. Gratitude is the key.
In spiritual terms, gratitude is the basic attitude of the Christian life. Not fear but gratitude. Not despair but gratitude. Gratitude for what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. Gratitude for a new relationship with God as a source of comfort in a difficult world, a source of strength in a world at war with itself and God.
Gratitude is the key that unlocks motivation and self-discipline is the lifestyle that keeps gratitude front and centre no matter what we go through or what weakness or sin we are dealing with.
Gratitude is the key. But more needs to be said.
Let’s work it backwards a bit. If I am not self-disciplined towards my purpose and goals (creational and spiritual), then what does that mean? If we accept that a proactive lifestyle that is self-disciplined (what the Bible would call “picking up your cross daily and following me”) toward the goal of following Jesus and using our spiritual/creational gifts for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God in the lives of our family and friends (and even strangers), then what are we saying?
If we aren’t proactively engaged in the kingdom of God, and excited about it, then what does that say about us? It either means that we have not learnt the lifestyle lesson that gratitude is a muscle that must be exercised or it means that we are not grateful for what God has done in our lives.
Is that harsh? I don’t think so.
Many churchgoers are deluding themselves into thinking that they are Christians in the first place. The Bible is very clear that if you are a Christian, there will be fruit. Gratitude is expressed in words and deeds. Always has, always will. Nothing new there.
Others, many others, may be Christians but are suffering from “spiritual drift” because they do not exercise the value of gratitude.
Sure, going to church helps to remind us of what God has done for us but we need to own it and work it and pray about it and meditate on it until it burns in your soul with a desire to do something, anything to please the God who loved you enough to endure hell for your sake.
That’s the thing about gratitude, you see. Just saying “thank you” is not enough (nor singing it) especially if God is asking you to act, to create a new lifestyle which will create a new you, so that you can access the power of His anointing through a focus on spiritual unity and maturity. That is a goal worthy of any child of God.
But do you even care? Does even the thought of God’s intimate anointing fill you with hunger? Or does it seem like too much work? If you aren’t hungry and thirsting for God, you will never be filled. That is as true in the creational realm as the spiritual. What do you hunger for? What do you want? Be careful to hunger for spiritual meat and not worldly junkfood, certainly, but the life principle of hunger still stands.
Perhaps your reaction goes the other way and a wave of despair sweeps over you when you think about the effort involved and the changes that need to take place? I get it. I’ve been there. It is part of my perfectionist mentality that tries to place a burden on myself that is too large for me to carry. Thankfully (gratefully) it isn’t necessary. It isn’t about doing things perfectly, or even consistently, it is about trying. You can be consistently inconsistent or even inconsistently consistent (wow, that’s a tongue twister), so long as you keep trying. Relationships are not perfect. The virtues are not perfectly formed in us but we are on the way. Don’t wrestle with God, wrestle with sin and let God help you. That’s another key thing to learn.
Whether hot or cold, God can help you. If you are passionate, you are on the way and God will mold that passion into a character worthy of His calling. If you are in despair, and fighting God, wrestling with Him, trying to ignore Him, cold against His advances in your life, God can also work with that. His calling is sure and He will find a way to woo you back into a passionate relationship with Him. He has done it a thousand times before, and will accomplish it in you as well.
But you have to participate. Sooner or later, you need to get engaged. Gratitude is the key. Practice it. Meditate on it. Let the discipline of gratitude teach you the truth about what you truly value. And if you discover that you value other things above God, let it drive you to the cross in repentance to receive the life giving forgiveness that only God can give.
As you discover (or re-discover) what matters to you, what you value, you will stop taking your relationship with God (and others) for granted and realize that gratitude needs to be expressed. If it is not expressed, in words and in deeds, according to what God wants you to focus on, then there is a question of what is important to you, what you value and you need to go back to the beginning again. That is also key.
How gratitude (and love) is expressed is not about you but about the other. My wife likes to hold hands (specifically my left hand, yes, I know, strange) when we go for a walk. I don’t tell her that she has to walk with my arm-in-arm or hold my right hand. Love isn’t about how I prefer to express it but how she needs to recieve it. Obviously. God is the same way. He tells us how He wants to be loved. That also is a key life lesson.
Whatever your purpose is in life, both creationally and spiritually (and don’t forget that as a Christian they are one and the same, since all things are now spiritual), you cannot fulfill your true purpose without first going back to your fundamental identity. Who are you? Have you been bought with a price? Our identity is defined by our relationships.
Our relationships define what we see as valuable. Our values determine what our life purpose is (to please God by following Him and loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength) and our gifts, abilities and interests determine how we will fulfill that life purpose (vision and mission).
So if you lack motivation, if you feel like the purpose of God for your life is an imposition, that it is at cross-purposes with what you want to do, what you want to accomplish, remember two things. First, that God’s purpose for your life will be a source of joy and peace more profound than anything you can accomplish going it alone (Jeremiah 29:1). Secondly, that God’s vision and mission for your life is based on your creational/spiritual gifts, talents and interests that He put in you in the first place. Why would that be an imposition to you? It should be a source of excitement and passion.
Unless, of course, you just don’t care. In that case, you are in real trouble. It would have been better if you were passionate about (hot) or fighting with (cold) God. As it is, you are either suffering from “spiritual drift,” or you aren’t a Christian in the first place. The discipline of gratitude will show you which one it is and (hopefully) give you the motivation to create a proactive lifestyle of following Christ with your whole heart.
Which, by the way, is the normal (but not common) Christian life.
The Desert Warrior
Let’s talk to God…..
Lord, I am grateful to you for my life. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for you. I want to follow you with my whole heart. I know it is a battle but I am excited because you promise your intimate anointing power if I will dedicate myself to follow you, proactively creating a self-disciplined lifestyle towards the purpose that you have set for me. Thank you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.