Even if we’re busy with work and ministry, how do we know if we are fully and passionately pursuing God’s purpose in our lives or just drifting along?
The Sense of an Ending is a grindingly depressing book, washed in gray shades of nihilism, that sputters to its death in the final pages with one of the most aimless and unsatisfying finales that I’ve seen in years. I’m too plebeian to believe that dainty prose outweighs dismal philosophy. That said, I did appreciate the irony of the title and one particular observation from the stodgy main character.
Looking back on his life, he notes, “I thought of the things that had happened to me over the years, and of how little I had made happen….
“We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them.”
In many ways, this quote captures the complex sin-nature of passivity.
It’s surprisingly rare that a passive spirit manifests as idleness like laying on the couch all day (though it certainly can).
We can be a busy entrepreneur, a parent with our kids in all the activities, a churchgoer who is always first to volunteer. Unfortunately, the level of our busyness has no impact on whether or not we’re also passive.
A List of Five Hundred Justifications
Like its brother and sister sins, passivity is first and foremost found in our relationship with God where it then branches into every other relationship in our lives and impacts how we interact with the world.
It’s like the spreading branches and roots of some grand, insidious weed.
“The sin of drifting away from Christ is the most tragic, dangerous sin of all,” David Wilkerson emphasized in a devotional, “and no believer is immune.
“Even the most devoted believer can begin drifting by getting lazy and passive about the things of the Lord. Once that begins to happen, it becomes harder and harder to get back into intimate communion with Christ. You may know certain people who were once tender, loving Christians, yet today they seem like different people.”
Struggling to focus our prayers, maintaining regular Bible-reading times and listening to the Spirit’s conviction is all hard work. Anything that requires discipline is difficult, and perhaps nothing is more difficult than staying active and alert in our relationship with God.
We have so many ways to justify passivity.
“I’ve been working really hard with this besetting sin or to have patience with this other person. I deserve a break where I don’t have to resist this or deal with them.”
“I don’t want to rock the boat, so I’ll delay making this hard decision that will definitely upset some people, even though I know it’s ultimately the right thing for everyone involved.”
“I don’t want to upset this other person and chance breaking up our relationship, so I’m just not going to say anything about the bad choices they’re making. It’s probably not my place to say anything anyway.”
“I’m not going to make any plans. Instead, I’ll wait for the Lord to tell me what to do. I’d rather avoid goals or ambitions because it’ll hurt if God asks me to give them up.”
“That person just sets me off. I can’t help the way they make me react, and I can’t avoid them either, so this is just the way things are.”
Spiritual Sloth at its Grimy Best
Co-founder of Desiring God, John Bloom, points out that our choices demonstrate exactly which beliefs we’re paying lip-service to and which ones are real and held dear in our hearts. The Bible makes this clear, as he points out:
“Faith without works is dead. Don’t tell me you have faith if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (James 2:17–18)
“Love without deeds is dead. Don’t tell me you love if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (1 John 3:17–18)
“Grace without holiness is dead. Don’t tell me you revel in God’s grace if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Romans 6:12–14)
“Discipleship without obedience is dead. Don’t tell me I’m your Lord if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Matthew 7:21)” Bloom concludes, “We may say what sounds like gospel, but we do what is our gospel.”
God doesn’t leave us much room for passiveness, either spiritual (Matthew 6:33) or physical (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Perhaps our biggest problem as believers is our tendency to pay far more attention to physical passivity than to emotional or spiritual sloth. It’s easy to see that someone doesn’t have a job or spends a lot of time watching television and then condemn them for being lazy.
Physical sloth is easier to fix, in many ways, than spiritual inactivity.
A woman can be a high-powered, successful executive and also never pray for her husband, coworkers or business. A man can be faithfully involved in his children’s lives without offering them spiritual guidance or loving discipline.
Most of us would be far more willing to work harder or do more than be forced to address relational and spiritual apathy. That’s probably why the Bible focuses so much on our faith in action.
Getting Back in the Fight
“What kind of fight have you been putting up in the past year?” David Wilkerson asked in a sermon. “Have you become a weak, passive soldier of the Cross, discouraged, wounded, perplexed?
“When the prophet Hosea wanted to warn Israel about their cowardly spiritual condition, he reminded them of their father Jacob. The crux of his message was, ‘You've become weak, passive; and now the enemy is overwhelming you. You claim to be Jacob's seed, but I want to show you how far you've strayed from his example. I want to show you how Jacob prevailed, how he had power with God.’
“It wasn't the double portion of his father's wealth that Jacob was after; it wasn't the promise of the land. He proved that wasn't so by laboring under Laban for fourteen years by the sweat of his brow.
“No, Jacob wanted something more. He wanted the blessing of God so he could be in the lineage of the Messiah. He wanted the priestly blessing. This meant not only being priest of the clan; it also meant being able to bless others!”
Jacob was passionate in his pursuit of God’s promises because he wanted God’s presence and recognized the weight of his choices on the future.
The fight is worth it so that we can fully live the life God has prepared for us. As C. S. Lewis so brilliantly said it, “In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised….
“To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
Here at last is a real sense of the ending.