Something can be done about a beached, dried-up Christian life.
This post was adapted from a message given by Matthew Gorr,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly
There was a time in my life when I spent nearly every single night with friends. This went on for weeks and weeks, in fact, for about ten seasons.
Yeah, I’m talking about the TV show, Friends.
These days we all binge-watch shows. In years past, you had to catch a program on TV. Now you can simply choose it, sink into your couch, and let all the episodes roll by, one after another.
And suddenly, you have six Friends who travel through life together, until somehow, watching them becomes your life. That’s what happened to me.
How did this come about? I don’t know, because in the beginning of my faith, there was great excitement. But now, when I have free time, I spend it watching TV. I became a Christian when I was young, and began to understand the things of God, but it really took off when I went to college. I met people who led me through the faith. I read the Bible with them, and there were times we would meet and just pray, sometimes as often as three times a week. I had a vibrant life and desire for God, to know Him, but now I feel like there’s a pretty stark contrast between the decisions I’m making with my time, and the decisions I used to make.
In Second Samuel chapter 6, the ark of God was brought back to Jerusalem. There was great excitement, and King David lept and danced before the Lord to the point he was shameless about it. When he was reproached for making a spectacle of himself, David said, “I will become even more undignified than this!” But here I am, on a Monday night, with globs of salsa staining my shirt, and watching some show I’ve seen a hundred times already. I’m also browsing my phone, because the show isn’t entertaining enough for me.
Or, like in Romans 14:17, which says, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” But here I am, wondering when the last song will play at Sunday service, because I’m hungry for lunch.
Psalm 16:11 says, “you make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” But I’m thinking, I don’t have time today. Can’t fit it in.
I know I’m not the only Christian that has ever wondered, “Is this it? Is there any joy beyond the beginning of our faith? Is it over now?” Meanwhile, we seem to be the same as anyone else, binge-watching, and doing whatever we can just to make it through the day.
By becoming a Christian, your worldview changes, and your life flips upside down (in a good way). You get baptized, and you look forward to a continued relationship with God, but at some point you may notice your faith isn’t what it used to be. You long for something deeper and real. You want to taste the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, as you did at the beginning.
Look at Paul’s word to the Ephesians in chapter 4:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking that those poor Gentiles, those non-believing people of the world, are pretty pathetic. They don’t know God, they’re lost in the futility of their minds, and they’ve grown callous to anything of Him. It’s like when something rubs against your toe inside your shoe. At first it’s painful, noticeable, but then after a while your skin forms layers of callous that feel nothing anymore. This is what happens to the folks who lack knowledge, and therefore do whatever they want.
Shame on them.
But wait a second. Ephesians wasn’t written to non-believers. This letter was written to the church, to authentic Christians. It instructs them to no longer walk as the Gentiles walk. Apparently, it must be easy to step backward. Paul had to remind us not to live in a state of ignorance that leads to a callousness, which then descends into a greed for sensuality, and every kind of impurity. Darkened understanding makes it easy to separate ourselves from the things of God, and not even know it.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
There’s a series of contrasts here. The old self is driven by serious misconceptions. The new self is driven by truth. Put off the old. Put on the new. The thing that enables putting off the old, and defines putting on the new is the truth that is in Jesus. For instance, the truth we find in Ephesians chapter 2:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Going deeper, and putting on a renewed mindset, requires the resources of truth as found in these words, truth found only in Christ.
God has already enlivened us with new life, and told us to put on this new identity. I’ve found that binging on Friends doesn’t accomplish that command. The countless hours I’ve invested in TV have come to feel as though I’ve been trying to put on an old, musty-smelling jacket with holes. I like it, because it’s comfortable. But the more I do it, the more I grow callous to the truth of God.
In Ephesians 5, Paul says,
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
You might think at this point, we’ve found a productivity hack—”Make the best use of your time!” Perhaps we can market it as an Ephesians 5 Planner, that will help us get up early, stop procrastinating, exercise, practice mindfulness and gratefulness, play with the kids, have a date night with your spouse. But Ephesians speaks about a lot more than this. For, after having been given the truth in chapter 2, and then renewed according to it in chapter 4, we are told to look carefully how we walk in chapter 5.
Everything starts with the knowledge of Christ, but what finally completes our shaping lies in how we spend our time. If we’re not careful, a vicious cycle might emerge, where we begin the bad habit of living on a reduced knowledge of the things of God.
Maybe a transition happened in your life, where you had to leave (or chose to leave) a Bible study that had been a spiritual mainstay for you. You accepted the change, and got used to living on less knowledge of the Lord, and thus began to drift from Him. Somewhere downstream, sunk into a couch with two hundred hours of TV under your belt, you wonder how you got there. You vaguely feel you want to live at a deeper level, but at the same time, you’ve become callous to the truth of Christ.
At some point, you’ve got to break the cycle, and re-enter that truth. The first step back will feel like the freezing water of a swimming pool. You grit your teeth, wading into its increasing depth, even wondering how others already in it are having such a great time. How could they possibly be comfortable? Actually, you have become callous to sin, but find the things of God uncomfortable. Give it some time. As you wade into the knowledge of God again, and re-adjust, you’ll wonder why you ever wanted to be anywhere else. Reentry has become refreshing.
Typically this means opening the Bible again. One step leads to another, and you start to break that vicious cycle you’d gotten trapped in. You begin to approach what Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:18-19— “that you may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
The comprehension (knowledge) of the love of Christ goes hand in hand with depth and vibrance.
It all comes down to our stewardship of time, something with which I have not been so careful. Therefore, back in January, when the world was gung-ho about resolutions, I decided to start getting up a little earlier, and reading a chapter of the Bible. I picked Romans—a fairly dense book. I would read my chapter, get done, and move on to whatever else I needed to do. No mystery here.
As time went on, I completed First Corinthians, then Second Corinthians, and noticed an incremental increase of the knowledge of Christ in my heart, the thing that I had been somewhat neglecting. As I continued, I sensed a definite pull into that place of depth, and by the time I got to the end of Ephesians, I had to slow down and linger. The vibrant knowledge of Christ had returned. I stopped showing up to church on Sunday, wondering when the last song would play. In fact, those words of worship seemed to jump off the page at me.
I had discovered for myself the simple principle of reducing the things that create callousness to the knowledge of God. For me, it is binge-watching television. I’m still dealing with this. Now usually, whoever preaches has worked through an issue, and then presents the settled outcome to everyone. That’s not the case with me.
But I’ve noticed the effectiveness of diminishing things that pull you away from God, and the power of adding things that bring you to the knowledge of Him. I don’t need to enumerate a list of items.
Instead, why not try what I did?
Dip your toe into the pool. Choose a book, say, Ephesians, and read it. Let the knowledge of Christ draw you back into a deeper place. You don’t have to finish a chapter every day. Spend as much time as you like in each one. Leave your phone in the other room. If you’d like, set a timer, maybe for ten minutes or so, and let that brief interlude go uninterrupted.
You might be surprised.