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Dear Belinda,

You’ve asked me why I think you remain spiritually stagnant, since your life evidences regular, committed service for Christ. I think the answer has to do with the very idea of stagnation.

We speak of water becoming stagnant when it has been left standing for too long, and begins to breed bacteria and fungi. Movement and aeration are essential to keep water healthy. It is not without reason that several Levitical laws required running water for cleansing.

This fact from creation is a helpful analogy for spiritual health. The Christian life requires movement and deliberate expansion to be healthy. Mere stasis, mere maintenance, mere repetition can lead to a spiritual dullness and deepening apathy.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not calling for a crisis commitment every Sunday of your life. You do not need to re-commit your life to the Lord every moment you remember to. The Christian life is not meant to be a series of altar-call surrenders, one after the other.

Further, I am a big fan of regular, plodding spiritual disciplines. We grow most when we make incremental progress by small and steady steps of obedience every day. To have routines, rhythms, liturgies, and traditions is not, in itself, an enemy of spiritual growth. A well-ordered Christian life is not to be compared with stagnant water.

Spiritual stagnation, however, is a real threat when any Christian refuses to allow God-given movement and expansion of her spiritual responsibilities and insists on protecting the status quo. This usually takes the form of becoming content and complacent with one’s current level of knowledge, commitment or service for Christ, and scaling back on spiritual responsibilities.

Often enough, a young Christian is aware of the need to accumulate knowledge and understanding. So, the young believer reads voraciously, attends every sermon, listens eagerly to spiritual conversations. He instinctively understands the need to develop his spiritual muscles and volunteers for positions of service. Through this period of early growth, the challenge and demand he places upon his spiritual capacities stretches and grows him.

At some point, this believer reaches a level of maturity where he recognises his own maturity relative to other believers. Often, this coincides with all kinds of other life responsibilities: marriage, parenting, paying bills, caring for aging parents, and so on. The sheer amount of plates he is balancing tempts him to cut and moderate where he can. So he enters a kind of stasis in his spiritual life.

He does not necessarily drop out of church life (though this is sometimes the case). Instead, he eases off on the spiritual drive and places little or no demand on himself to go beyond his current level of knowledge and obedience. But here’s the thing: the Christian life, just like our muscles, only experiences growth when we place it under some kind of strain. Faith is meant to be grown, not merely maintained. That means that what one has attained in knowledge and commitment is meant to be superseded by greater knowledge and commitment. This is what it means to be fruitful. A growing tree should not merely bring forth fruit each year; it should be bringing forth more fruit each year as it grows.

Belinda, the chaos of modern life calls all of us to simplify where we can. Often, the mantra “less is more” is really true in all kinds of areas. But it is a great mistake to think that spiritual life will thrive by challenging your faith less than its current ability. That kind of approach is not mere moderation; it is a softness and ease-seeking that fails to stir the waters of your Christian life.

Once you have reached a certain place in your Christian growth, you cannot avoid stagnation unless you give your Christian life the challenge commensurate with your maturity. You cannot subsist on milk when your body now demands meat. You cannot be content with ‘little children’ faith, if you have already exercised ‘young men’ faith (1 John 2:12-14). According to your faith be it unto you, says the Word, and there is such a thing as a kind of drawing back in faith at a time when you should be moving forward.

What this forward motion looks like is the call to spiritual leadership of others. Taking responsibility for other believers, by mentoring them, teaching them, hosting them, counselling them, and enlisting them is the call for every growing Christian. But as I observe you, Belinda, I see you trying to get rid of spiritual responsibility the moment it comes your way. I see you trying to moderate your life by casting off opportunities for service, because you have decided in advance that it is “just too much.” Therein lies your spiritual stagnation.

Certainly, you are right to put off unnecessary routines and errands, and to simplify where you can. But when it comes to your spiritual life, you have to challenge yourself beyond your current peak, or face the consequence of stagnant faith.

Your friend and pastor,

David

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  1. Pingback: Letters to Stagnant Christians #13: Less is Not Always More

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