Beware of Deadly Dullness

23rd_Psalm.jpgI’ve seen it happen again and again.  I pray that by the grace of God, I will never be a part of this.  

I’ve seen something die in Christian people.  I’ve seen men and women lose their joy, their fire, and their passion for Jesus.  Usually this is a slow process that happens over a period of time. 

It is possible to get stuck in a kind of religion that eventually kills instead of gives life.  I know.  I’ve been there before.  Here I am, a minister, saying all kinds of "God-words,"  identifying with a church, devouring religious material, etc.  Yet, it is very possible to be a part of something that contributes to a slow, lingering death instead of life.

So what happens?

  • We become more wrapped up in our religious systems, church systems, etc. than the life-giving Jesus.
  • We spend our time and energy talking about our systems.  "How will we get this done?"  "When is the next meeting?"  "Are you on the sub-committee?"  Blah. Blah. Blah.  Meanwhile, we may find that we can be in meetings (teachers, elders, staff, etc.) and talk with others for hours before anyone ever mentions Jesus or asks whether or not he is pleased with what we are about.
  • We complicate matters as we try to will everyone to do or see things our way.  Instead of praying and seeking God ourselves, we spend endless hours talking about how our church needs to pray more, etc.
  • We lose our passion and our fire for the things that matter: Jesus, his kingdom, and his desire to incarnate his people and live in our communities each day.
  • We experience less open, vulnerable relationships.  Instead, issues of control and manipulation often become all too common.
  • We take on a dullness as the last few embers of a living faith are smothered.
  • We gradually think that our bland, lifeless faith is just normal.  

I am not fussing at anyone.  I am just describing the realities that many of us are in.  This is very familiar territory to me.  I have gone through moments and even months when I thought I was going to die spiritually.  The irony?  That happened while I was spending every waking hour thinking about how to deal with messes in a church system.

I blame absolutely no one for any of this.  However, I don’t ever want to return there.  I don’t ever want to think that tinkering with the machinery of a church system is going to necessarily move us closer to what it means to be Jesus in our community and beyond.  Nor do I think that everything will finally come together when the church gets it together.  Some believe that if only we could do church right then everything would be good again. 

Meanwhile, I am thankful for the life-giving Jesus.  Being with Jesus and spending time with him doesn’t make a person weird.  Rather, he makes a person fully human.  Over and over again, that life-giving is seen in the encounters with people that are seen in all four Gospels. 

I am convinced that he is the true source of life.  I have found in him a zest for life, a joy that is deeper than my happy moments, and a passion that makes me feel like I am living instead of just existing.  On Sunday, I will preach.  There will be a difference in my sermon if I have spent time with Jesus during the week or if I have just spent time trying to fix a system.  Not only does that make a difference in what I preach but it makes a difference in my heart and spirit as I preach.

Do you relate to this at all?  What is most helpful to you in staying focused on the one who gives life?     

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17 thoughts on “Beware of Deadly Dullness

  1. Jim, This is great stuff, and something we have all experienced either personally or through our churches.I know there are no fixed answers here but still I would be interested in a followup on what we can do about it. Of course we can pray, but what comes to mind for me are generic prayers like Dear God please…renew, encourage, remind, touch etc. These are really things we pray about all the time anyway. There’s always someone who is drifting away. We’re talking about the church drifting away as an organization. There just has to be some more direct actions and behaviors that will bring things back into focus.I look forward to your response. Shalom.Dave 

  2. What is most helpful to me in staying focused on the one who gives Life?  My immediate answer is Gratitude.  When I realize and understand grace and what Jesus did for me even when I didn’t love Him back, then it helps me stay focused on Him.  As far as in churches, I’d almost say the same thing, when we focus on Him and His life and what He did for us and share THAT with others.   In my experience, when I’ve seen this type thing occur in me,  it is usually when I forget it’s not about me and my agenda but about Jesus and sharing His good news.  Anytime I try to make something happen, it usually blows up in my face.  Good topic.  Thanks!  

  3. Some people seem to do just fine with what I observe to be a bland, lifeless faith.  They don’t seem to experience the frustration that I do.  And I wonder, ‘well maybe I just need to chill.’  But then I hear the frustration in a lot of our young people.  They do not want to become what they see in so many of us.  This worries me.  I guess what I’d like to ask, Jim, is what does it mean to – or how do you – ‘spend time with Jesus’.  I know you talk about this all the time, but I’m missing something.  Could you run it by me just one more time?  I need to communicate this to our teens, especially, or I’m afraid we’re going to lose them.  I appreciate you bringing this up at such an opportune time.

  4. Several years ago I found myself basically bored with everything. I had no energy, no focus, no spirit, although I had blessings beyond measure. God called me to fasting, and it changed my life and relationships. Since Monday was a day I did not like, that was the day I chose for a 24 hour fast. Almost immediately, it became my favorite day of the week. Whenever I need a renewal and a refocus, fasting is the key.
    I have also begun a "starter program" to honor the sabbath (not as a day of formal worship, but rather a day of rest). I am trying to make it a day of relationships, rest, reading, praying and reflection.

  5. Ray,Your comment comes on an interesting day.  I met with a good friend four hours ago who is in the middle of a fast.  Much of our conversation centered around what has gone on with his walk with the Lord during this time of discipline.I like what you are saying regarding the "Sabbath."  Would love to hear more. 

  6. Darryl, Your frustration may be something to be grateful for.  At least it indicates that you are still alive. :)Regarding "spending time with Jesus."  I guess I simply mean living in the awareness that he is REALLY present.  That he is a more than a truth, a biblical principle, or words on a page.  He is the living, breathing, lamb of God, who desires that I live with an awareness of his presence.There are many disciplines that help cultivate the ground for a rich time with the Lord.  This morning as I was leaving my house, I read a paragraph from a prayer book, The Little Book of Hours.  I was reminded of some of Jesus’ rich qualities that I want to savor.  My lunch parter told me of walking around the block before going to work, while it was still dark.  His prayer, "Lord, I am yours.  Please show me what you want me to do today."  Both kinds of prayer can be so enriching.On the other hand, we can also spend time in his presence in ministry as we become conscious that JESUS wishes to serve through his body.  So as I am in the act of serving someone, I can realize that Jesus is serving through me/us. Just a few thoughts. 

  7. Just a few minutes ago, I sent a message off to a Chaplain that’s said: " Does God kill empty people? Do you think if a person is so empty and numb, will God just take their life?" 
    Since I just sent it out, I don’t have his answer yet. 

  8. It is very easy to loose focus, and I think the devil prefers it that way. What helps me the most is remembering as much as possible what Jesus did for me, and the price He paid. In all things, I make it a point to give Him the glory He deserves.

    I also find that if I praise and worship when I least feel like it, I encounter His presence more.

    Great topic Jim!

  9. After many years of counseling others, I’ve come to realize there are very few things in life over which we have as much control as we think we have. And when it’s all taken away, what’s left? The "what’s left" is what keeps me focused and that’s faith in Jesus. Must admit, my faith is not a model of faith … but it’s kept me going many times. If not mine, then that of my wife!

  10. I think it is easy to get too busy working for God instead with God….I have to make time to be alone with me and Him for my sake and not for teaching, or serving purposes….It’s hard when you feel there is way too much to do…..The enemy is very deceitful….

  11. I remember passing this beautiful house in the suburbs and i noticed something odd. the garage door was open but inside it was filled with boxes and other items while both cars sat there in the driveway in the searing sun. A garage is meant for cars not boxes etc..I think that sometimes we can fill our lives with the things that pushes Jesus out into the driveway and not in our hearts where he should be. that is how we die…

  12. Royal,I think a lot of us can identify with you on this one.  We have elevated our "doing" above all else.  Your post is a reminder to me to make sure my day is not totally consumed by what I need to do to the neglect of simply being with Jesus. 

  13. Bryan,A nice image!  Thank you for the reminder that such clutter in our hearts that leave little if any space for Jesus.Thanks 

  14. i know who to blame…but, that does not matter.  what needs to be done is to plant a water mellon vine on the top of our graves.  yes, let the juice run through again.  just a little distraction is all it takes for the enemy to win at this, and bam, we are disconnected from the river of life…we dry up. reconnect to the river of life…the Holy Spirit is not dead in us…we have stopped drinking the water.  drink the water.