The Tragedy of Spiritual Stagnation

Many years ago, we lived in a community that surrounded a fairly large lake. Each spring the lake was filled by a river that brought forth rainwater and melted snow from the nearby mountains. But, one thing unusual about this lake was that it had no outflow. All the water that entered the lake remained in the lake.

When summer came and temperatures began to rise, the lake would stagnate. The result? Algae blooms made swimming unsafe and a drop in oxygen levels proved deadly for the fish. By August, it was typical for the shoreline of the lake to be lined with scores of rotting fish. You can imagine the noxious odor that wafted through the air! All because the lake didn’t have an outflow.

So, why I am a telling you this? Here’s why: I want you to get a mental picture of what happens when a Christian is filled up with all sorts of good things pertaining to the Christian life (such as good doctrine and discipleship training) but fails to put such things into practice.

Simply put, the Christian life is meant to be a steady stream of both inflow and outflow. What we learn is supposed to be applied to our lives (which often impacts others as well).

James wrote about the unfortunate disconnect that occurs when we hear the instructions of God, yet decide to apply the brakes at the point of actual practice:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:19-25 CSB)

Sadly, some people will spend years learning about things like serving, ministering, sharing, loving, teaching and evangelizing, yet apply very little of what they’ve learned. Such people are like athletes who ravenously invest in learning about the details of their particular sport, but rarely make the move to actually play the game.

I believe that, from the perspective of heaven, this is heartbreaking!

In a nutshell, Christianity was never been meant to be a spectator sport. We aren’t trained and equipped for our own personal satisfaction, but rather to make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

Remember the Hebrews writers lament of chapter 5? “By now you should be teachers…” These people should have had an outflow of their Christian lives, but instead, they just kept taking in for themselves. Which meant they were getting spiritually bloated. Yet, in reality they were going backwards! So much so, they were having to learn about the basics of the faith all over again. And, as a result of this irresponsibility, the ball of ministry was obviously getting dropped.

I think one of the main reasons we hesitate from getting involved in service and ministry is we feel inadequate. We feel like we might mess up. Brothers and sisters in Jesus, on our own we are inadequate! And we very well may mess up! But doing nothing with all our learning is even worse. It’s disobedient and it shows a lack of faith that God, by his power, can use us for his purposes. Remember, according to 1 Corinthians, God actually prefers to use people who are weak:

Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 CSB)

So here’s my challenge: get involved in living out the Christian life! Assist a neighbor in need. Teach a kid’s class. Serve in the nursery. Use your God-given skills to help your church. Disciple a new believer. Volunteer at a local ministry.

Whatever God prompts you to do, just get your hands dirty! Don’t stop being equipped, but at the same time, become fully determined to put your equipping to use. I guarantee this: to do so will bring about greater spiritual vitality and well-being in your life. Conversely, without a spiritual outflow, we will become weak and a burden to the body of Christ.

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