Wake up and go on!
The book of Hebrews is one of my favourite books in the Bible. After all, the epistle is a tribute to the incomparable Son of God and naturally, it should be the disposition of every believer to love the Word of God, particularly that which exalts the precious name of Jesus. But the book also has another purpose, because the writer of Hebrews feared that his Christian readers were wavering in their endurance. As Christian leaders, we may sometimes fear the same. The world, particularly today, is a stressful place. All around us, believers are facing pressure to forsake the image of God and conform to the image of the world. Many, not willing to suffer the cause of Christ will do so. After all, many want the settling comforts of nice homes, fancy cars, expensive holidays, not the scourge of suffering. Yet, the Bible paints a different picture – the suffering comes first, then the settling. 1 Peter 5:10-11 says: But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Outside of the time period of Christ’s first advent, I believe the church is living in the most exciting time of mankind’s history. Yet, outside of a small remnant, it is showing the least amount of interest. How did this happen? With the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit, with all of the prophetic Scripture readily available in the Word and with all of the capable Bible teachers and commentators worldwide, how did the church come to be in such a state of spiritual lethargy that it is not buzzing with excitement over the imminent trumpet call of the rapture? Perhaps the church has overlooked the clear teaching of 1 Thessalonians 5:5-7: You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.
If I may make an observation - many Christians have simply decided to go into spiritual cruise control. Yet, let us not forget that we have an enemy who seeks no rest from his mission. You may sleep, but you can never convince the devil to. 1 Peter 5:8: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. John 10:10: The thief does not come except to steal, and kill, and to destroy. Now I am not suggesting that the Christian should not rest. Rest is a necessary element of our life, ordained by God. However, many people have become convinced that rest and spiritual lethargy are the same. They are indeed not. Probably the most discouraging aspect of this is that many have grown accustomed to a static condition and have succumbed to a spirit of lethargy. Perhaps we can appreciate this parody of the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”:
Like a mighty turtle,
Moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading,
Where we’ve always trod.
Napoleon Bonaparte was quoted as saying: A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon. In his army, men endured physical pain, illness or even the sacrifice of an arm or leg just for an approving nod from their leader. Has the modern church cast aside the desire to hear those sweet words, “well done good and faithful servant” when we stand before our Lord?
When speaking on spiritual lethargy (and those who fall asleep in worship!), Jonathan Edwards once exhorted others who were alert not to leave their brothers and sisters to sleep, but to encourage them to awaken: Here I would particularly desire that you would not suffer those that sit by you, to sit sleeping at meeting; but wake one another, when anything of that appears. And let none of the godly give way so much to their corruption as to take it ill, when others admonish them, when others jog them to wake them, either out of their natural sleep in time of public worship, or their spiritual sleep, by friendly admonition.
As it is with the body, so it is with the soul – there are many factors that will induce sleep. One of them is inactivity. The antidote is simple – be active. And in the context of our spiritual life, this means being active for the Lord. There is always somebody who needs help; always somebody who hasn’t heard about the love of Christ; always somebody that could use your shoulder to lean on. Ask God to lead you to them and ask Him to give you the grace and strength to help them.
Darkness also induces sleep. There are a number of influences in the world which work against us in the Christian life. As A. W. Tozer once said: There are only three directions from which danger comes to the Christian life. They are the world through which we journey, the god of this world and our own mortified flesh. The darkness of a night does not come suddenly, but gradually. So too Satan will gradually bring darkness into your life – little sins, things that are not necessarily criminal but certainly worldly, immoral, unscriptural and un-Christ-like.
Quietness also induces sleep. Nobody could sleep next to a constantly firing cannon but put them in a comfortable hammock in the quiet countryside and sleep will come without resistance. Sometimes the enemy will convince you that you don’t need to fellowship with other believers or you don’t need to read the Word of God. He will convince you to isolate yourself from the still small voice of God and then have you believe that the resulting silence is comforting and peaceful.
There is a largely unknown missionary by the name of Egerton Ryerson Young. He was a Wesleyan Methodist minister born in Ontario who served as a missionary amongst the Cree and Ojibwa Indian tribes in northern Manitoba from 1868 to 1876. Because it was difficult to travel during the day as a result of the glare from the snow, he often had to travel at night. However, he once recounted the story of nearly freezing to death. During the experience he said he heard the sweetest music, while everything about him was draped in the colours of the rainbow. He could hardly resist the temptation to drop down on the snow as someone would drop down into a luxurious lounge and fall asleep. Suddenly startled by the thought that he was freezing to death, he sought a remedy. He tied the tail-rope of his sled around his waist and gave his dogs the word to go. Off they went, dragging him through the snow and bumping him against every hard thing along the way until the blood began to circulate around his body again. He said that the process of resuscitation was as painful as the freezing was delightful! He felt as if there was a hot poker probing every nerve throughout his body. Yes, the waking process was painful, but he determined that it was better than the alternative – to sleep on and die to all the work that was left undone.
A number of years ago, a man and his wife were given the opportunity to move to a Western country. They gladly accepted. They were living in an Islamic nation at the time and were excited to be granted the opportunity to live openly as Christians amongst the company of other believers. However, after living in their host country for a period of time, the wife began to plead with her husband to take them back to their country of origin. Why? She told him, “It’s like there’s a satanic lullaby playing here and the Christians are asleep. And I feel like I’m falling asleep! Please, let’s go back!” And so, they did.
Spiritual lethargy is a serious problem in the church today. Many have come to believe that the biggest battles of the church are now behind us and we will be the generation that is carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease. Friends, rest is coming, and it will be glorious. But for now, it is time to press on. Not only for our sakes, but for the sake of those who have yet to hear of the Saviour who died for them.