I am somewhat on an expert at killing things … green things with roots and leaves. Give me a healthy plant and I will find someway to brown it and make its leaves fall off in a very short period of time. It may be too much water, too little water, too much light, too much shade, not enough soil nutrients, or an overdose of nitrogen, but I will inevitably find a way to suck the last greening of healthy vitality from any plant.
Our Christian faith is also a living thing, a thing that lives and breaths, grows and develops. It needs tended properly in order for it to experience proper growth. Too much or too little of certain things can spell disaster for our faith. And just like other living things faith can die.
How does one know if ones faith has taken its last breath and settled into a spiritual grave? James gives some insight with his statement, “Faith without works is dead.” Faith that is not producing either life transformation in the person holding it, or demonstrating itself in ministry to others — or both, actually — is at best on life support.
I have to wonder, how many people who profess their faith in Christ, attend church periodically, etc. are gasping through a Christian life that is at best on life support, or at worst seen faith flat-lined.
How does one massacre their faith? I think Scripture gives us a few answers. Here is a starter list:
1) Don’t consume the life-sustaining Word of God through reading and study. Too may professed believers rely on being spoon fed a spiritual diet that they think should sustain them for an entire week.
I had a neighbor that I envied his lawn. He had thick grass that was full and green even in the dog-days of summer. I was blessed with thin grass with dirt patches that became a lush tan in the heat of the summer. His secret, while I just let my lawn go, he spent hours on weekends on his feeding and seeding. Every month from spring through fall he would take another pass of weed and feed, twice in March or April. While his lawn was getting all the nutrients it needed, mine was starving by mid-June.
Just recently one of our puppies was so sick that it wouldn’t eat for several days. By the second day, I was force feeding him several syringes of chicken broth. After 4-5 days, he was feeling better, and began to eat himself.
When the kids were little, I would take their little spoon (which were so small they had no business being called spoons) and feed them their mashed peas or creamed chicken. But as they continued to grow, they had to take up their own spoons and begin to feed themselves. They couldn’t rely on mom and dad to spoon feed them any more.
As believers, we can’t maintain a growing faith when we rely on the limited spooning of spiritual nourishment that preachers and teachers are able to fill us with. Without learning to feed ourselves through time in God’s Word, reading and studying, we can quickly find that we have starved our faith.
2) Don’t tap into the life-refreshing power of God in prayer. When our faith begins to feel the heat of the dog-days, we can quickly find our faith withering under the stress.
One summer, the city had torn up our corner for a sewer project. When finished they laid fresh sod down on that little piece of corner ground and left instruction to water it daily for 2-3 weeks. A week later, everyone in the Chapman family except for Timothy went on vacation. I left the instructions for Timothy to water the spot twice a day, early morning and after dark. That week proved to be a scorcher with several days seeing the mercury rise above 90 degrees. When we got home, the little piece of ground was a “crisp” brown. I asked Timothy why he didn’t water that patch, and his response was I did once when I saw it was getting dry.
While it would push some people’s limits, the average person could participate in an extended fast of 7-14 days without any medical complications. Some people can fast, as Jesus did, for 40 days. But the average person would be facing dire consequences if they went 3 days without water. While our bodies can adapt to the loss of nutrients over a period of time, it cannot adjust to the loss of fluids. First, you begin to feel sluggish and some muscle aches set in. Irritability sets in. Your blood pressure rises, and you begin to feel dizzy or your thoughts become muddled. Left unchecked death can visit quickly.
Just like our lawns become stressed as the summer moves into dry season, and our bodies shout at us when challenged with dehydration, so our souls can become parched when they are not watered with God’s power through prayer. As we become stressed by the worries, concerns, failures and threats that life throws at us, our faith can easily be pushed to the breaking point without seeking God’s strength to make it through those difficult times. As James put it, “you don’t have because you haven’t asked.” When faith begins to wane, we can quickly let it pass on by neglecting to ask God to shore it up.
3) Don’t develop a life-changing relationship with God. When we place our faith in what we “do” instead of who has already “done” we can burnout our faith.
Imagine a farmer tending the soil. He has turned it. Fertilized it. Spread the proper herbicide. Regularly, during the season, he is back in the field cultivating the rows, spraying more fertilizer, checking moisture, running the irrigation, etc. What do you think his harvest will be like? It will be pretty scarce because he failed to do the planting.
Millions of people in America are gradually killing themselves due to overworking long hours in stress filled jobs. They work. They work. And they work with the idea that some day they will be able to slow down and enjoy the life of ease they have created for themselves. Some of them never get there, their hearts give out long before that anticipated rest arrived.
Many church-goers act as if Christianity is a religious set of activities added to their lives. They go to church, they pray at meals, they live a relatively moral life, and they read their Bibles. They may be very busy with spiritual activity, but it has all left them exhausted, and they are discouraged by the fruitlessness of all their efforts. Long before their time has past their spiritual heart gives out on the things of God.
What they have missed is that Christianity is more about a relationship with God that changes everything about life than about doing things for God. In their busyness, faith dies because it was placed in their accomplishments, instead of the Almighty.
4) Don’t exemplify the life–giving love of God. Make Christianity into a consumer good instead of a life of love to be freely given away.
The scientific studies that show plants that are treated affectionately respond with increased growth have always intrigued me. The studies say that plants that are treated with soft-tone conversation, peaceful music or gentle touch flourish much more than those that do not receive such treatment.
Many Christians see faith growth through the lens of plant growth. Provide for me. Touch me. Speak to me. Give me. Give me. Give me. Faith becomes a consumer good. As long as I have what I need I will be spiritually satisfied.
But we kill our faith when we make ourselves the plant instead of the life-giving gardener.
A study by Karl Menninger in the 70’s showed that we are unlike plants at this point. His ground breaking study showed that the best treatment for patients with clinical depression was to get them engaged in serving others. They were not healed as effectively through therapy that encouraged them to find their own fulfillment, but found greater fulfillment when used as a channel of fulfillment for others.
John, in 1 John, indicates that when we fail to love others we are guilty of murder. And the love he defines is not a feeling, but tangible actions that exhibit life-giving love. In looking at the larger context of 1 John you can also say that we are guilty of our own spiritual suicide when we fail to exhibit the love of God through loving one another.
Longing to kill your faith, just live a self-centered and self-serving life. Forget about the needs of others. Make life all about you.
5) Don’t protect from life-draining spiritual distractions. When you dive too deeply into this world and forget that there is more than this world.
Now, you may not be like me. You may have a green-thumb. Plants may blossom and bloom in your presence. Tending your garden may even be one of the joys of your life.
However, although God created humankind from the dust of the ground, and someday when our bodies have worn out we will return to the dust from which we were formed, he didn’t create us to live our lives in the dirt. We wouldn’t be alive very long if we were to make ourselves at home with the garden plants – burying ourselves in the dirt with the hopes of sprouting forth. Oxygen supplies run low with a face full of dirt.
But many Christians believe that they can make themselves at home in this world, and easily cross back and forth between life in this world and life in God’s kingdom. Physically I am exiled to this world, as the song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Jesus prayed that his disciples would be in the world, but not of it. Demas left his ministry with Paul because “he loved this world.” 1 Peter says that we are strangers and aliens in this land.
When we make ourselves too much at home in this world, our love for God will be replaced by a love for our possessions, our jobs, our families, our homes, our cars, or any number of other pleasures confined to this life. Your spiritual life will be drained by all of the distraction and pursuits of this world leaving no room for the refreshing love of God.
Don’t force your faith to flat-line. Give it everything it needs to live and grow.
— Pastor Steve