In peacetime — that is, when things are going well — too many of us live like fools. When our bills are being paid on time and the children are relatively healthy, when work feels like it’s clipping along and all we can see in the future is a bright horizon, we should be thankful. But we should also beware.
These are the moments when it’s easy to get sloppy. We begin to befriend the status quo. We take the path of least resistance. We take the low road simply because it requires less from us. And as much as we hate unimaginative clichés like the ones I’ve just used, we look up one day to discover that we’ve actually been living one. Sadly, sometimes only a crisis can wake us up.
As a pastor, I see this every day. I spend an inordinate amount of my life with people, in their highest highs and their deepest lows. I celebrate weddings and grieve the unexpected divorces; I officiate baptisms and preside over burials; and I dedicate young babies to God and pray with parents waiting for their twenty-something prodigal to come home. My work often situates me on the front-lines of the human condition.
Greatest Threat That Comes Against Believers in Peacetime
It would be twofold: boredom and distraction. We grow weary of doing the same old things we have done for, say, the last two decades. We feel like we have “been there, done that” with all this Jesus stuff, and wonder if this is all there is. Our boredom causes us to forsake the routines that were a part of our holy formation. We get distracted and turn away from the disciplines that got us where we are to see if there’s something new and flashy out there. Like the believers in the church of Ephesus, many of us have left our “first love” and “have fallen” away from the things we “did at first” (Rev. 2:3–5 nasb). The fire of our love for Jesus “that once burned bright and clean” has turned into a pile of flickering embers.
I have observed this church-abandoning phenomenon particularly among those who are in the middle of life, between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five. When we are younger, we are just humble enough to acknowledge that we need help. Life seems so complex. We are looking for decent work and a stable living situation, hoping to get our feet squarely under us. The need for support is especially acute for young couples raising small children. We watch the news and realize just how high the stakes are in this crazy world. We somehow instinctively know that the old “it takes a village” axiom is right, so we’re more willing to get the kids up, get them fed and dressed, and drive them to church all the while they’re (sometimes) fighting it. Indeed, the latest Pew Research poll bears out my theory. And according to Christianity Today, “about 2 out of 3 American adults who regularly attend church or other religious services say they go for their kids” (emphasis mine).
When we grow older and the simplest tasks become more difficult, when we are faced with the reality that our bodies are failing and so many of our friends are dying, there is no denying that we need help. The church, when functioning properly, serves as the new family formed in Christ, and the elderly saints like Simeon and Anna in Luke’s gospel are not alone.
Illusion of Self-Sufficiency
But somewhere in the middle of life, we fall prey to the illusion of our own self-sufficiency. Somewhere in the middle of life, the parents who used to take their kids to church no longer have kids living at home who need to be taken to church. What do many of them do when this moment arrives? More and more are staying home, going out to eat, or heading to the mountains to hike or ski. Church becomes just another one of many options, or worse, the thing that all those less fortunate people do who don’t have the strength or financial resources to go it alone. The relational ties begin to loosen. Sure, they have some old friends with whom they raised their kids in the church, but there’s no longer the active and dynamic interactions. We might arrogantly say things like, “I love Jesus but not the church,” which is nonsense if indeed the church is his bride. To ignore the bride is to insult the groom.
One of the things that saddens me — frankly, bewilders me — is watching people live foolishly in peacetime, because those times won’t last. At some point along the way, life will sneak up on all of us, and when it does, we will need the family of God to hold us up. But too many of us choose to live fragmented lives during the good years, separated from the life of the community, and then reach out for help only when the bottom falls out. Living that way is okay, and the church ought to do whatever it can to help in such a moment, but it’s not ideal. We forget how hard it is to make new friends in the foxhole.
Daniel Grothe is the Teaching Pastor at the influential New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Daniel and his wife, Lisa, live on a small hobby farm outside of Colorado Springs with their three children: Lillian, Wilson, and Wakley. To learn more, visit DanielGrothe.com and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Chasing Wisdom: The Lifelong Pursuit of Living Well is available for pre-order on Amazon and for purchase at all major booksellers on April 21, 2020.