Spiritual blahness vs Spiritual Discipline?
I've recently been reading "Overcoming Apathy, Gospel Hope for Those Who Struggle to Care" by Uche Anizor, 2022. It's an interesting read on spiritual apathy, the causes, background and some helps with overcoming something all of us are potentially subject to… apathy.
Here's an interesting and helpful part of the book that talks about how a lack of discipline can contribute to apathy in our spiritual lives.
I think you'll find it relatable and helpful… especially in light of past years focus on Spiritual Disciplines.
Lack of Discipline-While a complex of psychological, emotional, and cultural factors may contribute to our apathy, sometimes its root is less than complicated. Our blahness toward our spiritual lives may simply be the result of a lack of discipline and diligence in the very basics of our faith. We stoke our fires for certain things while we let the embers die out in our spiritual lives.
For example, a 2019 global study found that the average gamer (someone who plays an online game at least once a week) spends over seven hours a week in this activity. Another study shows that 56 percent of kids between thirteen and seventeen years of age spend at least 2.5 hours a day on video games, while 66 percent of those eight to twelve years of age spend at least two hours. Add to this the fact that children spend seven hours per day interacting with media. On top of this, the average American watches 2.8 hours of television per day (19.6 hours per week), while those fifteen to forty-four years of age read less than ten minutes per day. A youth minister friend recently shared that it was not unheard of for students to spend seven hours a day on TikTok.
The mathematics of spiritual impotence is simple:
buckets of time looking at screens + almost no time in spiritual disciplines = meh
Wilhelmus à Brakel, a seventeenth-century Dutch Reformed theologian, cautions against sluggishness, viewing it as “the fountain of all manner of sin, vain thoughts, fornication (2 Sam. 11:2), backbiting (Rom 1:30), unrighteousness, and despair.” He exhorts, “Therefore, be fearful of laziness. He who is lazy in temporal matters will be lazy in spiritual matters, and he who is diligent in spiritual matters will be diligent in temporal matters.” An overarching lack of discipline inevitably infects our walk with God. Our thinking (“vain thoughts”) and feeling (“despair”) about the things of heaven become misshapen.
The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:5–7, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”
The vibrancy of our spiritual lives has everything to do with what our minds are set upon. If our minds are regularly set on the things of the Spirit, we will experience abundant life and peace. However, if our minds are set on the things of the flesh, we will experience an inner hostility toward God. Paul is not talking merely about our thinking (though he is), but also about what we desire and how our lives are directed toward what we desire.
The compound word mindset captures well what he is saying here. A lazy, undisciplined, misdirected mindset leads to death, even the slow death characterized by the disordered non-affections of apathy. It sometimes seems as if we have lost all faith in the power of a disciplined life. We don’t believe change is possible, or we believe that change comes only from “out of nowhere” or in some cataclysmic event. It can feel too simplistic or formulaic to assume that our growth in love for God and neighbor has a direct correlation to the discipline and regularity of spiritual practices. “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you will grow, grow, grow; don’t read your Bible and forget to pray, and you will shrink, shrink, shrink”—this is a simpleton’s song, so we think. What about the psychological dimensions of growth? What about a theology of divine grace?
Christian growth is complicated! Yes, Christian maturity may involve attending to several things, but we must trim branches as well as water roots. We don’t do algebra by scrapping arithmetic. One funds the other; they work together. Dallas Willard, an influential thinker on spirituality, is correct when he claims, “We can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced remaining constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father”.
What did Jesus do? He prayed, practiced solitude, studied, fasted and meditated on God’s word, and regularly served others in a simplified, submissive life.
Thus, the mathematics of growth is also quite simple:
set mind on things of the Spirit + practice the things Jesus did = life
Can it really be that simple? Indeed it can!
If we want to solve the mystery of our spiritual blahness and expose our apathy backstory, we would do well to reflect on the following questions:
As you look back on your day or week, month, or year, what have you set your mind on?
Have you ruthlessly sought to set it on the things of the Spirit (i.e., things that nurture your spiritual life)?
I’ll close with this inspiration God gives to us through the Apostle Paul in the Philippian letter, 1:21-
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”