An Apathetic Generation?

images For the past several years, the current generation of 20-30 years old has often been labelled as lazy, self-centred, and disinterested in local and global affairs.  Ranging from simply not caring enough to research platforms or to place a vote to not engaging enough with the news, our generation has often received the bad reputation of being part of the “I-Culture.”

To be fair, I do not believe this is always the case.  Looking at people from within my age cohort I believe that we are often passionately involved in service and mission like never before.  I believe that when it comes to the human rights of equality and peace-making, this generation exceeds the expectations others have put on it and truly goes out and makes a difference. This is to be applauded.  But it is not enough to simply start and end with social justice.  For the Christian, social justice is deeply rooted in the incarnational message of Christ.  Throughout the Bible and particularly in the Gospels we discover how Christ calls each person to a life of humility and servanthood.  We read that it is the person’s heart and inner motivations that truly matter and that from those visions and ideas actions will spring forth.

Nevertheless, perhaps the greatest area of our collective apathy lies in our disinterest in all things Christian.  I find it deeply ironic that our generation craves intense spiritual experiences and that involvement in new age, angel readings, or horoscopes continues to be prevalent, yet when it comes to finding the true meaning that is only available through Scripture, we often ignore it.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that truly living the Christian life within this apathetic generation would likely lead to scorn and ridicule.  People may see us as too narrow, too judgemental, or even too strict.  Some would counter that the guidelines laid out in the Bible are too difficult to maintain or that they are irrelevant to our daily walk as Christians.  It is for this reason that almost all of us pick and choose which Scriptures we decide to follow – ignoring the ones that are too demanding, and placing too much emphasis on the generalized commands of living good lives and being kind and compassionate.  We have often decided on a “cool” and “complimentary” Christianity rather than the demanding life of discipleship Christ calls us to be part of.

Within the Christian realm, one of the greatest risks of apathy is that we will stop meeting together.  We will stop building community and we will increase our independence rather than being dependant and vulnerable with those around us.  In the book of Hebrews we are told, “do not give up meeting as some are in the habit of doing.”

Within the last one hundred years we have seen the fall of Christendom.  Church has moved from being the focal point of daily life within the Christian community, to being simply another option to choose from on a Sunday morning.  Whereas the counsel of pastors and deacons was once heeded, they have simply become voices that are crowded out by popular media.  Suddenly, people lost their interest in organized religion and in the church itself.  Church no longer was the hub of fellowship and support, but instead became just another dead-weight meeting group largely reserved for women and senior citizens.

Therefore, breathing life into this reality is a difficult task to demand.  Yet, there is a reason why throughout Scripture and researching the life of the early church, God placed so much priority on this very task.

Some may wonder why they need to go to church.  Sadly even within the theological realm of Christian universities and seminaries many students do not see much of a purpose to be part of a Christian assembly.  Some feel that their classes and the student chapels are enough to supplement their spiritual life.  This may be true, but if we do not proceed with caution we may find our souls in danger.

See there are really three reasons we go to church.  Firstly, we go in order to experience God in fresh new ways.  We certainly are capable of worshipping Him on our own or with just one or two other people.  We do not need to attend a church to sing when we can find virtually any Christian song imaginable on YouTube, and we do not need to go to church to learn when we can simply Google sermons.  But there is something sacred and precious about being part of a wide group of people and being encouraged through watching their attitudes and actions within worship.  There is something that shows our commitment when we are able to wake up on a Sunday morning, forsake other duties, and set aside just one or two hours to be part of a church.  It is also a testimony to the outside world.  Sure, I can be a Christian on my own time and in my own way and that is great, but no one else is going to recognize that reality except myself.  Yet, when my colleagues or housemates see me leaving in order to go to church, they get to know a part of me that I may not have shared otherwise and occasionally this can even lead to questions which in turn become opportunities for evangelism.

Secondly, we go to church for the nourishment of our own souls.  Just as we need physical food daily, we also need to feed our souls on the word of God, on fasting, and on prayer.  Do we need to go to church in order to be a Christian or in order to live an upright life?  No.  There are many wonderful people in our world who do not attend a church or any religious assembly, but who still do great things for others and live a life of selflessness.  So why do we go to church, then?  We go to be strengthened.  We go to meet with others who are stronger in the faith than we are.  We go to be in the presence of an intergenerational and intercultural community of likeminded people who all have one thing in common – obedience to Christ.  You see, going to church is not necessary to salvation.  Instead, it is a gift that God gives us in order to continue to grow into Christ-likeness and obedience to Him.

Thirdly, we go to church in order to help build others up in their faith.  Part of the issue with this current generation is that by and large they assume that everything is about them.  They are interested in mentorship because it will impact them and this is important.  We need to come to a place of spiritual maturity before we can reach out and help others.  Yet there comes a time when we have been filled enough that we are now able to start filling others.  By going to church and actively taking part in spiritual life we can encourage those around us through the way we worship, the way we serve, and the way we greet and talk with others. Church also provides us with a wonderful outlet for sharing with people younger than ourselves through teaching Sunday school or helping out with the youth group.  In fact, if you are looking for a place to serve but having difficulty locating a good fit, you probably don’t need to look much further than your own parish which offers a host of opportunities you may never have even considered from being part of the hospitality committee, to worship leading, or folding bulletins before the service.

Within this often apathetic and lazy generation, those of us who profess the Christian life are called to reject such disengagement and instead to “shine like stars.”  This doesn’t mean we will be perfect or that our church will be perfect.  We will make mistakes.  We may become disillusioned or even distraught at some things that have taken place in the name of organized religion, but when we truly place our trust in the Hands of God and commit to regular fellowship and meeting together we will often find that it is indeed worth it.  That even in the midst of discouragement, church can offer us a place of support by pointing us to the very One who offers us comfort – the Lord Jesus Christ.  For this reason, I want to ask you: where will you be in two days?  I hope the answer is that I will find you in church.

Cultivating a Plateau Spirituality

Colorado_Plateau_(2220167435) A wise teacher of mine once wrote, “We all long for mountains – to be in the presence of God and experience His splendor.  I have lived on the mountain for a long time.  Now it is time for me to descend into the valley where I can meet God in a new way.”

These words reflect the continual cycle of your average Christian.  I am no different.  In life we constantly go through different seasons and life changes.  Yet, unlike our typical life span from childhood to old age and unlike the emotional roller coaster of love and fear, our spiritual paths are quite unique.  That’s because spirituality is rooted in something far deeper than simply changing emotions or surface level love, instead it reaches into the very core of who we are.

If you grew up in the evangelical church, you may have lived the majority of your life under the false pretext that Christians should always be on a spiritual high.  I know that is true in my case.  I was taught by pastors and Sunday school teachers throughout my most pivotal growing years that I could always be doing more.  Even if I felt close to Christ at that moment, there was probably something else I needed to do – read the Bible more, pray more, evangelize more.  While it is true that none of us will ever reach perfection on this earth, I later began to see how dangerous this type of theology can truly be.  If nothing else, it leads to a works based theology – one in which constant striving doesn’t lead us to God, it only leads us to more striving which in turn leaves us feeling empty.

On the other hand, there is a different kind of extreme – lazy Christianity.  In this type of Christianity, a person embraces the fact that they will never truly be as close to God as they would have wished, so they stop praying, reading the Bible, and serving, and instead live their lives in a self-gratifying way as if they truly were no different than anyone else in their culture.  Both have their downfalls and both are inevitable for a Christian to face at one point in their life or another.

Here’s the thing: we all go through ups and downs, spiritual highs and lows. I can tell you about many times in which the presence of the Holy Spirit was so real in my life that it felt as if God had personally directed a message to me.  I can tell you about times when I was so deep in prayer that I felt as if Jesus were right there in the room with me or when I felt so compelled after a message that I actually went out and made some drastic change in my life.  I definitely know there have been times when I have been so deeply passionate in worship that I fell to my knees and didn’t even care what others around me thought about it.  I also can tell you of the greatest ecstasy I have ever tasted in my life when I fell so in love with God that I began to manifest the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, visions, and dreams.  These experiences are all wonderful and I savour each one.  Whenever I can, I approach God in prayer asking that I may receive these moments again and again and so fall deeper in love with Him than the times before.

But there is something else you need to remember. While I have experienced all of these lovely heavenly moments in which the Kingdom of God felt so imminent that it was almost as if it were happening in the here and now (and perhaps in a way it was), there have also been moments that have been far less glorious.  I have had moments when the struggle and temptation to sin was so real I felt I had no power to control it.  I have gone through bouts of depression and seasons of the Dark Night of the Soul where prayer seemed almost fruitless and all I could experience was static on the other end of the telephone line.  I have had moments in which seeing the sufferings of this world have caused me to doubt the existence of God or at least caused me to question His truly gracious and loving nature.  I have had all the same negative experiences that I assume many of you have also had.

However, while I have had spiritual highs and lows; more often than not, I am in a state of contented apathy.  What do I mean by that?  Simply that nothing is happening.  I am not necessarily in a bad place with God – I still feel His presence, know that He exists and occasionally share in intimate moments with Him; but I am also not in a great place with Him.  I don’t fall in love with Him in worship the way I used to, may feel compelled by a sermon but instead choose to go about my normal life, and my prayer is more out of habit than out of commitment.  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  Not really, it’s just the average life of a Christian.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I shouldn’t try more to get to know Christ deeper.  I’m not making excuses for my behaviour.  As Christians our main goal should always be to “love God and glorify Him forever for that is the chief end of man” (as the Heidelberg Confession States).  However, it is simply impossible to constantly be maintaining a spiritual high.  And if you are one of those people who believes that’s what Christians are called to do, I would urge you to re-examine your own life.

In a way, it is sort of like marriage.  A married couple will experience days in which marriage is completely awesome.   The first time you notice that super hot guy or girl and fall head over heels for them is a lovely feeling.  When you first start dating and you can’t get him or her off your mind, think about him or her constantly, text and write each other daily is a lovely and completely natural thing.  Even after dating, the day you say your vows and covenant to live your life together is an exhilarating day.  Your honeymoon and sharing in those first moments of the passionate love God created you for are wonderful.  The births of your children are something to be celebrated.  These are all moments that God gives us and calls us to rejoice in.  But then the storms come.  High bills you wonder how you will possibly pay, wayward children, a spouse who can’t keep his dirty socks off the floor or who can’t keep her credit card in her wallet (or vice versa).  In those moments you may wonder what the point of marriage really is.  Is it truly worth it?  Did you make a mistake or is this man or woman truly the one God destined for you since the dawn of creation?  Yet, in those valley moments, if you can recall the exhilarating feeling you first had when you locked eyes with him or her for the very first time, I think you will find that it is indeed truly worth it to keep going.

But then, there are also many days in which life is just normal.  You still love your spouse so deeply you would do anything for him or her including die for them.  You aren’t in some major fight, but you just don’t feel the passionate love you did when you first said “I do.”  That isn’t bad, it’s normal.

For me, the hardest part of the Christian life is not in those moments when I am on the mountain top, nor is it when I am in the valley, but when I am on the plateau, which is about 90% of the time.  To cultivate a spiritual life when your spirituality is neither exhilarating nor boring, but is simply stagnant is one of the hardest lessons to achieve.  What can we do in those moments?  My advice: keep praying, keep reading the Scripture.  Don’t let your lack of spiritual enthusiasm drive you away from God’s word and God’s will.  Remember those moments of intimacy with Him and learn to truly crave them.  Continue your spiritual life as if you were still in those moments of jubilation.  Continue to go to church, to meet with other Christians, and to serve.  In fact, when we are in community and making a difference to those around us, that’s one of the best ways to rekindle that long forgotten spark that Christ gave us.  Lastly, remember to constantly fall in love with Christ.  Falling in love isn’t a one time deal, instead, it’s a continual choice.  We don’t tell our spouse that we love them only once and never again, we tell them constantly and in loving matrimony we truly mean it from our core.  If even after all of this you still feel distant and disconnected from God, then what better choice than to tell Him.  Let Him know you want to get to know Him in a real and personal way.  That you want to dig deeper than you ever have before.  I guarantee that if you pray that prayer and mean it, it will happen – but be prepared because it will also really mess you up (for the better).  It’s a radical prayer and not one for the faint of heart.

In any and every circumstance, I truly hope that you will experience the love of the one true God who is Father and Mother to all of us.  For that is the Will of the Holy Spirit – to graciously and continuously woo us to Himself, even when we feel we are simply living on the plateau.