Depending on where you read this, chances are that you live in a wealthy place. Especially in America, you and I have an unthinkable amount of food, clothes, and technology. For the most part, we have the freedom to do whatever we desire, and may say what we want, when we want to. Strikingly, this kind of wealth is not the norm in church history. In fact, not only do we find that the past church was less wealthy, but also that she was often persecuted for clinging to the truth. Having said this, we must think hard about our calling in a wealthy, abnormal time in church history. Are there dangers in such times? What does God call us to do in such a time of peace and freedom for the church?
We live in an unusual time. Many nations, especially from the “Christian” west, are free from physical persecution. There are no lions waiting in coliseums to devour Christians. You will not find government officials gathering up Christians and killing them. And yet, Satan is working feverishly hard.
Persecution strengthens the church in her antithetical walk. But what happens when the church experiences freedom and peace in the land? Freedom and peace pose a danger for the church because, in many cases, it allows her to become lax. The Lord addressed this danger in Deuteronomy 6:10-12, when he warned the people of Israel against forgetting him in their prosperity. The danger for the church today is that she forgets God, the giver of all good things, and places her trust in the pleasures, entertainment, and goods of this world. All we need to do is look at ourselves. Our schedules are filled to the maximum with work, pleasure, and fun. We may do whatever we want. Especially in the summer, recreation and pleasure is the name of the game. We are all guilty of becoming soft: after a long day at work or a sweltering day at the beach, we are too tired to complete our devotions before we go to bed; we avoid Bible studies because they eat into our “free” time; we stay out late with friends on Saturday night and sleep through the church service Sunday morning. We all struggle with becoming lax in our spiritual lives.
Satan is making us soft. He seeks to fill our days with Facebook, television, the beach, and all the rest. He does not threaten us with guns and swords, but with an endless flow of pleasure, entertainment, and fun. Satan works through Hollywood to tell you that life is just an endless game, and serious study of the Bible is not worth your while. It is as if Satan sets a whole menu before us displaying endless possibilities for fun. The world tells you that the universe revolves around you, and that you can have it your own way. But what of God’s Word? Let it collect dust. After all, you are young only once. Summer beckons you to have fun. Satan’s lie is dangerous. His work is deceptive.
This tide of pleasure and entertainment is rising around the church. We must not, of course, think that having fun with friends and participating in God-glorifying activities is wrong. However, when these things are allowed to capture our hearts and lives, there is a spiritual problem. Do you feel this flood rushing beneath your feet? Do you and I recognize the danger of our comfortable living style and how it can lead to a lukewarm-at-best spiritual life?
What are we to do to prevent this lukewarm spiritual life? Is there not something that can stop the dangerous flood? The Word of God is clear: exercise! Paul wrote to Timothy, a young pastor in the church, that he needed to exercise himself unto godliness (I Timothy 4:7).
The calling is to exercise. Exercising, as you know, is hard work. It takes dedication and perseverance. Imagine a marathon runner training for a race. Many days he is outside training, running eight miles a day through all four seasons. He keeps running as the sweat streams down his face and his lungs burn. Many days he feels like calling it quits, but he has a goal in mind and will not give up. As a result of months of intense exercise and practice, he is fit to run the race that is before him.
Just as an athlete must exert himself, so our spiritual life needs regular and vigorous exercise. In a world where entertainment and pleasure demand so much of our time, we become flabby, weak, out of shape, and lose our spiritual sharpness. A few ways that we can strengthen our spiritual life both during the summer and also throughout the rest of the year:
- First, and most important, we must sit under the faithful preaching every Sunday so that we take in our spiritual nourishment.
- Attend a Bible study. Since our churches do not often hold Bible studies during the summer, start a small group Bible study with your friends. You would be surprised how much you get out of the discussions.
- Catechism is an essential exercise for the Christian youth.
- Sit down and formulate a devotions schedule. Be hard on yourself. We are all prone, because of sin, to find time for anything else but reading God’s Word and regular prayer. Set aside specific times in the day for your devotions, choosing a quiet time so that you can read and pray with concentration.
- Start reading good theological books and magazines. You will find many published by the RFPA.
- Surround yourself with godly friends with whom you can discuss spiritual matters. Friends can be a positive spiritual influence, but choosing the wrong ones can send any Christian down a very dangerous path.
In doing these things, we keep ourselves spiritually fit. All of the items on the above list require much work and time. Doing these things consistently takes God’s grace, and much of it. There is a very real battle raging inside of us at all times between the old man, who seeks endless pleasure and entertainment at the expense of serious Bible study, and the new man, who desires spiritual growth (Romans 7:19). Because it is all of grace, we must not approach who we may think is a weaker Christian only to haughtily criticize him or her for lack of spirituality. We come to them in humility, knowing that we all struggle and that we all need encouragement to exercise in the Word.
What comes of such exercise? Strenuous exercise in the Word will tell us more about God whom we love and about what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. What knowledge! There is no greater prize for which we press than the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing in this world is able to give us such joy and satisfaction than that knowledge.
Arduous exercise in the Word will give us the strength to effectively use the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and the rest of our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:13-17). May it be, in the terrible last days to come, that Antichrist will find the church to be a formidable foe.
May God give us the strength from day to day to exercise ourselves in his word. In this way, God will build up the youth of the church to be strong elders, deacons, mothers, fathers, singles, and workers in the church. This is the church that God will bless.