Fighting the Tendency to Drift
Disclaimer: Our family has been in the midst of transition for the past several months. Really our transitions began even before we left Jordan. As a result, I have not posted for some time. I hope to get back into that rhythm.
This summer our family spent some time at the beach. We enjoyed swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, dodging the jelly fish. One of the things that always surprises me – though after all these years it probably shouldn’t – is how the tide can cause me to drift. I mean, I start out directly in front of our chairs and towels and before I know it I’ve drifted quite a ways away from that spot. I didn’t even realize it had happened. If I don’t intentionally stop and look to see where I am and adjust my position, I can get pretty far from where I want to be.
I find the same is true in my spiritual life.
A friend of mine, knowing I had Dr. D.A. Carson as a professor in seminary, wrote and shared with me a quote he had read in a devotional by Dr. Carson:
People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated (D. A. Carson, For the Love of God, Volume 2: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word).
When I think of holiness, I think of a transformed life. I think of a life that is changed more into the image of Jesus. I cannot transform myself. I cannot make myself more like Jesus. But that is not an excuse to do nothing. Paul called on us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13). But that work does not transform us. Paul said in the very next verse that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” He is the one who works change in us. He is the one who transforms us.
But we do have a part to play. It is “grace-driven effort”. We have to intentionally put ourselves in a place where we open our lives to the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s our job. And by God’s grace as we do practices that open our lives up to God, He works in us. He changes us.
I am convicted by Dr. Carson’s statement because he’s right. I know that my heart tends to drift – but not “toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord” – rather in the opposite direction! And I am all too often guilty of the kind of rationalizing he states as well. Perhaps not in all the ways he states, but more of them than I care to admit.
So how do I counter this tendency to drift? How do I keep myself from slipping away from the places that will help me become what I want to be? I start with healthy self-examination. Henri Nouwen stated, “A life that is not reflected upon isn’t worth living” (Can You Drink This Cup?). I would add that a life not reflected upon tends to drift.
When I examine my life, I see the things I’m doing well and I see the places I need to change. I discover my “blindspots” and my strengths. Undoubtedly, I need to repent. I need to ask God’s forgiveness for allowing myself to drift; for not living intentionally the way I should. I need to ask forgiveness and for grace to get moving in God’s direction again.
Reflection/examination and repentance must be followed by action. The reality is that the kinds of activities that will put me in a place where my life is open to God’s work are not, usually, “fun” activities. They are not, generally, the kinds of things I do naturally – at least not initially. And yet, once they are established as a habit, my soul often craves them and I when I start to drift, I can tell something is not right.
At that point, if I don’t take time to reflect on why things aren’t right, I drift more and become less sensitized to what’s wrong. Regular reflection/examination helps to keep me on the right path. If I will take the time to examine my life and reflect on how things are going, God is so gracious to show me what’s out of whack and help me get moving in the right direction.
Ultimately none of this happens if I’m not willing to intentionally open my life to God. None of it happens unless I create space in my life for God to work. If I really long to be like Jesus, to be made holy, then I have to order my life so that can happen. Times of reflection, of solitude, of meditation, of prayer, and of any number of other practices move me in the direction of holiness. When I take steps to do live that way, I find God is gracious and faithful and he works in me in ways I do not even realize, but ways his word promises “according to his good pleasure”. They are ways that allow me to be transformed more into the image of Jesus.