Pastoral Articles

Beware of Apathy

Beware of Apathy

Daniel Jordan, Pastor of Worship


Not too long ago in my quiet time my heart was burdened with sadness while pondering apathy. Apathy is defined as: a lack of interest or concern: indifference. I was asking God if I was apathetic in any area of my life and I was praying for the Christian church in America to be shaken from spiritual apathy. Afterward, I hopped onto the internet to see if there were any thought provoking readings on the subject of apathy and the Christian church in America. I read several things and even took note of a couple of books for possible future reading. I happened to come across an unpublished article by Miles Wesner, a pastor from Idabel, OK. While it is not a deep theological or psychological treatise about apathy, it does contain some thought provoking observations and illustrations. I wanted to share some excerpts.


“How to Make It Happen (Overcoming Apathy)”
by Miles Wesner


A tramp stopped at a house to ask for food.  The lady fed him and as he ate she asked how he determined the direction he would go each day.  He replied, "Oh, that's easy!  I let the wind make my decision.  I never walk against the wind.” Letting circumstances make our decisions and always walking with the wind of popular opinion indicates apathy.  Apathy can show up as laziness, inertia, or boredom.  Apathy can be so comfortable! The things that claim our allegiance, are not usually the worst sins nor the [most] horrendous crimes.  They are more likely to be the good little things of everyday living that gradually drain our energies and waste our time.  Life is a matter of priorities.  Jesus knew this.  He realized that we tend to become distracted.  He said, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).

[Lack of Vision & Focus]
Once when a young watch maker was drafted into the army he took along his watch repair tools.  He built up quite a nice business in his spare time fixing timepieces.  One night the enemy attacked and the watchmaker was busy with his watch repair work. He exclaimed, "Sergeant, I'm not ready to go.  I'm behind with these watches." What an excuse!  He was a soldier first of all. [He had lost focus of priority: what his life was about and where his attention and energy should be spent.] Yet, like him, many of us devote our time to nonessentials.  Apathy denotes a willingness to let [important] things slide [because of a preoccupation with other things]. 

Years ago, some young men boarded a train, and settled themselves comfortably in a plush car.  The porter came and asked them to move to another.  They rudely refused saying, "we like it here, and we're going to stay!"  The old porter shook his head and said, "okay, it's all right with me, but this car ain't fastened to nothing'.  It ain't goin' nowhere!" To prefer comfort to accomplishment is apathy.
[Wow! To prioritize our lives around the pursuits of comfort and leisure over a live of accomplishment sounds eerily like our society today. But, what about our spiritual life? Are we “on the move” so to speak or are we satisfied to stay where we are? ]

A newspaper journalist during the Civil War fought on both sides; He fought with the Union army until he got a good story.  Then he stood with the Confederacy until he got a story.  Trying to fight on both sides at once is apathy. [This journalist was not conscience of the weight of the war of which he was in the midst. He had his own agenda. If our highest priority in life is our personal agenda then things like God’s glory, biblical truth and spiritual vision can become irrelevant to us. Then our purpose in life as Christians is eroded to that of a blunt object.]

We, too, get so busy with seemingly harmless activities that we can't give our best.  Such fragmentation denotes apathy. The greatest cause of apathy is the inability to assess priorities; choices are all important. [Our time can easily be consumed with good things that are not central to our lives. Too often our spiritual lives pay the highest price for all of our busyness. If the only time you can make for God consists of when you’re driving in your car or sitting in the restroom you might be too busy.]

There is an old story about a lighthouse keeper.  He received a monthly shipment of oil which contained exactly enough fuel to keep the lighthouse burning until the next shipment.  One month, a poor woman came to the keeper and begged him to give her enough fuel to warm her baby - then a man asked for a tiny amount so his son could study for an important test.  The keeper gave a little bit here and a little bit there and at the end of the month he ran out of oil.  One black night storms arose, and several ships crashed.  Officials told the lighthouse keeper, "It's your fault.  You had one job to do-you were told to keep that light burning!  Other needs, no matter how important or how charitable, should not have taken precedence!" Now, none of this man's choices were bad.  In fact, they were very good; but they weren't the best.  Likewise, our choices are not usually the easy ones between good and bad.  They are usually between good and better or better and best! [Be mindful of resources and diligent to the task at hand.]

Joshua commanded the obvious choice between good and bad.  "Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served . . . or the gods of the Amorites . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15, KJV). [A choice based in the truth of God]

Moses, had to make a hard choice between the good and the better.  The Scripture says, "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:24-25). Now, Moses could have said, "I can be a witness here in the palace.  These Egyptians need to be taught about God."  This would have justified a good life, but Moses chose the better way. [A choice to follow no matter the personal cost.]

We see Mary who made a choice.  It seemed a very admirable thing to serve Jesus as Martha did.  The world would approve - Martha was doing real work.  She was giving the Lord food and drink [and caring for other’s needs].  But Mary chose to sit at Jesus' feet and learn.  For her that was the highest priority, and Jesus agreed.  He said, "Martha, Martha, you are worried . . . about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42). [A choice to spend time at the Lord’s feet. Completing tasks and work is necessary in any life and in any ministry; providing food and hospitality is important too. However, these things, done even in the name of the Lord, are never a substitution for worship or spending time with Christ.]

[Group Mentality]
Apathy is also fostered by succumbing to the "group mentality."  In America we have a saying, "The majority rules," and maybe that is as it should [be based upon our democratic way of life. However, is the majority always right?] The majority ridiculed Noah's ark, the majority voted to stay out of Canaan, and the majority crucified Christ. Sure, there is strength in numbers, but there is also weakness. If everyone does it, we hesitate to oppose it.  Every worthwhile thing in this world started with just one individual who pitted his or her life against impossible odds as Martin Luther did when he stood before a corrupt religious organization and said, "Here I stand; I can do no other."

[Time Management]
A poor use of time is another cause of apathy.  Lives are so short, at best, that it's not only sinful but stupid to waste them.  A survey estimates that the average person in a lifetime spends fourteen years in amusements; five years dressing; one year on the telephone; two-and a half years chewing gum; three years waiting and five months tying shoes. Now, none of these activities are wrong or sinful, but is that all there is to life? James recognized the brevity of our existence.  He said, "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). How much is time worth?  Well, on prime-time television, advertisements can cost a million dollars per minute.  But [in a kingdom reality and in the service and worship of God] your minutes are worth even more than that. 

[What Then?]
How then can we be victorious over apathy?  How can we make it happen when we'd rather let it happen? First, find your talents, your strengths, and your place in life.  There is a niche that only you can fill. Second, set goals and determine purposes.  If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it!  Focus your energies.  Don't try to do everything. Third, implement it [act]!  Talk is cheap [and] actions speaks louder than words.  Too many of us are always "gonna do," but never do!  Indeed, it's dangerous just to intend to do well.  Psychologists say that, every time we have a good intention and don't act on it, we become less likely to act on it later.  The intention [and our motivation] grows weaker, and in the end emotion becomes a substitute for action. That's tragic!

Jesus faced the temptation of apathy [He could have been distracted by many good things].  There were several points in His ministry when it would have been so much easier to quit than to continue.  Once, his family came for Him, but He refused. The Scripture says, "While he was . . . speaking to the multitudes, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak to Him. . . . But He . . . said, 'Who is my mother and who are my brothers?'  And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold, my mother and my brothers!  For whoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother' " (Mattew 12:46-50).

On another occasion Peter advised against going to Jerusalem.  The Scripture says, "Jesus . . . began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things . . . And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You' " (Matthew 16:21-22).   But Jesus reacted vehemently, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's' " (Matthew 16:23).  Jesus always chose the best, not the easiest, path!  Paul said, "I urge you therefore, brethren . . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2).

End excerpts: “How to Make It Happen (Overcoming Apathy)” by Miles Wesner



Wesner seems to have his finger on the pulse of things that can cause apathy in the life of the American Christian.

Another thought that comes to mind is waiting until I am ready or until I am in the mood. Once I was watching a movie with Patrick Stewart where he was training a young prince how to fight. Stewart’s character told the prince on a moment’s notice “en garde” to which the prince replied, “oh, I’m not in the mood.” Stewart replied, “mood is a thing for cattle and romance” and then proceeded to charge head-long at the prince dagger first. Life and kingdom opportunities come at whether we’re ready or not. The life of the Christian is one of diligence and preparedness; being diligent in our walk with Christ and being prepared by a full life of prayer.

There is a natural rhythm to life and to the life of faith. Apathy masquerading as “not in the mood” disrupts this natural rhythm of the spiritual life. Pastor Jeff has been preaching about work and the life of work. There is an order and a rhythm to work. For most of us this is our work schedule. This demands discipline and engagement. If we wait to work, or wait to go to work, until we’re ready or in the mood would we ever go? Likewise if we wait until we’re in the mood to engage in spiritual things or to participate in the life of the church we’re suffering from apathy. If we value our feelings and moods more than God then we’re suffering from apathy.

So, why this article about apathy? Am I chastising or nagging us? No. This article is about arming us with the tools to evaluate our own spiritual lives. The next time we put spiritual matters on the back-burner to circumstance, comfort, convenience, busyness or even our mood, stop and take a moment to evaluate; put your kingdom glasses on re-examine in light of Christ and eternity.

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