“The darkness of the evil one encloses those who neglect to pray.”
– Ellen White in “Steps to Christ.”
“Yep. Heard that before. Nothing new there. Obviously when I refuse to pray then…”
And that’s when it hit me.
She doesn’t say refuse to pray; She says neglect to pray.
One implies obstinance. The other indicates abeyance.
One is willful, the other is mindless.
One refers to a dismissal, while the other refers to a disinterest.
The author then goes on to make some piercing points regarding the sad reality of many Christians who don’t tap into the riches of God’s grace because they are not intentional about their spirituality.
Joshua seemed to get this towards the end of his life:
“Choose you this day whom you will serve” he said. “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
The more I thought about this, the more I’m led to believe the following:
A major reason why many Christians don’t experience growth isn’t so much because of a refusal of growth as much as a lack of intention towards it.
And this is worse than an outright rejection of God. How? Bear with me as I work up to a hopefully compelling answer.
The Bible has a recurring theme of God honoring the intentionality of his children. God has always been a Divine Gentleman – one who is decidedly anti-coercive yet hyper-sensitive to the choices of his people. God is an intentional God who functions within the parameters of our choices.
That’s why I like to think that the most powerful force in the universe isn’t God, but choice; Even God doesn’t mess with it.
So when I choose to act in favor of God, when I choose to be intentional about my spiritual growth, and when I choose to be aware of His presence, God honors my choice and I grow.
Conversely, when I choose to desecrate the Sabbath, when I choose to abuse the helpless and downtrodden, and when I choose to lust, God honors that choice, and I backslide.
But we tend to think there’s another choice – a “non-choice” – that comes from a place where all choices that are not chosen sadly congregate like last picks in a pickup ball game waiting to be chosen. They are usually remembered after the game is played, usually accompanied by a feeling of sharp regret. They look like this:
“shoot, I didn’t give tithe last month.”
“ wow, how did I not…”
“I didn’t even realize…”
In case you are sarcasm-challenged, let me be plain:
There is no such thing as a “non-choice.” We always choose. Even if it’s mindlessness.
In the final estimate, heaven is for those who chose to be there. The citizens of the heavenly kingdom are not going to be there by accident or mere happenstance. On the flipside, even heaven will be hell for those who don’t choose to be there.
“But bro, are you talking about working your way into spiritual maturity? What about grace? Isn’t God’s grace going to grow us?
Good question. Here’s what I’ll tell you:
God’s grace is not conditional upon my growth in Christ, but my growth in Christ is conditional upon my intentional choice to receive and act upon his grace.
If this weren’t true, then everyone who calls themselves a “Born again Christian” would be walking, talking replicas of our Lord Jesus. But we know that’s far from the truth.
Moreover, there also seems to be a confusion between desiring growth and deciding to grow. Many well-intentioned Christians have confused wanting to grow with choosing to grow and it is significantly, yet subtly, stunting their spirituality.
I love how Karl Haffner puts it:
“We don’t grow by trying; we grow by eating.”
The Bible says that it is God who works in us to give us both the desire and the provision to act according to His good pleasure. However, if we are not intentional about choosing to respond to this work by inviting Him in and making some decided changes in our life, we are not going to grow.
You can’t work it out unless He works it in. But He can’t work it in unless you choose to let Him in.
Let’s also not forget that we have an enemy who is literally hell-bent on making sure that we are unaware of the choices we need to make. It’s been said that if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. He’d rather keep you occupied in temporal matters and forget God than force you to reject God. The great deceiver usually comes in the form of things that we already love and cherish to distract us from the things that are timeless and eternal.
But here is the good news:
Your choice can be the difference between being deceived by Satan and being enlightened by God.
Your choice can be the difference between failure and victory.
Your choice can be the difference between spiritual decline and spiritual growth.
Passive spirituality is worse than active rebellion. In other words, neglecting God is worse than rejecting God, for even God cannot work in a person who won’t pick a side.
So choose. Choose to be intentional about your growth. Choose where you need to place the scalpel. Choose whom you will serve.
For when you don’t choose, you’ve already chosen.