Apathy is probably a universal Christian experience, and it is stunting the growth of millions. Apathy is aggravating, because you sometimes see it in yourself and loathe it. However, you feel powerless to do anything precisely because you are apathetic. What is this condition of spiritual apathy, and how do we handle it?
The Causes of Apathy
- Material prosperity. One reason why apathy sets in is because of material affluence. Affluence is not merely a material phenomenon; it affects the spirit, too. As we amass creature comforts, there can be a corresponding sag in the spirit — a comfortable, situated, and uninspired sort of spiritual complacency. This is apathy. Living as we are in a world brimming with material prosperity, it can affect any one of us.
- Trials. On the contrasting side, apathy can set in when we face hard times. For example, perhaps you are facing a difficult situation with coworkers. Every day, you hear taunts from your officemates, ridiculing your God-believing, faith-holding, Bible-reading lifestyle. You are mocked because you refuse to sleep around, get drunk, cuss like a comedian, or view porn. You are scoffed. After a while, your spiritual resolves goes slack. You think to yourself, “is it really worth it?” After a while, your spiritual walk becomes a slow, tired swagger. Eventually, you slide right into the stultifying slog of apathy. It happens with other types of trials — perhaps an extended illness of a family member, or a disease that ends in death. Things like this try our faith, they drain our hope, they sink our spirits. We become apathetic.
- Coasting. Often, it’s just the hurried, frenzied, and unstopping pace of life that gradually elbows out spiritual vigor and attention. Even in ministry positions, we can become so caught up in the activity of ministry that we neglect the condition of our own soul. We have less concern about our own spiritual life, and more concerns about managing the world around us. These are the conditions of apathy.
The Cure to Apathy
What is the solution to such apathy? Is there any way out of the tired hole of Christian unconcern? Gratefully, there is.
- Come to a point of absolute assurance as a believer, and live out your reality in Christ. Scripture warns Christians to make sure that they are indeed in the faith. Apathy may be a sign of no faith at all. If you are a believer, than you must live as one. Growing as a Christian is a process, a progressive journey. Generally speaking, Christians don’t start their Christian life with a great deal of spiritual maturity. Maturity grows over time. There are ups and downs along the way, but the general trajectory is more like Christ, not less like Christ. This is called progressive sanctification. God’s will is that we become sanctified (Thessalonians 4:3). If this is God’s will, it will surely come to pass.
- Intentionally listen to God. In order to shake off the sin of apathy, you can’t wait for some holy zap. You must, by God’s grace, deliberately overcome the apathy. Listen to God, not in a mode of passive receptivity, but by actively seeking and meditating upon his word.
- Fight sin. Often, the life of the apathetic is a life that is gripped by a damaging sin habit. When Paul wrote the Thessalonians, he said in effect, “There’s good news. It’s God’s will that you grow as Christians. But you don’t just sit around waiting for this to happen. You get busy and fight sin — flee immorality, control your passions, don’t sin against your brother” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6). Sanctification allows us to be moved by God in desperate combat against sin. Be warned: you’re going to have to fight.
No believer can stay apathetic. Either you are a believer who will grow, or you are an unbeliever who should stop clinging to the false hope of a nonexistent relationship with Jesus. Growing is not an issue of becoming perfect. The Christian life has its ups. It has its downs. But it has the goal of continually moving towards more and more Christlikeness.