Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
Not a good word to hear. You immediately react against such an accusation if you are convinced it is not true. And you are immediately filled with shame if it is true. Laziness makes you think about work. You know fellow workers or fellow students who are lazy. Either they are late to their jobs or classes or their work is done sloppily if done at all. You see in their characters a lack of motivation or a simple inability to be motivated at all. They are the kinds of people you don’t want to see on your team. You wonder how they can hold down their jobs or how they can pass any classes. You tend to despise laziness, even if you find it in yourself.
Laziness is especially bad when it characterizes young people. Part of the strength of youth is an eagerness and zeal for different activities. Youth is a time of vigor applied to all kinds of different pursuits. You expect to find in young people a higher sense of adventure and excitement than in older people. But to find laziness in a young person can be cause for despair: if he is this way now, what will he be like when he is older?!
Now think of laziness applied to spiritual matters. What is spiritual laziness? Take what you have read in the opening paragraph and apply it to spiritual things. Spiritual laziness can be found in the midst of all kinds of ambition and zeal for other things. You might throw yourself into your work or into your school activities so that you have no energy left over for spiritual exercises. Or you might put off spiritual exercises until this or that other work is finished, with the result that you never have time for them.
This spiritual laziness is found in people who are regenerated and believe. They have an aptitude for spiritual things. They are not complete strangers to the kingdom of God and its truths. But they have little interest in them.
This spiritual laziness is different from a lack of faith or a weak faith. You must think of lack of faith or a weak faith as present in someone who desires a stronger faith. In a deep trial he understands his need to be strong and endure with patience in that trial. But spiritual laziness is an awful contentment with poor spirituality. One who is spiritually lazy knows his lack of desire or zeal for spiritual things but has no desire for improvement. He is just fine the way he is. He is in the kingdom. Why do anything more? Why go any further? Why develop? Why grow?
What are the symptoms of this spiritual laziness? One symptom is neglect of personal devotions and time spent in prayer. You only rarely do devotions on your own. Or, if you do them, it is more out of a sense of guilt than anything else. Or spiritual laziness is practicing devotions in a superficial way, so that you merely put in your time, to say that you have done them. Devotions are given little or no place. Spiritual laziness!
Another symptom of spiritual laziness is lack of preparation for catechism and Bible study in Young People’s Society. Another indicator is unwillingness to participate in any discussion about the Bible, about doctrine, or about spiritual life. Yet another sign of spiritual laziness is a passing by of opportunities to witness and testify to the truth of God’s Word. An opening presents itself, you are able to seize that opportunity to speak of the truth, and you feel in your heart an obligation to the truth, but you let the opportunity pass on by.
Are you spiritually lazy? Do you wonder whether or not your generation is spiritually lazy? Ask your parents and grandparents. Ask them about yourself. Ask them about your generation in comparison with their generation. Or even ask them to compare your generation with generations before them. Talk among yourselves, asking the same questions.
What are the causes of spiritual laziness? One cause can be spiritual immaturity. A child receives a great deal of instruction in spiritual things. He is well taught by his parents in the home, by his minister and elders in the catechism classes, and by his teachers in the Christian school. But there comes a time in his spiritual development and progress when all these things taught must bear their fruit. Properly, the child should become spiritually active, should develop his own spiritual life, and should thus be able to think and speak about the truth willingly and voluntarily. He should be able to take his place spiritually in the communion of the saints and make his particular contribution to the body. One who is spiritually lazy, however, refuses to take up that responsibility. He will evade that responsibility or refuse it altogether.
Another cause of spiritual laziness may be fear. This fear is most often applied to circumstances in conversation. Perhaps those circumstances are formal, as in a catechism class or Young People’s Society meeting. Perhaps they are informal, as in a conversation with peers or parents that turns to spiritual things. One fears ridicule for appearing knowledgeable or even interested in spiritual things. Perhaps he has seen and heard others suffering such ridicule for speaking and participating. Since even speaking about spiritual things is so discouraged by that ridicule or its possibility, why even bother learning or growing in the truth? There may also be fear of being wrong, committing some kind of doctrinal error, or speaking some kind of heresy. A spiritually lazy person will use that fear to release himself from the obligation to grow and develop. He will convince himself that it is far better only to listen and nod than actually to think and grow.
The dangers of this spiritual laziness are great. Spiritual laziness will not allow the child of God to develop properly and mature as a Reformed believer. Such a young man will not grow up into a proper husband or father and will be unable to lead his household in spiritual things. Though such a man is unqualified for the office of elder or deacon, sometimes he will still be nominated and elected. He will be incapable of properly executing the duties of the office. Under his care a congregation and individual members cannot prosper and may even suffer harm. Such a young woman will not be able properly to give her children the spiritual care that they need. She will not be able to have a productive place in the church as a spiritual organism. The rest of the members will have to carry her along, or, worse, her presence would be detrimental to the vitality of the congregation. “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand” (Prov. 10:4).
Widespread spiritual laziness in a whole generation spells trouble for the congregation and even the denomination. How does apostasy begin in a congregation or denomination? It does not begin with open expressions of hatred and contempt for the truth of God’s Word and holiness prescribed in that Word. It does not start with a minister who begins preaching and teaching doctrines that are man-centered. Nor does it begin with a coldness toward the truth. Apostasy begins with spiritual laziness. One who is spiritually lazy lacks appreciation for the truth and takes the truth for granted. Under God’s judgment, spiritual laziness contains a germ that grows and develops into the full-blown apostasy that you now see in so many churches.
What can you do about spiritual laziness? The best thing you can do about spiritual laziness is to be spiritual! Dedicate your time and effort to spiritual growth in your personal devotions, spending the necessary time in the Word of God and in prayer. When you read, concentrate and meditate on what you have before you. When you pray, give yourself thoughtfully to that holy exercise. Learn to pour out your heart before the Lord. Do not bring before the Lord standard words of praise and supplication in the well-worn phrases that fit in your mouth without thinking, but bring different perfections, works, and matters of thanksgiving. Shape those words according to your present circumstances and what you have read in Scripture or thought about that day. Bring before the Lord your specific needs, which change with your circumstances. Lay before the Lord supplications for your fellow saints and other young people that you know. Mention their specific needs. When praying for forgiveness, mention specific sins that you have committed, from your actions to your inmost desires.
Another way to be spiritually zealous is to attend to your church life. Find joy and gladness in coming to church (Ps. 122:1). Come to church prepared to listen and learn about God and His truth. Give your complete attention to the preaching, without letting your mind wander. Remember material from the sermon. Remember different points that are striking to you, things that have a practical bearing on your life. If you hear something that is not immediately clear to you, remember it to study it further or think about it again later. Fight spiritual laziness in your societies and catechism classes. Do not be afraid to speak up. You can minimize fear by preparing well. Study the passage ahead of time. Read a commentary on the passage. Write some notes that you can use in the discussion. When it comes time to discuss, do not be afraid of being mocked. (Mockery is bound to come from those who are spiritually lazy.) Take a proper part in these discussions. Sometimes the best contributions to a catechism or society discussion is a good question rather than a good answer. If you fear being viewed as heretical, remember that the only way to be truly in error or a heretic is to persist stubbornly in your view even when you have been corrected. Speak humbly, and be open to correction.
Another way to conquer spiritual laziness is to take note of spiritual profit. Any attempt you make to develop spiritually is sure to be rewarded by God’s grace. There is immediate profit in spiritual strength and vitality. The truth and reality of God’s grace and love become more apparent to you. The truth becomes more precious to you as it becomes a stronger source of security and a richer, deeper comfort. There is profit in being a blessing to your fellow catechumens and young people. They are simply encouraged by your example in the same way of growth. You find it easier to talk with one another about spiritual things, spending more time together in that blessed realm. Your parents, minister, and elders are greatly encouraged in their work when they see the Lord’s blessing upon their labors with you. The older generations of the church see in you the Lord’s remembrance of His covenant mercies and are satisfied to see their beloved church in the hands of the next generation. “The soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4).
Let that profit encourage you. Let it encourage you to spend more time in the Word of God and in learning about its truth. Let it encourage you to give more effort to spiritual exercises both with God in prayer, and with fellow saints in true, spiritual fellowship and communion.