Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Spiritual complacency is an ailment that creeps upon us unawares. It takes hold of us exactly when we least expect it.

If anyone were to ask us, “How do you feel?” we likely would respond, “Fine, I’m in the peak of health.” But if we were to follow up the question with a bit of self examination, we would realize that we had given our spiritual health little thought. Recent soul searching we have not done. Like Israel of old we are content to say, “The people of the Lord are we.” We read our Bible every day, we pray, we live respectable lives from day to day, we are members of the church and attend its services faithfully.

The symptoms of this common ailment are exactly that: lack of concern, lack of zeal, a lingering apathy.

We actually notice no real change in our daily walk of life, although it is true that our prayers have become a mere formality, a cold repetition. We make a practice of confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness, but we do not stop to consider what sins we are confessing. Our church attendance is hardly more than mere custom. The singing has no strong appeal, so that we sing the words without giving much thought to the content. During the congregational prayer our minds wander. The sermons do not hit home. Were anyone to ask us, we would have to admit that the church service meant little or nothing to us. The celebration of baptism, or even the Lord’s Supper, with its preparatory week, is celebrated out of mere custom. But this is also true of our private and family devotions. To be honest, a good book or a favorite TV program interests us much more than all our devotional life.

The spiritual and eternal is replaced in our thoughts and desires with mundane and the carnal things.

Sad to say, this ailment is like a contagious disease that spreads very rapidly. It affects not only ourselves but also our family, our friends, and, ultimately, our church. Its victims are legion. Since we are not interested in spiritual matters, our family loses, interest, our friends are hesitant to speak about them with us. We become spiritually lax, our family becomes indolent. In time even our congregation sinks into cold passivity.

The cause. This may be a bit difficult to diagnose.

It may be a reaction to a spiritual involvement. Strange as it may seem, after Israel’s years of wandering in the wilderness, and after the conquest of Canaan, when everyone was settled in his inheritance, a spiritual lethargy came upon them, so that they failed to remind their children and their children’s children of what the, Lord had done for them. The same may happen to us.

It is possible that we have been too busy, have become too involved in our business, our farm, or any other occupation. Our material interests became our first consideration. Our priorities, then, are all wrong.

A man was once sitting at his desk in his office when he asked himself, What is more important to me, my business or my soul?” He decided to get rid of his business, lest he lose his soul.

It may even be the busyness in the family, or some outside interest, such as sports.

Like a cancerous growth, the disease may be rather far advanced before it is detected. It may even prove to be fatal for the individual, for the family, or for a congregation.

We think of the church of Laodicea, of which Jesus speaks in Revelation 3:15-17:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. 

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.

Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.

The cure. Jesus adds in the following verses, 18 and 19:

I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see. 

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

Can it be that in some sense this applies to me? May I unawares have become spiritually listless, complacent? Have my prayers become hindered by it?

The Word of God admonishes us in II Corinthians 13:5 thus: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.”

We should do so with this prayer in our hearts: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).

The question is not whether we have faith, but whether we are “in the faith.” We do not ask ourselves, “Do I believe?” but rather, “Do I walk as children of light should walk in all good works?”

At this point it may be necessary to ask ourselves, “What are good works?”

To that question our Heidelberg Catechism gives the answer (Lord’s Day 33):

Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imagination, or the institutions of men.

That is strong language.

When I read Scripture or hear it read, when I make my prayers, when I worship on Sunday with the congregation, I must do so in faith. In fact, my entire life must be faith in action.

“God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

All that is not done in faith is sin. God’s wrath fumes against mere form worship, as we read in Isaiah 66:3:

He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in abominations.

Am I guilty at present of mere form worship?

Besides that, my entire life must be “according to the law of God.” I can sit in church and hear the ten commandments read without pangs of conscience. True, at some time or another one particular commandment may accuse and condemn me. But even that is often not the case. Yet the Lord teaches that if I transgress one command, I transgress all, for the basic principle of the law is that I love Him with my whole being, so that all that is not done in love to God is sin.

Am I motivated by the love of God in all that I say and do?

One more thing. All that we do must be done to the glory of God. “Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do it all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).

Is that the chief characteristic of my life? Was I seeking the glory of God when I read my Bible this morning? When I prayed? When I sat in church last Sunday?

My Lord teaches me that my first and foremost desire must be, “Hallowed be Thy Name.” How miserably I fail in that!

When we become aware of our spiritual lethargy our only escape is through prayer in Christ Jesus. “Buy of Me,” He says.

We need the gold of Christ’s righteousness, the white garments of sanctification, washed in the blood of Calvary; we need the eye-salve of the Holy Spirit that we may see and enjoy anew the riches of God’s grace, His infinite mercy, and His unchanging faithfulness.

Well may we pray with the Psalmist:

Gracious God, my heart renew, 

Make my spirit right and true; 

Cast me not away from Thee, 

Let Thy Spirit dwell in me; 

Thy salvation’s joy impart, 

Steadfast make my willing heart. 

(Psalter no. 141)

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22).

Even then we must not be content until our complacency is changed into spiritual contentment. We must experience anew the joy of salvation. Even as Scripture admonishes us:

Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice…. 

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:4, 7).

This can be and is readily transmitted to others. Our own spiritual joy will reflect itself in the family, and also among our friends. Even our enthusiastic singing in the congregation and our attentive listening to the sermon can be an inspiration to others.

O sing to the Lord a new song: Sing unto the Lord, all the earth. 

Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day (Psalm 96:1, 2).