Often we’re alarmingly unaware of the trials and hardships that begin dismantling our faith until a complete collapse comes, so how do we maintain spiritual strength?
In 1994, a magnitude 6.7 earthquakes hit San Fernando Valley in California. Apartments and parking structures folded in on themselves. A freeway collapsed; streets cracked in half.
Immediately, local building inspectors were called upon to assess building safety and try to find compromised structures, but state departments were overwhelmed. They requested help from Nevada State Public Works, and my father who is an architect was one of the men sent over to California State University, Northridge.
The university had been near the epicenter, and they didn’t dare let people back into the buildings before they had been checked. “I came across one five-story admin office that had a moment-resisting steel structural system. It looked untouched. The windows weren’t even cracked, and all the brick veneer and interior sheetrock was pristine. It was shocking to see a building so close to the epicenter that looked virtually untouched.
“I nearly gave it a green flag, but then I decided to have a quick look above the ceiling and check the framing. My partner grabbed me a ladder, asking why we had to bother. The building looked safe for occupancy, after all.
“I climbed up and started inspecting the steel braces. Every single connection bolt was sheared clean in half.
“The entire building was only standing by a thread. It was like a body where every ligament and muscle holding its bones together had been torn apart. Its structural system had effectively given its life to preserve the building and protect its occupants; however, there was nothing left of it. A small aftershock could cause catastrophic collapse.
“We took pictures and then hustled out. It was disturbing to stand in those hallways, knowing that everything was a hair away from folding into rubble.”
The building seemed fine by all appearances, but in reality, it was a deathtrap.
Opening the Door to Our Enemy
How often do we know believers who seem completely fine — life is peachy; they’re always at church; they seem happy; their kids are doing well — and then we hear that they’ve served their unsuspecting spouse divorce papers or they’ve abruptly declared that they’re agnostic or they’ve decided to embark on a blatantly sinful lifestyle?
Everything appeared immaculate to outsiders and insiders alike until this individual suddenly collapsed into ruin. What happened here?
In a sermon, David Wilkerson reflected on a similar situation, “I think of one brother who worked closely with me for over eight years. He was a kind, considerate, loving man and husband. He had a servant's heart and would do anything to help anyone in need. He was an integral part of our ministry team, and I still love him in the Lord.
“But in all the time I knew him, I never knew what was hidden in his heart. His wife didn't know, nor did his children, because he kept up such a beautiful facade.
“Finally, my wife, Gwen, and I sensed something was wrong…. Not long after that, a friend found this brother drunk. His wife and children had seen him in this state, and they were hysterical, unable to believe it. The man had been a secret alcoholic for years.”
David wrestled with how this crippling vice had so suddenly overcome his godly friend, concluding, “I hear Christians say, ‘I’m still battling an alcohol problem.’ ‘I’m fighting a battle with drugs.’ ‘My problem is lust.’ No, your enemy is bigger than drugs, sex or alcohol. It is the devil himself. Peter says, ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). You are not battling a problem but a person.
“You ask, can a Christian be demon-controlled? That depends on what kind of Christian you're talking about. If you mean an overcoming, righteous believer who is vigilant and has a close walk with Jesus, no. Absolutely not. He is safe and secure and can never be invaded by demon powers. But if you're talking about a slothful soul who is drifting, not walking in truth, not praying or reading the Bible or seeking God, then yes. His heart is wide open to demon powers!”
Here, David identifies several common pitfalls that secretly eat away at the structural integrity of a believer’s life without anyone noticing for years and years.
The Ease of Slothful Faith
Sloth is a bit of a ‘ye olde’ English term, but the Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers a definition of it as “spiritual apathy or inactivity.” It’s easy to see this and immediately absolve ourselves. I’m so busy, and I attend church, so I’m not a slothful Christian.
There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding about sloth, which requires some clearing up, as Pastor Joe McKeever insightfully wrote, “Sloth is not rest.
“A minister friend finally took the vacation he had been wanting for years. He and his wife rented a cabin in the Colorado mountains and for three weeks, did nothing. Now, I did not question him about it, but I know and you know they did not do nothing. They slept and rose and ate and took walks and read books. They laughed and went for drives and they talked. Which sounds to me like the perfect vacation.
“There’s nothing wrong and everything right with taking a break from hard work for deep restful relaxation. The Lord told the disciples to ‘come apart and rest awhile’ (Mark 6:31)….
“A sloth is a spectator…procrastinator…prevaricator…complainer…. Half the members of the typical church never read their Bibles, attend no weekly class to learn Scripture, and are engaged in no personal ministry. They come to church occasionally and when they do, only as spectators to fill in a pew as though somehow or other, worship will ‘happen’ to them.”
The spiritually apathetic do not serve and sacrifice truly. They do not forgo entertainment for time spent in real Bible study or wrestling with issues in prayer. They do not serve in their church; or at extremity, they may be guilted into volunteering but only in that area that is least inconvenient.
The spiritually inactive do not challenge themselves or their beliefs. They avoid conversations with those who have opposing theological views. They either don’t have any close unbelieving friends because they don’t like the difficult questions that often arise, or they have many non-Christian friends to whom they never witness.
When life’s routine troubles and tragedies hit, they subtly unhinge and shear apart these believers’ fragile bones of belief that are only half-formed, have never been properly challenged and have no direct support from God.
The Sweaty, Hard Labor
Repairing and maintaining our interior life is not easy work. We have to get a ladder and climb up into the attic of our minds only to find wasp nests and warped roof trusses. We have to descend into the crawl space of our hearts to exterminate black widows and discover unpleasant surprises.
In fact, without the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible work. With the Spirit, renovation is possible, but we don’t get to kick back in the lounge chair and hope the termites go away on their own.
Paul exhorted the church toward maturity and firmness in their faith, saying, “ So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 11-15, NIV).
In this effort, we would do well to find mature believers and allow them to instruct and correct us. We ought to regularly spend time reading the Bible and learning exactly what it has to say. We must pray.
Our enemy paces outside the door in the dark. He is more than happy to unhinge everything inside us until the slightest shock makes us utterly collapse.