(Originally posted April 2016)
I’ve been pulled over a total of four times in my driving career – three of those times in the state of Vermont.
A year after getting points off of my driver’s test for stopping at a yellow light in Springfield, VT, I went through that same yellow light and got pulled over for it. Thankfully, I only received a warning and a reminder to be more careful!
15 years later, after living in Pennsylvania for over a decade, I was back in Vermont, ending an incredible two weeks of student missions. Instead of going back to PA with the group, we were going on vacation in northern VT. But first, we were headed out to breakfast with the fam.
The speed limit on most roads in rural Vermont is 50 mph. In suburban Philadelphia, though, we have approximately zero roads where the speed limit is 50. Where we live, the ‘slow’ roads are between 25 and 45 mph and the only faster roads are multi-lane highways, which are at least 55 mph. So, when we suburbanites end up on a 50 mph road, we tend to drift in one of those two directions.
On this day, I apparently thought I was on the expressway and was in total shock when I got pulled over for speeding. I had drifted right up to 65 without even noticing it! Thankfully, I again only received a warning and a reminder to be more careful…
Which was apparently not effective as less than 12 hours later, I got pulled over AGAIN! We just happened to be driving through the same town where I took my driver’s test and got my first warning all those years ago. But this time, instead of the light, I missed the sign showing the speed limit drop from 50 to 40. By some strange miracle (even after telling the officer I had already been pulled over that day) I again received a warning and a reminder to PAY ATTENTION!
Hebrews 2:1 says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” As drivers we know that it’s all too easy to drift – to allow our speed to gradually increase to unsafe levels or miss the clear signs and lights that are guiding us. And according to the writer of Hebrews, it’s just as easy to drift in our beliefs. In this passage, the writer warns readers that the even the small twists and tiny wavers of false teaching can end up causing big problems.
After over 15 years of ministry, Tim and I have experienced this sobering reality, not only in the lives of students, but adults as well.
The initial excitement of coming to know Christ or the ‘high’ of an intense spiritual experience may last for a few months or even years. During that time, everything is new – or at least comes with a new perspective. The Bible comes to life, worship songs are powerful, and your new found community of believers become your best friends. You’ve experienced God’s forgiveness, unconditional love, and now have a personal relationship with Him – it’s pretty much the best thing ever!
But, like all things, the newness wears off and the things that seemed to be so exciting and seemed to be working soon fade to ‘normal’. The overwhelming thought that you have so much to learn about God fades to ‘comfortable’. Those ‘high’ moments come fewer and farther between. The Bible – you kind of get the basic message of it all and there doesn’t really seem to be anything you haven’t heard yet. Worship used to bring you to your knees because you felt God’s nearness – but lately the songs haven’t been doing much for you. And the people you thought were the most amazing and welcoming and loving people ever? Well, they turned out to be not so amazing after all.
This is where the drift begins. Most people don’t just up and walk away – they simply start believing the small twists and tiny wavers on the truth that have slowly been creeping in. Twists like “the Bible is just a source of information,” wavers like “worship is about my personal experience,” or subtle turns like “the church exists to serve me”. It’s a gradual drift – and eventually that ‘faith’ they thought they had becomes a ‘phase’ they look back on.
Ten years ago, I took a two-year back-to-the-basics discipleship class at my church. After growing up in the church, spending my summers at a Christian camp, attending a Christian college, and working as a youth ministry director, it was easy to think I already knew it all or that there was no way I would ever drift. But taking that class revealed to me how little I actually knew about what I believed – and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
Yeah, it was intense. Yes, it was time consuming. Yep, there was homework. But it was in that class that I learned that the Bible, as God’s word, is “to be read as personal communication from Him” and seen as the place where I can constantly “discover new truths about living for Him.”* It’s where I learned that worship has very little to do with my feelings and everything to do with the fact that God desires and deserves all of my praise. It’s where I learned that “biblical community is based on the concept of giving to and receiving from other followers of Jesus.”**
Rather than just drifting through my relationship with God, I was forced to “pay much closer attention” to what I really believed, rather than being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14)
I’m sure you’re curious about that one time I got pulled over somewhere other than Vermont. It happened less than a mile from my house – on a road I drove almost every day. I was on my way to church in my ‘new mom’ days and blew right through a stop sign. I didn’t even know I had done it until I saw the flashing lights behind me!
If you’re feeling comfortable in your faith, this is your warning ticket. If it’s all starting to feel ‘normal’ and ‘everyday’, here’s your pink slip. The temptation to drift – to start believing those minor deceptions that eventually become major – is greatest when we’re close to home. So get uncomfortable – sign up for a class, find a more mature believer who will disciple you, or if you’ve already done that, find someone that you can disciple. You may think this is unnecessary, but until you start paying “much more attention,” you’ll never know what you’ve been missing!
*Design for Discipleship 2: “The Spirit-Filled Follower of Jesus” p. 48
(Check out the whole Design for Discipleship series at http://www.navigatorstores.com/)