The signs of a slumbering soul

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Spiritual lethargy has always been a problem that faces the church, argues Stuart Blount.

We all know that sleep is important, and usually get reminded of that fact when we miss out on a good night’s sleep and feel the effects throughout the day until we can slide under the duvet once more.

The Harvard Women’s Health Watch recently produced an excellent article outlining the benefits of sleeping well.

It said that sleep was essential for us as humans in several ways: for learning and memory, metabolism, weight, safety, mood and cardiovascular health, as well as helping the body fight off a range of other diseases.

I once asked some friends what conditions mattered most for them to get a good night’s sleep. The results included: silence, darkness, comfort and routine.

These would probably be very common answers.

However, it is the opposite of this I am really writing about.

This article is about awakening, and I want to ask how we can ensure we don’t sleep well! How do we avoid finding ourselves in a state of spiritual slumber? Spiritual lethargy has always been a problem that faces the church.

I wonder if it’s true also that a lack of true attentiveness to God hinders the advance of the church in the UK in the 21st century.

Indifference and apathy to a fervent relationship with God among Christians means that the church and its leaders spend more time trying to stir devotion and passion than we do reaching and transforming our decaying society.

The longing of God is for a people who are truly AWAKE to him! This really comes across as God speaks to Israel through the prophet Isaiah.

God is seeking to stir his people to look to him once more from the kind of awakening that will change the very heart of the nation:

“Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength.

Put on your garments of splendour, O Jerusalem, the holy city.

The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again.

Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.

Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter Zion”

(Isaiah 52:1-2)

God is telling them that their captivity is a result of their slumbering souls.

They have allowed indifference and apathy to overtake them, and as a result feel God has abandoned them.

There is a deep sadness when God’s children drift into a state of spiritual slumber, where church attendance just keeps them ‘ticking over’ but doesn’t stir a deepening relationship with God as Father.

“But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God” (Romans 13:11 from The Message).

I saw a news report recently with a traffic camera picture showing a man asleep in his car with his head and arms resting on the steering wheel, whilst driving on the inside lane of a dual carriageway.

Cars were having to manoeuvre around him to continue their journey.

Church can be like that too! There are times when we have to manoeuvre around sleeping believers to navigate the direction God would have us go in.

It’s not even unusual among first-century followers of Jesus.

“When he (Jesus) rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.

‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them.

‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation,’”

(Luke 22:45-46)

 If we are to truly see awakening, I am convinced we each need to deal with the signs of slumber in our own souls.

I come back to the things my friends said were important for them to get to sleep at night and suggest to you they represent the very things we need to avoid in our spiritual life.

SILENCE: When we are no longer hearing the promptings of the Spirit in our lives, we may be spiritually sleeping.

When we are not opening the Scriptures to stir us and encourage us, we are in danger of missing what God wants to say to us and do in and through us.

DARKNESS: Living with a compromising lifestyle is something Paul challenged when he wrote to the church in Ephesus.

He wanted them to walk in the light and not hide away in the darkness.

To “live as people of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

COMFORT: How often are we unwilling to sacrifice our self-interest and pursue the very best God has for us? True awakening is a costly thing as we see in the lives of men and women God so greatly used in the past.

ROUTINE: Many of us have learned to depend upon church patterns or religious routines for our devotional encounters with God, when the promised life of the Spirit is not limited to our church gatherings but he longs to fill every moment and experience of our lives with purpose and power.

Our longing for awakening will ask something of each of us and not just our leaders. Every move of God started with people who were hungry and thirsty for more of God. People who cried out to God for an outpouring of his presence.

Like the psalmist who committed to seek after God in the place of worship for a fresh awakening:

“My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul.

Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth”

(Psalm 108:1-5).

Stuart Blount has been a member of the National Leadership Team since 2006 and was appointed Director of Ministry in 2016. He has served in the Elim ministry since 1987 and pastored churches in Swansea, High Wycombe and Birmingham. He is married to Amanda and they have three grown-up children and three grandchildren.

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