What is Spiritual Apathy?
Apathy means “I don’t care.” It’s not the same as ignorance (“I don’t know”), complacency (“I am satisfied with my current status”), or laziness (“I don’t feel like doing anything”). Overlap often exists between these vices, but Christians are wise to single out spiritual apathy and prepare it for the slaughter.
COVID–19 chaos is partially responsible for inducing spiritual apathy among many professing Christians. The major disruption of church attendance routines, among plenty of other disruptions, has many believers falling into a sense of apathetic stupor, a lack of concern for the things of God and the care of the soul.
A Christian who may have been focused on diligent personal prayer, Bible study, and Christian service just six months ago might today feel totally numb toward Jesus and his mission in the world.
He’s not an ignorant Christian. He knows what to do and he knows that God exists and is worthy of worship. He knows that he should pray, read Scripture, sing, and serve. But, in spite of his knowledge, soul-level numbness prevails (the kind of numbness people feel after a seven-hour TV binge).
He’s not a lazy Christian. Before COVID–19, he was active in the spiritual disciplines and Christian service. But the rapid changes of recent months have dried up his concern for the things that matter most. He just finds himself not caring anymore.
The problem with Spiritual Apathy.
But spiritual apathy is deadly for the soul. Speaking through the prophet Hosea, God rebuked the Israelites for spiritual apathy:
But when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. (Hosea 13:6)
How could they forget the God who delivered them from Egypt and fed them in the wilderness? It seems spiritual apathy can creep in unnoticed, even when God is working in powerful ways. In the New Testament, James hints at the problem of spiritual apathy when he says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Notice the problem is not ignorance, since he knows what to do, but apathy—he just doesn’t care.
It would help every Christian to study these and the many other scriptures that deal with the problem of spiritual apathy (like Amos 6:1–4).
To help Christians fight and overcome this vice, here are three actions that will help.
Admit your apathy and take it to the cross.
When people don’t care, it’s hard for them to admit it. Why? Because, really, they just don’t care. See how that works? In fact, if you’re reading this article, it means you must care, at least a little. Fully apathetic people are not reading this article or any other Christian article.
Maybe you’re reading because you have a sense that you’re sliding toward apathy, which can be scary. Maybe you’ve noticed that you don’t care as much about the things of God as you once did. If you’ve noticed this, it’s a really good thing. You can’t deal with a problem unless you’ve properly identified it for what it is.
Once you recognize it, though, you’ve got to take action. And the first action for the believer is always faith—faith that what Jesus did on the cross is sufficient to forgive your apathy and make you holy.
While Jesus was on the cross, many in the crowds were apathetic. Some came for entertainment or to mock Jesus, but others just went about their business without giving the crucifixion of Jesus a second thought. They honestly didn’t care. Jesus was dying for those people, too. He gave himself for the apathetic who didn’t even notice the monumental sacrifice that was being made. Christ cares about people who do not care about him.
Just like every other sin, apathy needs to be confessed, and apathetic people need to repent. The blood of Jesus is sufficient to wash away the sin of apathy, just like it is sufficient to cleanse us from every sin. Steps 2 and 3 in this list will be nothing but legalistic, self-righteous effort unless the gospel is understood and applied to this sin.
Fight apathy with effort.
Having cast our apathy on Christ and received his saving grace in return, there must be real effort on our part. Effort does matter. But, having rested our souls in the grace of the gospel, our effort must be the kind that is empowered by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:11).
To fight apathy with effort, I suggest listening carefully to gospel preaching. One or two sermons from sound biblical preachers every day can do wonders for the soul! This “medicine” works for all kinds of spiritual maladies. God uses the fearless proclamation of his precious Word to help us slaughter all kinds of sins, including spiritual apathy.
On Sunday mornings, listen to your own pastor preach (tell him he’s your favorite preacher and that you’d rather listen to him than anyone else). On Monday, listen to a full—not half—John Piper sermon. Just pick one; you can’t go wrong. That evening, listen to John MacArthur. On Tuesday morning, find a David Platt message. Later on, meander over to Alistair Begg’s website and give him your ear for a bit. On Wednesdays, find Tony Evans and Tim Keller. On Thursdays, maybe you can listen to some of the lesser-known but very powerful lights, like my friend Eric Roberts, pastor of First Baptist Church Hoover, Alabama.
Enough of the hypothetical scheduling. You see the point. We have so much soul-stirring preaching available to us constantly. Do we see the importance of it and how God may use it to reshape our desires for his glory?
Force Strong Preaching.
Notice that apathetic Christians need to force themselves to listen to preaching. This is a gospel-based forcing, but it is forcing nonetheless.
Just as a glutton should force himself to exercise and quit eating so much, so an apathetic Christian must force himself to feed regularly on the preached Word. It’s not because he loves to hear sermons. After all, his problem is spiritual apathy. He would much rather watch another mind-numbing show than listen to preaching. It’s not about wanting it (at least not at first). It’s about doing what he knows will conquer the apathy that has overtaken his soul.
Force meaningful prayer.
Just as Bible intake must often be forced during seasons of spiritual apathy, so must prayer. Forcing prayer is a way of wrestling with God: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26).
You may not care about praying right now, but you must push yourself to get alone with God. You must urge yourself to clear your mind of clutter. From the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within you, you should shove yourself into a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. And make yourself pray the 23rd Psalm in personal ways: “Oh God, though I’m so apathetic and unenergetic about you these days, yet I know you are my Shepherd, and I know you lead me through the valley of the shadow of death,” and so on.
Prayer—real prayer—can be impossibly difficult at times, especially for those who are spiritually apathetic. Like cling-pressing three hundred pounds, it can take everything you’ve got to utter one faith-based, sincere sentence to God. But there’s only one way to clean-press, and there’s only one way to pray. You just have to do it. There are no shortcuts.
You Can Overcome Spiritual Apathy through Christ
The devil would love to sift you like wheat (Luke 22:31). He would love to devour you like a lion rips into its prey (1 Peter 5:8). He would love for you to be so spiritually apathetic that you are never useful in God’s kingdom again. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Why should you let apathy win the battle and give the devil a foothold? Why should you let COVID–19 chaos steal your joy in the Lord?
Right now, you can make your decision to flee to the cross of Christ and cast your apathy upon him. You can repent of apathy and bask in his grace, being renewed in the inner man. You can force yourself to listen to your first sermon and take your “medicine” and push yourself into prayer, calling out to God to release you from the chains of apathy. Right now, you can fight and—with God’s help—win this spiritual battle.