“You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” – Revelation 3:17 MSG
Oh, Lord; them’s fightin’ words.
In truth, I was drawn to this passage of Scripture today because I wanted to explore what seems like the opposite of gratitude: apathy. It seemed like a clever and haughty spin for the pre-Thanksgiving timeframe; after all, I am nothing if not a grateful person *pats self on back*. Here was the perfect opportunity to find the speck of dust in your eye while ignoring the plank in my own (Matthew 7).
The church in Laodicea is described as being neither hot nor cold. Because of the threat of Domitian, the reigning Roman emperor, the Laodiceans were in the uneasy and frightening position of losing their livelihood if they held firm to their confessed faith in Jesus. Much like the rich, young ruler whom Jesus loved, wealth was too much to give up for a life of freedom and abundance in Christ. But unlike this man, the Laodiceans seem to be trying to have it both ways, holding onto their hope in Jesus in one hand while closing their fist around a stack of Benjamins in the other.
Their “whatever” response to God is so disgusting to him that it makes him want to spit.
The Laodiceans were a wealthy community, and turning their backs on the emperor meant having to give up a plush and comfortable life. I can relate to their anxiety; in an inflationary economy, the powers beyond my control are raising prices, making it harder to live as lackadaisically as I do when cash flow is abundant.
With my checking account squeezed and gas prices rising, the discomfort of just getting by can turn my heart one of two ways. Either the relative suffering (you know, canceling Netflix *gasp*) will make me bitter, apathetic, and cynical because of all I’ve had to give up, or it will spawn creativity, gratitude for and generosity with all that God has provided.
But I really like Netflix, God!
The solution to their (ahem, my) apathy, is to run after God. “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you,” John writes in Revelation 3:20.
I know it’s scary to give up the fistful of Benjamins (who am I kidding; they’re at most a couple of twenties). I know. But if God is standing at the door, and if you hear him calling, and you just keep doing what you feel like you have to do to get by, apathy will rule. God promises that if you open the door to that knock, he will come right in. He will sit down and dine with you. The God of love, peace, compassion, mercy, and abundant life will have a seat at the table with you. You will share a meal with the Lord of the Universe! Which is better, Netflix or abundant life?
(Maybe don’t answer that just yet.)
The call is to value the things of God over the things of man. From that posture, we are then able to be grateful in all circumstances… even the ones that are frightening and require all of our faith. Isn’t that what God wants from us anyway?
“Are your ears awake?” God asks. “Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”
Points of Reflection
- What is God calling you to set down in order to answer the knock from the King of heaven?
- On the spectrum of fully self-sufficient (“I’ve got this, Jesus!”) to completely reliant on God (“I don’t need food, just give me Jesus!”) for your provisions, where do you think you fall?
For the Kids
- What makes God want to spit?
- What do you think it means to be lukewarm toward God?
Part of the letter to the Laodiceans includes instructions for what God wants the church to do. Read verse 18 closely. God tells the Laodiceans to buy three things from him: gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire, clothes designed in Heaven, and medicine for your eyes so you can really see. Journal or meditate on that message. What do you make of these items in contrast to what the material world can provide? How is God speaking through these words?
Apathy is a close cousin to the ancient concept of acedia, or spiritual sloth, which is the inability to care. In her book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life, Kathleen Norris explores the dangers of acedia and its impact on our work, our relationships, and our communities. Through her own personal narrative, Norris “preaches the practicality of love—healing, empowering, sustaining,” that wields a strong sword against the demons of apathy, acedia, and hopelessness. This is, after all, what it means to run after God – to run toward Love.