How to Avoid Spiritual Decline

Ever heard of Murphy’s Law? It states, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” There are also corollaries to that law such as, “if there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong,” or “if everything seems to be going well you have obviously overlooked something,” and finally, “left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.”

That last statement is not pessimistic negativity. It is actually a universal principle called “entropy.” The basic theory of entropy is simply that everything is always proceeding toward a state of greater disorder and degeneration. In the natural realm, it is called the second law of thermodynamics. Just take a look in your teenager’s bedroom or at the weeds in your lawn. That should assure you that this concept is true!  

As I thought about this principle, I related it our spiritual life. Spiritual entropy is a very real problem for all Christians. The Bible says we are to “keep on growing in knowledge and understanding” (Philippians 1:9) and growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Life in Christ is to be dynamic, vibrant, and deepening, not static or lethargic. But entropy is always operating and, if not reversed, results in believers withering spiritually as we age.

Spiritual movement is either forward or backwards. There is no middle “maintenance” mode. We might feel like we are maintaining a holding pattern but we are in fact slipping backwards. Like a melting glacier, it may imperceptibly take place over a long time, but we are gradually eroding.

To use another analogy, think in terms of muscles in your body. Physical muscles are like spiritual muscles. We exercise them and go through the discipline of working them to achieve a certain degree of strength. If we do nothing, the law of entropy takes over and muscles atrophy. We may think we are maintaining but in reality, we weaken as time passes. In order to just maintain our physical strength, we have to work at it.

Perhaps this explains why in many churches, the senior saints have far less enthusiasm and passion for the Lord than younger believers. It is not just a function of age. Somewhere along the way spiritual entropy sets in, gradually sapping spiritual vitality.

It’s easy to deceive ourselves into thinking it hasn’t happened to us. Those of us who are older in the Lord can comfortably rest on our spiritual laurels—to bask in the hallowed glow of yesteryear when we were more active in service and more zealous for the Lord and His Word. Perhaps inadvertently we substitute growing old in the Lord for growing up in the Lord.

All believers, young or old, can be guilty of this. Lush seasons of growth that came about during a recent youth mission trip or a challenging service project can turn into the drought of inaction. Spiritual lethargy and sloth can characterize our souls at any age.

So how do we deal with this? Here’s the key: entropy is stopped and reversed when fresh energy is infused. That applies to any endeavour—from cleaning a room to pulling the weeds. In our spiritual walk entropy ceases as we recognize what’s happening to us and exert the energy to get growing again. Weakening is reversed by repenting of our condition and seeking the Spirit’s power on an ongoing basis. It is fought by heeding the exhortation given to the Ephesian church to begin again to do the work it takes to grow spiritually. “Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).

In his poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” Dylan Thomas urges his aging father to continue with the intensity for life he had previously. His words apply to our spiritual life and the deadly pull of spiritual entropy.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Every day we have a battle to fight. We cannot go gently into the night of spiritual entropy. We have to rage on against it and the deterioration of our spiritual vitality. We must persistently combat the inclination to be lazy couch potatoes when it comes to our faith.  We need to struggle and rage against drifting into spiritual powerlessness letting the light of godly passion die out.

If Murphy’s Law and the law of entropy are right, then we are losing ground by doing little or nothing. Don’t go gently. Start raging today.