Complacency falls softly, even pleasantly, on a sleeping soul. It’s the secret to its appeal and power over us. The complacent crave comfort, quiet, ease — an inner life resembling a calm lake just after sunset. The birds have fled, the fish descended, the other animals have hidden themselves away for the night. Even the water stops to rest. Serene. Peaceful. Undisturbed.
Complacent people may still do a lot of things — just not what matters most, what requires more of us. Few of us, of course, think of ourselves as complacent. Life is “full” and “hard” and often overwhelming. But underneath there’s an eerie stillness — not the stillness of peace and security and joy, but of a spiritual stagnancy. Like a child in a car seat during rush hour, the harried rhythms of life slowly lull our souls to sleep.
The Bible stays closed for days at a time. Prayers are quicker and less frequent. We keep one eye on our email, our texts, our feed. Conversations linger near the surface and feel inconvenient. Excuses multiply for missing church. Needs around us go unnoticed. We go to sleep and wake up anxious and distracted, and we’re not sure why. The spiritual seas within us go from restless to sluggish to dormant.
Unless, of course, God lovingly sends a storm to awaken us:
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. . . .
The pastoral charge in Hebrews 10:24–25 can easily become so familiar that it’s no longer provocative. The storm it describes can begin to sound more and more like a gentle breeze.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The Greek for “stir up” means “to provoke” or “to agitate.” The same word is used just one other time in the New Testament, and it’s used (surprisingly) to describe the “sharp disagreement” that arose between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:39). There’s a kind of sharpness in the imagery. Shake one another, unsettle one another, upset one another — with a holy interruption — until love spills over and good works spring to life.
“Shake one another, unsettle one another, upset one another until love spills over and good works spring to life.”
Why reach for such strong language to describe ordinary life together in the church? Because, like any good preacher, the writer of Hebrews knows how easy it is for any of us to settle into lives of little love and few good works. He knows how deeply and regularly we need brotherly storms to keep our souls alert and alive to God.
First Step in Good Stirring
How do we send these brotherly storms in love? The first step in stirring one another up may be so obvious we miss it. It comes in the next verse: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some. . . .” The first step in stirring up one another is simply to see one another face to face — to consistently gather in the same place with the explicit purpose of enjoying and obeying Jesus.
Many of us tasted the painful absence of this over the last couple of years during lockdowns and social distancing. We tried hard to bridge the gap with technology, but we all felt its inadequacy. One of the many good lessons God was teaching us amid all the confusion, tension, loss, and heartache was that we need to be stirred, we need more than Zoom calls and livestreams, we need to meet. God has given presence a soul-stirring power that texts and screens cannot replace.
And yet some, then and now, neglect the gift and necessity of presence. Why had some made a habit of avoiding the gathering? The excuses may have been many and varied, but they likely shared a common root: some unrepentant sin (next verse, Hebrews 10:26). They knew deep down that sin went to church to die, and so they found ways to stay away from church. Maybe it was secret sexual sin. Maybe it was bitterness over past hurt. Maybe it was envy over another’s marriage, or children, or home, or success. Maybe it was an idol of me-time. First, they had a bad morning and missed worship once. Then a couple times in a month. Then most of a summer. Over time, absence was no longer an anomaly, but the norm. A habit.
“The storms we all need only come when we each keep investing what it costs to meet.”
The storms we all need only come when we each keep investing what it costs to meet. Week after week, we need to be awakened. We need to be reminded that God exists. We need to be reminded that he really came in the flesh, died a sinless death in our place, and three days later broke out of the grave. We need to be reminded that all the burdens and responsibilities that feel so heavy and demanding are small and light next to our coming reward. We need to be reminded that sin will ruin us. We need to be shaken free from the sleepy spiritual fog that so easily sets in. In other words, we really need to meet.
Love Prepared for Us
When we stir one another up to love and good works, we join God in something he has been conceiving over centuries. We’re being used by God to enact a plan he outlined before the world was born. “We are his workmanship,” the apostle Paul writes, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Any good work we do today is a good work that God himself has prepared for us.
“God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). And he knew precisely what shapes and colors that holiness would take. He knew and planned the details of our love, our patience, our kindness, our generosity and hospitality. The good steps we take, with his help, are steps he placed in front of us. Before God poured the Pacific Ocean, he had planned ways for us to step in and sacrifice ourselves for others. Before God laid out the sunflower fields in Italy, he had planted needs that we would uncover and meet. Before he formed the Himalayas or carved out the Grand Canyon, he had prepared fruitful conversations for us to have, even this week.
And we get to help one another walk into those good works, works written out for us, specifically for us, before we knew what one was. In fact, our stirring others up into this Christ-like love is one of the many good works God prepared for us beforehand.
Consider One Another
Perhaps the most overlooked dimension of the command to stir one another up, however, is how personal it is: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Literally, “one another” is the object of the verb consider: “Let us consider one another . . .” Provoking one another well begins with studying one another well. It means paying close enough attention to know each other’s particular abilities and plans, temptations and fears, challenges and opportunities. These are the kinds of questions we might regularly ask as we consider one another:
- What strengths or abilities has God given you?
- What specific callings has he placed on your life?
- What other needs has God put around you?
- Who, in particular, has he called you to love? And who do you struggle to love?
- What are areas you excel in where I could affirm grace in you?
- What are areas you struggle in where I could come alongside and encourage you?
- What fears keep you from taking good risks and making sacrifices in love?
- How might God use me to help you carry out the good works he’s planned for you?
Often, just asking good questions is enough to spark the right kind of awareness, selflessness, creativity, and love. And asked consistently enough by people who love us and know us well, they can serve as something of a spiritual alarm clock, calling us out of cycles of sleepiness.
So, who stirs your heart out of the soothing calm of complacency? Whose friendship awakens the right kind of conviction, ambition, and joy? And who might need you to be that loving storm for them?