And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11–12)
Sluggishness in a runner signals danger to a coach. Something isn’t right. Something is causing ambivalence, draining confidence. The runner is losing heart. Half-hearted running is a forerunner to quitting.
That’s when a caring coach intervenes. Every athlete, even a premier one, loses focus or desire and at times wants to give up in the stress and strain of training and competition. I have never heard of a successful athlete who didn’t have a coach who pushed him (or her) when he got discouraged, lost confidence, wanted to quit — pushed him beyond what he thought possible.
The best coaches don’t just encourage; they also exhort. They come on strong. They get angry if they must. They warn against the dangers of foolishness, indolence, or losing resolve. And that’s because they know that humans are not only motivated by reward, we are also motivated by fear. It’s how we are designed. God is the ultimate reward (Hebrews 11:26) and the ultimate terror (Luke 12:4–5) and we are equipped to understand, be awed by, and be motivated by both aspects of him.
And Jesus is the best, most caring coach there is. When we are injured, helpless, legitimately tired, or ashamed, our Coach is almost always comforting and encouraging (Matthew 12:20). But he also loves us enough to get in our face when we need it. And that’s usually what we need when we feel sluggish.
Spiritual sluggishness is a manifestation of unbelief. It’s a sign that there’s something about God that we doubt and it’s draining our hope, which means it’s draining our energy and drive. We’re not giving it all we have because we doubt it’s worth the effort.
When we feel like this we typically want an arm around the shoulder and a gentle word of understanding and commiseration. What we typically need are loving reproofs, like these:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12)
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. (Hebrews 4:1)
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26–27)
Spiritual sluggishness is not to be tolerated; it’s to be fought. It’s potentially a faith-race abortifacient (Hebrews 3:19). It’s a weight that needs to be laid aside (Hebrews 12:2). So how do you do that?
- Identify the doubt. Sluggishness has a cause. What is sapping your faith?
- Repent. Unbelief is a sin. Seek to actively turn from it.
- Target that unbelief with biblical truth. Stop whatever else you may be doing for devotional reading and focus on and pray through texts that deal directly with this issue. Lay aside your other book reading and read things that address this doubt.
- Don’t go it alone. Humble yourself and share your struggle with trusted counselors God has given you. Our great Coach often speaks through assistant coaches (Hebrews 3:13).
Spiritual sluggishness is common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). We all experience it. In the slog of our long faith-race and the adversity we encounter from the world, our flesh, and the devil (Ephesians 2:2–3), there are times the reward gets obscured by confusion and discouragements.
Though we may not want them, these are when we most need our Coach’s exhortations. They may sting, they may humble us, but they are laced with mercy because they help clear our muddled minds, shake off the lethargy, and run again with endurance.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)