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Rut, Rot or Revival
The Problem of Change and Breaking Out of the Status Que
By A.W. Tozer
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1993 Zur Ltd.
All rights reserved.
The Christian's Greatest Enemy
On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law, saying, The LORD our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them. (Deuteronomy 1:5–8)
In the Old Testament, the enemy that threatened Israel the most was the dictatorship of the customary. Israel became accustomed to walking around in circles and was blissfully content to stay by the safety of the mountain for a while. To put it another way, it was the psychology of the usual. God finally broke into the rut they were in and said, "Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: Turn you and take your journey" (1:6–7).
To put Israel's experience into perspective for our benefit today, we must see that the mountain represents a spiritual experience or a spiritual state of affairs. Israel's problem was that they had given up hope of ever getting the land God had promised them. They had become satisfied with going in circles and camping in nice, comfortable places. They had come under the spell of the psychology of the routine. It kept them where they were and prevented them from getting the riches God had promised them.
If their enemy, the Edomites, would have come after them, the Israelites would have fought down to the last man and probably would have beaten the Edomites—Israel would have made progress. Instead they were twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the customary to keep on being customary.
What is the worst enemy the church faces today? This is where a lot of unreality and unconscious hypocrisy enters. Many are ready to say, "The liberals are our worst enemy." But the simple fact is that the average evangelical church does not have too much trouble with liberalism. Nobody gets up in our churches and claims that the first five books of Moses are just myths. Nobody says that the story of creation is simply religious mythology. Nobody denies that Christ walked on the water or that He rose from the grave. Nobody gets up in our churches and claims that Jesus Christ is not the Son of God or that He isn't coming back again. Nobody denies the validity of the Scriptures. We just cannot hide behind liberalism and say that it is our worst enemy. We believe that evangelical Christians are trying to hold on to the truth given to us, the faith of our fathers, so the liberals are not our worst enemy.
Neither do we have a problem with the government. People in our country can do just about whatever they please and the government pays no attention. We can hold prayer meetings all night if we want, and the government would never bother us or question us. There is no secret police breathing down our backs watching our every move. We live in a free land, and we ought to thank God every day for that privilege.
Dictatorship of the routine
The treacherous enemy facing the church of Jesus Christ today is the dictatorship of the routine, when the routine becomes "lord" in the life of the church. Programs are organized and the prevailing conditions are accepted as normal. Anyone can predict next Sunday's service and what will happen. This seems to be the most deadly threat in the church today. When we come to the place where everything can be predicted and nobody expects anything unusual from God, we are in a rut. The routine dictates, and we can tell not only what will happen next Sunday, but what will occur next month and, if things do not improve, what will take place next year. Then we have reached the place where what has been determines what is, and what is determines what will be.
That would be perfectly all right and proper for a cemetery. Nobody expects a cemetery to do anything but conform. The greatest conformists in the world today are those who sleep out in the community cemetery. They do not bother anyone. They just lie there, and it is perfectly all right for them to do so. You can predict what everyone will do in a cemetery from the deceased right down to the people who attend a funeral there. Everyone and everything in a cemetery has accepted the routine. Nobody expects anything out of those buried in the cemetery. But the church is not a cemetery and we should expect much from it, because what has been should not be lord to tell us what is, and what is should not be ruler to tell us what will be. God's people are supposed to grow.
As long as there is growth, there is an air of unpredictability. Certainly we cannot predict exactly, but in many churches you just about can. Everybody knows just what will happen, and this has become our deadliest enemy. We blame the devil, the "last days" and anything else we can think of, but the greatest enemy is not outside of us. It is within—it is an attitude of accepting things as they are. We believe that what was must always determine what will be, and as a result we are not growing in expectation.
The progressive stages
As soon as someone begins talking like this, the Lord's people respond by getting busy. What I am talking about, however, is internal. It is a matter of the soul and mind that ultimately determines our conduct. Let me show you the progressive stages.
I begin with what I will call the rote. This is repetition without feeling. If someday someone would read the Scripture and believe it and would believe what is sung in the great Christian hymns, there would be a blessed spiritual revolution underway in a short time. But too many are caught up in the rote, repeating without feeling, without meaning, without wonder and without any happy surprises or expectations. In our services God cannot get in because we have it all fixed up for Him. We say, "Lord, we are going to have it this way. Now kindly bless our plans." We repeat without feeling, we repeat without meaning, we sing without wonder, and we listen without surprise. That is my description of the rote.
We go one step further and come to what I will call the rut, which is bondage to the rote. When we are unable to see and sense bondage to the rote, we are in a rut. For example, a man may be sick and not even know it. The doctors may have confided in the man's wife and said, "We don't want to frighten your husband, but he could drop any minute. He is critically ill, so just expect it at any moment." But the man himself does not know he is seriously ill. He goes about his business as though nothing is wrong. He may play golf or tennis, maybe even go on a hunting trip. He is sick, and yet he does not know how sick he really is. This may in fact hasten his end. Not knowing is risky business and full of danger. Spiritually speaking, the rut is bondage to the rote, and the greatest danger lies in our inability to sense or feel this bondage.
There is a third word, and I do not particularly like to use it, but the history of the church is filled with it. The word is rot. The church is afflicted by dry rot. This is best explained when the psychology of nonexpectation takes over and spiritual rigidity sets in, which is an inability to visualize anything better, a lack of desire for improvement.
There are many who respond by arguing, "I know lots of evangelical churches that would like to grow, and they do their best to get the crowds in. They want to grow and have contests to make their Sunday school larger." That is true, but they are trying to get people to come and share their rut. They want people to help them celebrate the rote and finally join in the rot. Because the Holy Spirit is not given a chance to work in our services, nobody is repenting, nobody is seeking God, nobody is spending a day in quiet waiting on God with open Bible seeking to mend his or her ways. Nobody is doing it—we just want more people. But more people for what? More people to come and repeat our dead services without feeling, without meaning, without wonder, without surprise? More people to join us in the bondage to the rote? For the most part, spiritual rigidity that cannot bend is too weak to know just how weak it is.
What is the church?
For clarification, what is the church? When I say that a church gets into the rote and then onto the rut and finally to the rot, what am I talking about?
For one thing, the church is not the building. A church is an assembly of individuals. There is a lot of meaningless dialogue these days about the church. It is meaningless because those engaged in the dialogue forget that a church has no separate existence. A church is not an entity in itself, but rather is composed of individual persons. It is the same error made about the state. Politicians sometimes talk about the state as though it were an entity in itself. Social workers talk about society, but society is people. So is the church. The church is made up of real people, and when they come together we have the church. Whatever the people are who make up the church, that is the kind of church it is—no worse and no better, no wiser, no holier, no more ardent and no more worshipful. To improve or change the church you must begin with individuals.
When people in the church only point to others for improvement and not to themselves, it is sure evidence that the church has come to dry rot. It is proof of three sins: the sin of self-righteousness, the sin of judgment and the sin of complacency.
When our Lord said, "One of you shall betray me," (Matthew 26:21) thank God those disciples had enough spirituality that nobody said, "Lord, is it he?" Every one of those disciples said, "Lord, is it I?" (26:22). If they would not have so responded there could not have been a Pentecost. But because they were humble enough to point the finger in their own direction the Holy Spirit fell upon them.
Self-righteousness is terrible among God's people. If we feel that we are what we ought to be, then we will remain what we are. We will not look for any change or improvement in our lives. This will quite naturally lead us to judge everyone by what we are. This is the judgment of which we must be careful. To judge others by ourselves is to create havoc in the local assembly.
Self-righteousness also leads to complacency. Complacency is a great sin and covers just about everything I have said about the rote and the rut. Some have the attitude, "Lord, I'm satisfied with my spiritual condition. I hope one of these days You will come, I will be taken up to meet You in the air and I will rule over five cities." These people cannot rule over their own houses and families, but they expect to rule over five cities. They pray spottily and sparsely, rarely attending prayer meeting, but they read their Bibles and expect to go zooming off into the blue yonder and join the Lord in the triumph of the victorious saints.
It is simply self-deception
I wonder if we are not fooling ourselves. I wonder if a lot of it is simply self-deception. I hear the voice of Jesus saying to us, "You have stayed long enough where you are. Break camp and advance into the hill country." This would be a new spiritual experience that God has for us. Everything Jesus Christ did for us we can have in this age. Victorious living, joyous living, holy living, fruitful living, wondrous, ravishing knowledge of the Triune God—all of this is ours. Power we never knew before, undreamed-of answers to prayer— this is ours. "Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land ..." (Deuteronomy 1:8). The Lord gave it to you in a covenant. Go take it—it's yours. It was given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all their seed after. Jesus prayed, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word" (John 17:20). That embraces all those who belong to the church of Jesus Christ.
If we call Him Lord, how dare we sit any longer in the rut! The Lord has called us to move on. But when people are in a rut, not even the angel Gabriel can help them if they will not come out of it. This is not an accusation but a suggestion. If you are not in a rut, don't get mad—somebody else is. But if you are in a rut you ought to get out of it.
The difference between a wooden leg and a good leg is that if you prick a wooden leg the person would never notice. The difference between a church that has dry rot and a church that is alive is that if you prick the live church it will respond. If you prick the other kind, it is already dead. The tree that stands alive has lush, green leaves. Take a knife, scar the bark deeply and the tree will bleed. It is alive. The old dead tree just stands there, a watchtower for old sentinel crows. Take your knife and dig in as far as you want to, and nothing will happen because the tree is dead.
So it is with my message. If you will get neither mad nor glad nor sad under my preaching, I know nothing can be done. But there are some who are alive, and I believe it is the majority.CHAPTER 2
Errors in Thinking
God in His condescending love and kindness often sends a Moses, or maybe a Joshua or an Isaiah, or in latter times a Luther or Wesley to show us that the work of the Lord is not progressing. Times are bad in the kingdom and getting worse. The tendency is to settle into a rut, and we must get out of it. The time has come to arise and go on from here because God's will is as broad as the land He gave to the Israelites—"in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Deuteronomy 1:7).
When God sends some preacher to say this to a congregation and the congregation is even half ready to listen to him, they say to themselves, "I think the pastor is right about this. We are in a rut, aren't we? No use fighting it. I think we ought to do something about this." Then 99.99 percent of the time the remedy prescribed will be, "Let's come together and eat something. I know we are in a rut. We don't see each other often enough. We ought to get to know each other better, so let's come together and eat something." I have no objection to fellowship, but it is not the answer to what is wrong with us.
Instead of eating, someone may suggest, "Let's make plans to go somewhere." This is another way we Protestants have of curing all the sores of Job, all the leprosy and everything that is wrong with us. We either get together to eat our way out or else we travel and get out of it.
Another person might say, "Let's come together and do something religious. The church is in pretty bad shape. Morale is low, and things are not the way they should be. We are running pretty much in a circle. Let's get together and do something." This is activism.
Someone else says, "Let's form a committee to consider it." The Baptist preacher Dr. Vance Havner says, "A committee is a company of the incompetent chosen by the unwilling to do the unnecessary." Perhaps he stated that a little too radically. There are some things committees can do, and then there are some things committees cannot do.
I am quite sure that when the man of God thundered, "You have stayed long enough in this place. You are going around in circles. Get you out and take what is given to you by the hand of your God," nobody got up and said, "Mr. Chairman, let's eat something." Eating probably would not have helped. I am quite certain that they did not get up and say, "Let's take a trip," or "Let's start another club." Starting a club is another reaction we have when we find ourselves in a rut and realize we are no taller than we were five years ago; we are no farther along than we were five years ago; we don't know any more than we did five years ago; we are no holier than we were five years ago. We simply met ourselves coming around.
If a song could be worn out, we have worn out the same old song: "Revive us again, fill each heart with Thy love." We have sung that one and nobody means it—nobody will pay the price. But we go around and around, and all we see is the other fellow's heels just ahead of us. All the fellow behind us sees is our heels. We go around and around the circle, and somebody says, "Let's start a club now."
Misunderstood the problem
Fellowship, committees and clubs are all right under the right circumstances, but this kind of an answer to that kind of a problem presupposes that those who give the answer have misunderstood the problem. There are three things they misunderstand.
First, they misunderstand the nature of Christian faith. Christian faith is inward, not outward. It is of the spirit and not of the flesh. The kingdom of God is within you, Christ dwells in your heart, and "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27) is the burning core of the Christian faith. So Christianity, the true Christian faith, is inward in nature—we are to be inwardly Christians. It is inside, somewhere in the spirit, soul and heart—the inner person?that we get into the rut. Because the problem is inward, it is ridiculous to say, "All right. The inner person, the spirit of me, the inner shrine of me, is in a rut. It isn't where it ought to be, so let's eat something."
Excerpted from Rut, Rot or Revival by A.W. Tozer. Copyright © 1993 Zur Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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