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Why checkups?

By J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom

Why do we need regular checkups of our spiritual health? During off-season, an athlete doesn’t always notice when he or she has drifted into a state of being below par; a little weight gain, a little flab on the haunch, a little more windedness at a dead run; it all goes unnoticed. Everything still feels right — and that is precisely the problem. Similarly, perfectly ordinary people, when weakened by flu or some other scourge, begin to forget what it felt like to be really well. “Didn’t I always have to lean on the chair on my way to the couch? Wasn’t I always out of breath walking to the kitchen? Yes, I guess so. Was that really I who ran laughing down the hallway just last week, then rolled around on the floor with the children? Surely not!” Being sick, or less than well, begins to feel “normal.” The same thing happens with regard to spiritual health. Just as we can begin to lose our athletic conditioning (if we ever had it), so we can begin to lose our spiritual edge, the edge that brings joy and confidence, peace, love, and productivity, and we hardly realize what has happened. Our spiritual languor begins to feel normal. What we need is the jolt of a checkup.

There are all sorts of reasons for a below-par spiritual state in which energy for God and for God’s glory is simply lacking, but its outcome is always the same. The peace, the active goodwill, and the joy that we once knew are no longer a part of our regular condition of life. William Cowper, who lived much of his life in acute depression, wrote, “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?” This question is often echoed by people who drift into a spiritual lassitude. Such folk may feel physically and mentally exhausted. Sometimes they lapse into an ongoing attitude of irritation at other people, irritation at the church, irritation at husband or wife or children or employer. Of course these symptoms may represent some medical condition or chronic exhaustion due to overwork. But whatever else is happening, these folk have come to be spiritually out of sorts, and they now need spiritual guidance for their recovery, over and above the other forms of help that they may also need.

It is our strong conviction that the guidance of God will only be reliably received by those whose hearts are right with God, and whose motivation is the glory of God — which is one sign of good spiritual health. If people who are not in good spiritual health seek the guidance of God, as many do, they are going to find frustration, disappointment, delusion perhaps, and certainly distress; for things simply won’t come right. Many books take up the subject of God’s guidance, some of them offering a wide range of excellent insights, but few speak to the prerequisite of spiritual health: that guidance from God is only to be expected when spiritually you are in good shape. This, however, seems to us a matter of crucial importance, and so we stress it here.

From Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life’s Decisions by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom (Grand Rapids, Mich.: BakerBooks, 2008). Excerpted with permission.

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