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.