Diminishing Spiritual Returns

The physical world and the spiritual world often run along parallel lines. What is true in the one is often true in the other. In the physical world for example we all know about diminishing returns, and it is not just the Second Law of Thermodynamics which testifies to this.

We get a great cup of tea the first time we use a tea bag, and can often get an acceptable second cup, maybe even a third. But by the time you get to the tenth cup or so you barely have coloured water. We see this all over the place. A white picket fence will not be white for too long if not tended to.

A nice tidy lawn will eventually become a bed of weeds if not regularly dealt with. A rusty tin roof will eventually be no roof at all. Things wear down, get less usable, and lose their purposefulness. This can and does happen quite often in the spiritual arena as well.

Great moves of God or powerful works of the Spirit eventually peter out, or get sidetracked, or lose their vitality.  Sadly church history is full of examples of this. A powerful move of God can soon wane and disappear altogether. A spiritual second law of thermodynamics almost seems to be in operation.

Of course this need not be, and should not be. But the commencement of a spiritual move is a different matter from its continuation. What begins with great promise can easily get off the rails if spiritual care is neglected. We all know of examples of this.

One example took place in Canberra recently. The annual National Prayer Breakfast has been held in the nation’s capital for some 25 years now. Put on by the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, it was once a high point of the Christian calendar.

In the early days the main speakers were solid, Bible-believing Christians. They would deliver powerful, Scripture-based messages, and there was no doubt that this was a distinctly Christian event. But that has not been the case as of late. Indeed, in the past few years this has seemed to be more of an interfaith service than anything specifically Christian.

I have written up the past several years of the NPB, with its decidedly dumbed-down content, and indeed, a deliberate embrace of both interfaith and multi-faith foolishness:

Things were little better this year. The Sunday evening speakers were a mixed bag, with some giving a more or less Christian message, while others offered some pretty mushy spirituality. One even went on about other faiths, even atheism, and also said that Jesus was basically just a good moral teacher. Of course that is simply the stuff of theological liberalism.

But the real highlight of the weekend is the Monday morning breakfast – at least it is supposed to be. However, the past few years have been real fizzers, as I have already documented. Lately the whole thing has simply become a place for social workers to explain their work.

Now there is nothing wrong with social work, and this year and the previous year both breakfast talks featured women who are involved in various social activities in Africa. Both are very good works indeed. But recall what this is supposed to be.

It is supposed to be the National Prayer Breakfast sponsored by the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship. But one would never have guessed this. The past few years could easily have been called the National Social Work Breakfast by the Parliamentary Humanist Fellowship.

True, at least this year there may have been an actual 3 or 4 minutes of prayer, in contrast to about 1 minute last year. But in terms of speakers, last year we gained only the slightest impression that this person and her work were to be considered somewhat Christian.

This year there was absolutely no way of knowing this. The person works for a nominally Catholic social action group, but during her entire talk there was not the slightest indication that she was a Christian or that she considered her work to be Christian.

Not once was God mentioned. Not once was Jesus mentioned. Or the Spirit. Or the Bible. Or anything even remotely to do with the Christian faith. Nor was there even one phrase of Scripture mentioned. In other words it was a 100 per cent secular address on a basically secular topic.

Now don’t get me wrong – as I said, it sounds like a very worthwhile work she is doing. But my point is this: if this is now solely about showcasing secular social work programs, fine. But why in the world pretend it is in any way a Christian breakfast any longer?

Why not just chuck the Christian angle out altogether, and let any atheist, secularist or humanist do their thing each year with the breakfast? This was after all supposed to be something to do with Christianity. But judging by the most recent speakers, no one would even know this.

It is not even clear that this woman is a Christian. She certainly never once spoke of her faith or Christianity. Again, if the organisers want to turn this into an annual Humanist get-together, fine, but just be up front about it please. Stop the pretence of this actually being a specifically Christian event.

So which way for the future? It seems only two options present themselves. Either it continues this downward slide, and soon finds itself out of action altogether, or it goes back to its roots, and recaptures its Christian nature. Judging by the decline in numbers over the past few years, it looks like this whole thing is just going to die out.

People vote with their feet, and when they see things advertised one way, but in actuality turn out another, they eventually lose interest and stop showing up. If things continue on as they have been for the past few years, then to be honest I say good riddance. There are already far too many mushy and content-less interfaith and humanist meetings being held all over the place. We don’t really need any more of them.

Or, by God’s grace, and by some concerted action and decisions by some solid Christians, this event can go back to its roots, and reclaim its original vision, purpose and calling. I hope that is the case. We can pray toward that end. But as in the natural world, these things just do not come about by themselves.

We have to work at it. We have to go against the grain. To maintain spiritual vitality and freshness does not happen by itself. It has to be strived for, worked toward, and prayed through. Any great endeavour for God is the combination of his Spirit working, and our active engagement and commitment.

There are no short cuts in the Christian’s spiritual life, or in the church or para-church realms. Any activity that will glorify God and bear precious fruit must be worked at, sweated over, and prayed through. Otherwise things will simply continue to go downhill.

As A.W. Tozer has put it, “The bias of nature is toward the wilderness, never toward the fruitful field. . . . What is true of the field is true also of the soul, if we are but wise enough to see it. The moral bent of the fallen world is not toward godliness, but definitely away from it.”

This is also true of Christian ministries, activities and endeavours. Please pray for those who are part of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship. They are all already quite busy simply being politicians. We applaud them for trying to bring together the Christians in Parliament.

But they need prayer and vision if they are to recapture the original rationale for the NPB. It was once a mighty Christian annual event in Canberra. It can be again, if the will, the desire, the commitment, and the prayer is there. So keep praying. And if you know of some of these folks, please drop them a line, encouraging them as well.

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