Have you ever found yourself in the not-so-wonderful “Land of Off”? It is a spiritual state more than a place. When I find myself in the Land of Off. I am “off” my game. I am “off” myself. Worst of all, I am “off” from Papa, my Heavenly Father.
When I am “off” my spiritual sensitivity is missing in action. My conversation with the Lord is reduced to some pro forma blather. I tend to fall back into a very common lifestyle, really no different than that of the world. It is a life of some compromise wherein I become conformed to the unbelievers with whom I am associating. Therein lies a common thread.
The context for “off” almost always finds me alone in the company of unbelievers for an extended period of time. For me this may be playing tournament softball, especially tournaments out of town, and/or fishing/golfing trips with my old high school buds, whom I love and have known for over 50 years. These are people who know I am a Christ-follower, or at least a man of prayer/faith. Some have heard the story of my transformation to Jesus. They are either nominal believers or not at all, either way they are not interested in God-talk. I am not one to push. I have been one who pushed, but no more. It doesn’t work. I have watched with great discomfort as other Christians have pushed their faith. Ugh. In any event, by the time I have been a week in that context without any spiritual input or conversation I find myself firmly planted in the Land of Off. That’s when “the man behind the curtain”, aka the accuser of the brethren, takes over. The accusations begin to roll in. And, for years I have tended to simply give in to the condemnation that comes from within… “You are weak, fleshly and are a terrible witness for Christ to your friends.” I would beat myself up until I could get home, go through some kind of repentance to deal with the guilt, and get back into my routine.
I just returned from just such a week. In fact, it was both fishing and softball, both major groups of friends who are predominantly unbelievers. The perfect storm. However, this time as I was mulling over my sad state and began to thank God for my return home, while feeling diminished before Him. Then the Holy Spirit broke in. It is as if He said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Ah yes, the accuser of the brethren who accuses night and day whose primary tools are guilt and shame that he deftly employs to isolate us from the Lord.
As I mused I was struck by the thought that Jesus Himself was somewhat diminished, if you will, by His association with those in His own hometown of Nazareth. According to Mark, Jesus “was amazed(astonished, shocked) at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:1-6) The very Son of God was so surprised by the contempt that His friends, neighbors and even His own family had for Him that He could do very little in the way of signs and wonders. “A prophet has not honor in his own hometown.” Or, as the worldly adage goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” If Jesus was negatively impacted by the lack of faith of those around Him how much more must I expect the same. The pupil is not greater than the teacher.
I am not blaming my unbelieving friends. Nor am I suggesting that I have no responsibility for being conformed in speech and/or conduct while living in their midst. But, my decision to be in their company for an extended period of time carries a great risk of compromise. It is not a neutral spiritual environment, there is no such thing. When with them I am in enemy territory, isolated and therefore vulnerable. It is not that they are evil, rather they simply have no sense of the continual battle of good versus evil and its many manifestations. The isolation from Godly influence makes me vulnerable.
So what are my options? I can choose to cut off future association with these friends and teammates. In so doing I will remove the risk of returning to the Land of Off and will thereby preserve my own spiritual health. In all honesty, that is not an option for me. I like these people, I love many of these people. I care about them. I will not reject them to save my own skin. I did that once when I first believed. It was necessary for I would have certainly fallen away from Jesus had I continued to live the lifestyle that my unbelieving friends embraced some 50 years ago. But, now that I have walked with the Lord for these many years the danger of rejecting Jesus is all but unimaginable. While I may find myself in the Land of Off from time to time, I will not allow that experience to drive me away from these beloved lifetime friends. Also, aren’t we commanded to take the good news to the world?
So what then? By the grace of God, not just unmerited favor, but the empowerment to see through the devices of the evil one, I am now armed with a new perspective. Understanding always seems to bring a measure of peace. Am I relieved from the responsibility to walk in a manner worthy of Christ? Of course not. But, neither do I need to give into the accusations of the evil one and/or his minions. Rather than simply hoping that the next time will be different, something akin to doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, I can now see the battle a little more clearly which allows me to prepare accordingly. As with any battle, a strategy is required. If any man lacks wisdom… ask. I must gain the necessary wisdom and insight to employ the full armor of God effectively in whatever circumstance I find myself. I may well take a hit, I may be wounded, but I will not die. I need not heed the accusations hurled at me from below and meekly sink into the Land of Off. No, I need to fight back realizing that “no weapon formed against me shall prosper”. I need to form a real strategy before placing myself in that context again. (A subject for another blog.)
It is important to note that even Jesus’ own brothers doubted Him and spoke to Him in sarcastic tones, even though He was their older brother. (John 7:1-9) Yet, later at least two of them not only believed but became important cogs in the early church, James and Jude. My hope is that my “brothers” will, also, one day believe and follow Jesus. To that end I will continue to venture into the Land of Off, but now armed with a fresh awareness, a renewed hope and a strategy supplied by the Holy Spirit via the grace of the Lord. Amen.