Summary: We are lost in the swamp of compromise, because: 1. We value security over significance. 2. We value what is easy over what takes effort. 3. We value the material over the spiritual. 4. We value mediocrity over excellence.
John Steinbeck, winner of the Nobel Prize, decided to travel around the country he loved in order to explore and enjoy it more deeply. He was also planning on writing about his experiences in a book, but he was surprised that very few people encouraged him to go. Some even said that it was too late in life for him to do something like that. Steinbeck responded to those who wanted him to take life easy: “I had seen so many begin to pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions and gradually retire from their manhood into a kind of spiritual and physical semi-invalidism. In this they were even encouraged by their wives and relatives, and it’s such a sweet trap.” Steinbeck didn’t listen to those who wanted him to forget his adventure. He ended up driving across the country and wrote his famous book Travels with Charlie: In Search of America. Just before he left on his trip, a well known and highly respected political reporter, who was excited about what Steinbeck was going to do, told him, “If anywhere in your travels you come on a man with guts, mark the place. I want to go see him. I haven’t seen anything but cowardice and expediency. This used to be a nation of giants. Where have they gone? You can’t defend a nation with a board of directors. That takes men. Where are they?”
There is a taming of the human spirit that has taken place in our land. We have become lulled to sleep in a land of plenty. We have been caressed by the culture, and we like it. Many Christians are so complacent about their faith that they do not even practice the basic elements such as Bible study, prayer, witnessing, acts of mercy, etc., because they are so busy with the other things of life. The world around us has softened us to the place that we are just like the rest of the world. Other things have crowded our lives and demanded our time. Something other than God is now in control of our lives, and we are complacent spiritually. The adventure has gone out of our relationship with God. We have settled for something less than what we thought we would — and it’s such a sweet trap. The television and internet have hypnotized us and told us that we can live in virtual reality rather than reality itself . We take the path of least resistance and settle into spiritual apathy that says, “Why bother,” or “I’ll take care of that later.” Being ho-hum spiritually leads to being ho-hum about life. It is a loss of values.
So what can we do? We are bored in the middle of a land of affluence. What has happened to sink us in this swamp of complacency? I would suggest first that: We value security over significance. We play it safe. We want to be secure. We move away from things that threaten or disrupt our security and cause change. We choose the familiar, even if it is destructive in our lives, because at least we know how to deal with it. It is threatening to do the things that will actually give our lives meaning and significance, so we move away from them. John Steinbeck said: “We spend all our time searching for security — and then we hate it when we get it.” The problem is that we look in the mirror and see what we have become.
There is no better story to illustrate this than the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt. They knew they hated slavery — it’s no fun being beaten and worked to death. They cried out to God in their misery, but they saw no way out and only saw themselves as slaves. But Moses appeared on the scene, announcing that they were, in fact, the people of God, and that God was going to deliver them and make them into a great nation. This was something that they could not imagine, and what made it worse was that when Moses went to Pharaoh and told him to release God’s people, he only made their work harder. Moses tried to tell the people that the Lord loved them and was determined to free them, but the Bible says, “Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9).
Later, when they crossed the Red Sea and were free from their terrible and dehumanizing burden of slavery, they became afraid of their freedom. The Bible reports: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic’” (Numbers 11:4-5). At no cost? How soon they forgot that they paid for their food with grinding labor. The cost of the food was their freedom.