The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15
On my blog, I recently asked: “Why, even amongst Christians, are some of the most incredible statements in human history greeted with yawns of apathy?” The picture to the right gives one reason why people yawn. You can also listen to the sermon I preached on this text online.
Readers responded from all over the country and even across the ocean. Kentucky, England, Pennsylvania, Florid, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Vermont and the great state of Iowa were all represented. And I’m probably missing someone.
You can read all the responses here. I spent a lot of time considering the feedback. As a part of my analysis I put together the following summary.
This list is not great organization on my part. Items overlap with one another. Not everything on this list is of the same sort. Some points offer reasons that even Christians yawn when the Gospel is proclaimed. Others speak of non-Christians. Either way, in preparing for my sermon, it was very helpful to consider why people yawn in the face of Paul’s claim in 1 Timothy 1:15 that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
SUMMARY OF WHY PEOPLE ARE BORED ABOUT INCREDIBLE TRUTH
I generally organized the list in a way that moved from practical considerations to spiritual ones.
Christians cannot be on a perpetual high – The Christian life is a sprint not a marathon. We cannot go about life each day with our hands perpetually in the air. At points, we take things for granted. None other than Ron Weasley commented:
I would add that many times the reason I yawn (and I assume you are talking metaphorically) is that I tend to not see God in the mundane things of life. Outside of the peaks and valleys of our lives, we live pretty mundane and uneventful lives. Sure we have things to fill the time, and the mundane is perfectly fine. But in those times, it is sometimes hard to see God. It’s not that we don’t love God, nor think He isn’t there and important in our life. It’s just that nothing is pulling us.
Not a perfect analogy, but one that comes to mind and one I think you can relate to, is this. It is similar to my son being at college. I love my son to death, and would do anything for him. After all, he’s my first born, and my only boy. However, now that he is gone to college, our relationship has changed. Honestly, there are many days that go by, that I am not thinking about what he is doing and how his day went. I don’t get to come home and ask him that each day like I do my girls. It’s not that I don’t love him any less, or want that communication any less, it’s just that he is living his life and I have my own things going on. When he calls to ask for money, or we call to see how things are going, are those times that he is drawn to our mind.
Similarly, during the days when not too much interesting is going on, we are just living our lives, pretty much yawning at those incredible statements you mentioned. I don’t believe it’s because we don’t care, because we do (or at least many of us do). It may just be that we don’t see God and those statements in the mundane of life.
Another person writes:
“. . . we have known nothing else – some have grown up hearing this in Sunday school since we were very young. We know nothing else, it’s not new and exciting. We really haven’t stopped to consider if this were not the case . . .”
We think in the here and now– Obviously, this includes all unbelievers. But many Christians are not numbering their days either (Psalm 90:12). Someone who obviously has a quality older brother wrote:
I’m not focused on reality, I am fooled by the here and now. I begin to believe that this is all there is. I don’t mean that I truly doubt that there is a hope and a future, but I fail to think of that hope and future as a real and eminent series of events. I can’t mark the dates down on my calendar that I will see the LORD and the New Heaven and Earth revealed, but that reality is more sure than my next haircut, my plans for dinner tonight, or saving up for another vacation for our family. When I have that perspective as I listen to a sermon I’m eager to prepare my heart for meeting my LORD!
People are physically tired and unprepared - We are literally yawning our way through life. Part of the problem is a lack of preparation for Sunday which results in an apathetic response on Sunday. On S-A-TUR-DAY Night, We need the three b’s: bath, bed, and Bible rather than the Bay City Rollers approach.Several made this point.
After eating quick and easy (and unhealthy) foods out of convenience and downing an endless supply of coffee to keep ourselves going, is it no wonder why so many of us skid into church sideways and find it so easy to go through the motions of doing church once per week? Maybe the yawns we see are simply the result of our bodies craving rest for so long?
We have always considered Saturday night as part of our Lord’s day commitment; getting a good night’s rest by not being out late, laying out clothes and locating other items we know we’ll need, etc. Preparing our hearts with what one of my mentors termed ‘Bible, bath, and bed’ on Saturday night goes a long way toward making Sunday restful and teaching our kids that the Lord’s day is worthy of special consideration.
For me, one reason I may “yawn” is that I have not come properly prepared for receiving the Word. How many times have I rushed into the sanctuary to sit down to the “meal” that my pastor has prepared without taking time to quiet my heart, to pray that the Spirit will have His way in me, to mull over the Scripture passage in advance?
Information and glitz overload has resulted in the new boredom. A pastor from Pennsylvania points to a book I need to read.
I found Richard Winter’s little book “Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment” to ask many of the right questions and give some helpful perspective on answering them.
I found it striking how recent (relatively speaking) the word “bored” entered the English language. It is not that “boredom” is a new thing, but the way people think about it is fairly new and has been growing in the wrong direction in relation to cultural biases.
Previously, it was believed that boredom was the fault of the bored person (it was called various things like “sloth” “ennui”, “langour,” and various other terms) and called the state of the soul into question. In modern times, where the self is the center of our universe, the term used is “boring” and refers to the things that don’t (immediately) please us.
In modern culture, we are constantly trained and reinforced that our desires are the standard of good and interesting, and anything outside of what appeals to us is “boring.” To make matters worse, we are constantly reinforced in seeing only immediacy as interesting. All this reinforces the notion that people and ideas had better please us quickly if they are going to keep our attention.
Some have pointed out the “culture” is a misnomer to describe our environment. “Culture” implies “cultivation,” standards, a call to grow, change, and develop. How many things in our “culture” do that? How many things challenge us to recognize we are not the standard and that things are not about us?
Of course, this only feeds the natural inclinations of our flesh and what our culture teaches us only reinforces what we already want to believe – our desires are the standard by which all things are judged. Our culture is a marketing culture, that makes much of our immediate desires – and we buy into it hook, line, and sinker because it feeds us what our selfishness desires.
The unfortunate outcome of making the self the center, is that boredom must always increase if this is true and we only become smaller and smaller people. It promises to get worse, until we either repent, or suffer intolerable consequences to seeing our desires as central.
Struggles with theological questions or issues causes some people to distance themselves from standing in awe of Christ– Alternative atonement models, for instance, have distracted people. It is comments like the following that make me thankful for our Wednesday night doctrinal class at The Red Brick Church.
There also may be more people than you think who are struggling with theological issues. For example I’ve had some recent discussions with people about the validity of substitutional atonement as doctrine (inspired by study of John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crosson). Many of those people don’t speak up in church, but may not agree with what’s being said. My guess is that in Stillman this is a small percentage, but I’ll bet they are there.
Idols: people have no interest in hearing that Christ came into the world to save sinners because they serve the gods of sports, entertainment or other distractions. (See Kevin DeYoung on the Dangers of Being Crazy Busy). What do we read in Jonah 2:8? Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.Dr. Chris Wright’s thoughts are worth watching.
I believe the church in America has been seduced by our own prosperity. Comfort and consumerism have successfully worked their way into church culture, with attendees often conditioned to opt for what they can get rather than what they can give. The worship style controversy is a great example.
People-centered People rather than God-centered people yawn a lot – Those who evaluate themselves by comparisons with other people rather than God will have little energy to hear the gospel. People-centeredness shows up in many ways. Those who say they don’t attend church because it is full of hypocrites show that they have the wrong standard. Others who are people-centered believe that they are on the moral high ground because they compare themselves to other people (who they perceive are beneath them). Still others who are people-centered, are too arrogant to call out to God now. They pride fully believe they can handle life’s problems. A commentator (from just up the street) wrote:
So many people think that the church is around in case they need something or if they don’t have anything better to do. Other get upset because the church is filled with sinners, but they call them hypocrites.
Some don’t want accountability or to be reminded of their sin- See the ostrich and #1. Part of the problem is that they think Christ came into the world to demand duty and make them miserable. See the post Right and Best. Remember: Choose to sin, choose to suffer.
It’s easy to point the finger and recognize the sins of others, but pointing the finger back at ourselves is tougher. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t like to be uncomfortable (agree with previous comment about technology and comfort!).
The Gospel is of little interest if it is assumed. Some think they are saved when they are not. The worst words ever will be, “Away from me, I never knew you.” See what scares me most as a pastor.
Here’s the all-too-common understanding of the gospel: “God in Christ Jesus has done all these things for me, forgiving me all my sins – past, present, and future – so I’m in. I am secure in Christ’s love, I am heaven-bound by grace through my faith in Jesus, and that’s all I need to do. The pastor said it a thousand times: I don’t need to be a Bible scholar, I don’t need to do good works, I don’t need to measure up at all – I’m forgiven, and that’s all there is to this thing. Even the pastor’s ‘trustworthy saying’ echoes my assumptions: Paul was way worse than I ever was and ever will be, so it’s all good. I wonder what’s for lunch…”
I don’t believe that’s a cynical take on the average evangelical churchgoer. I think it’s real, and it’s tragic. Because that average evangelical churchgoer may actually be missing the gospel entirely. Our “sign-the-petition” “eternal security” “gospel” is leading people to effective unbelief.
If the people in the pews thought there was a sniper on the premises, armed with deadly weaponry, stealthily waiting to pick off one or two more of the congregation, they would be waiting with bated breath for the next word out of the mouth of the most heavily-armed and battle-trained man in the room. And if they understood their role outside the church building as calling people into the battle on the side of the God of all the universe, there might be less yawning.
Basically, our people believe what we see (peace and harmony) and their everlasting “deal” with God makes Him largely irrelevant to “their” daily lives.
Lost people are blind to their need for a Savior. Those who are dead in their transgressions (Eph 2:1-3) yawn at Christ – - if they don’t get angry (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Because most people, and especially “good” people, have never had a Damascus road moment (or moments) where God knocks them down and shines a light into what their “goodness” really looks like to Him. . .
Christians aren’t willing to think about what is at stake!
[A friend’s] father passed away and she invited [us] to the memorial service. My elementary age daughter and I went. On the way home she was very upset. I thought it strange how upset – . . so I asked what was bothering her. She said, “Well, [our friend] isn’t Christian.” True. “So I don’t think her dad was Christian.” Probably not. “So that means he’s not going to Heaven.” and she was in tears. How often are we that concerned? If we really believe this, then the consequences of not believing this are dreadful and we should be working hard to reach all unbelievers. Not just supporting missions, but what about those in our close circles – friends and family members. To really believe and be passionate about this means I have some work to do. It’s easier to sit back, yawn, and just say, yah, I believe that.
A lack of prayed over, effective preaching – Only the power of the Holy Spirit opens eyes to the need for the gospel. See Are You Praying for Fire in Your Church Tomorrow?
That’s a tough job for a pastor – to remind people that they are sinners and their works are as filthy rags. It’s got to be the Holy Spirit, don’t you think?