My Dad told me a story about a time when he and a fellow sailor went snorkeling off a Hawaiian beach when they were stationed there with the Navy.
They started following an exotic fish only to realize—almost too late—that they hadn’t kept track of time. When Dad finally lifted his head out of the water, what he saw terrified him.
The beach was so far away as to be barely visible.
A few minutes of distraction almost cost them their lives, but both of them made it back safely, though exhausted.
It occurred to me recently that something similar often happens spiritually, but with much more tragic consequences.
Have you ever watched someone walk away from God?
A once-devoted follower of Jesus who worshiped him passionately now avoids speaking of him.
It’s a terrible thing.
Occasionally, I suppose, it happens with one big splash, some kind of all-of-the-sudden loss of faith that leads to desertion. Maybe it’s a catastrophe that creates doubt that wasn’t there before, or at least wasn’t recognizable.
But more often it happens another way. It begins slowly with a few tentative steps away from God. They’re not noticeable at first, maybe not even to the one taking them.
If not checked, however, a believer finds himself so far from shore that he no longer has the strength or will to make it back.
That’s why the Bible has warnings like this one:
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).
Maybe our first tendency is to do what I did above—think about a friend or family member who’s drifted.
But a more appropriate response is to look inward.
Some Christians let down their guard—not much, perhaps, and maybe no one else even knows. Just a little more relaxed attitude toward sins that used to bother them, or perhaps a lesser commitment to spiritual things like worship and prayer.
Does that ever describe you?
“Pay much closer attention,” the Bible warns, “lest you drift away.”
Perhaps this passage should lead us today to conduct a sort of spiritual checkup.
How’s my relationship with Jesus?
How’s my devotional life?
How am I treating people?
Is my worship spontaneous and sincere or rote and ritualistic?
We all go through spiritual down times, of course, and being at a low point doesn’t mean we’ve lost our faith.
But it probably means that we need to look back toward the Lord, pray to him, and ask him to turn our hearts toward him again.
The best time to stop a drift is soon after it starts, before it gathers momentum. If you look around today and notice signs of distraction, turn back quickly.
Don’t let yourself get too far away from shore. That can be deadly.