The Oxford dictionary defines “complacent” as “showing uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.” When I reflect on my spiritual life, that is, my walk with God, it is easy to become complacent. It is easy to become “uncritical” and settle for a certain level of progress in my life. Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, once famously said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think he was on to something.
When we fail to take time to assess, process, and see the horizon ahead, we become complacent with where we are, which means we lose sight of where we could go.
Here is where this gets tricky… are we not called to be “content”? Does not the apostle Paul tell us that he has found the secret of being content in every circumstance through Christ? Look at what Paul says.
11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13, NLT)
But being content and being complacent or not synonyms (hang tight and you’ll see why!).
Earlier in Philippians Paul combats complacency with these fighting words.
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12-14, NLT)
Paul admits that he has not “already achieved these things.” There is much of the Christian journey that he recognizes still lay ahead of him. “The authenticity of faith in Christ cannot be measured only by the intensity of one’s initial decision to receive Christ. Receiving Christ is a lifetime adventure” (G. Walter Hansen, Pillar New Testament Commentary: Philippians). “A lifetime adventure,” what an apt description of the Christian life! And like any adventure, the journey ought not to be truncated, lest the destination is lost sight of.
That’s why I have this motto, to be “content but not complacent.” For me, this is a motto for gratitude and growth. Both are equally important and fuel the other.
Without contentment, we are restless souls whose aim is driven by a faulty premise of striving to prove something. But complacency is dangerous because it makes a person idle, stalling out instead of “pressing on” (as Paul would say) toward all God has for us. We are made for more. Yet, if we succumb to complacency then we are saying we don’t believe it to be true.
Consider something else Paul said even earlier in Philippians.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6, NLT)
When is the work going to be “finally finished”? “On the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Don’t you love when the Bible spells it out like that? Our journey of growth is always underway. Whether you are five, fifteen, fifty, or one-hundred and fifty (though I doubt you are that old!), there is always more God continues to do in us. And thankfully, too! I cannot imagine if God gave up on me where I am right now. Sure, I am not where I was or who I was years ago, but I am not “there” yet either!
I am who God says I am. (I am content.) And I am becoming who He is making me become. (I am not complacent.)
Notice, too, that we have been working backward in Philippians. We sketched how Paul talks about the secret of contentment, by living through the strength Jesus gives him. Then, we trailed backward to see how Paul is motivated “to press on” beyond complacency. Lastly, we just saw how Paul previewed these sorts of themes by saying that God is the originator and the finisher of the good work He authors. This takes us back to where we started, back to Socrates’ brilliant and time-tested quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
If we want to combat complacency, we have to be contemplative and conscientious about where we are and where our trajectory is going, spiritually.
Here are 3 questions that will help us combat complacency so that, like Paul, we too might “press on” in all God has for us.
1) Do I enjoy time with God? Why or why not?
Let’s start here. Every relationship is built on the ability to be present to the other. As Christians, being present to God is a must for our vitality. But this is not just a need for our life, as we mature it actually becomes the joy of our life. I wrote about this HERE, where I suggest that the spiritual disciplines can become spiritual delights. If we are complacent, the first litmus test to check is to see if our relationship with God is our source of joy or if it is being treated like a begrudging obligation. (In short: when you think of spending time with God do you think “Yay!” or “Blah!”) Hopefully that cracked a smile for you as it did for me!
2) Am I actively listening for God’s direction in my life?
This ties closely to question number one. We probably won’t be hearing Holy Spirit’s voice or prompting if we are not, first, keeping company with God. We are talking about “active listening” after all, which entails being entirely present to the conversation. Perhaps you haven’t thought about sitting with God in this way. Consider the fact that God is always present to you. There is a constant divine conversation happening, but we only occasionally stop to join in. This isn’t said to beat you up, but to inspire you! God wants to lead us, by His Spirit, and that can only happen if we are making a rhythm of being with Him and actively listening.
Let me be perfectly candid with you: not every time I sit with God do I walk away in a spiritual high or a fresh revelation of what to do next. But that’s not why I do it anyway. I’m not chasing a high or trying to manipulate a scenario to gain direction. I am investing in a relationship–the most important relationship I’ll ever have! Sometimes I do walk away aglow with His joy or peace. And sometimes I do have a strong sense of direction. But one thing is for certain, it’ll 100% not happen by neglecting the relationship. So, am I actively listening for God’s direction in my life? Complacency will fight to keep me from this!
3) Am I afraid to take that next step of obedience?
Let’s assume I am enjoying time with God and actively listening for His direction… the chances are, at some point, I’ll receive some insight into what God’s next step is for me. There is always a next step in the journey of walking with God. It’s not called “walking with God” for nothing! What is your next step? If you don’t know, press into the spiritual disciplines and into Christian community. (Pro tip: a lot of times God uses Sunday Church services or Life Groups as a means to speak to us right where we are.) But when you receive that “next step,” whatever it is–small or big–complacency will fight to keep you from stepping into it. We are meant to be pilgrims–a people who are being led through the metaphorical “wilderness” of this life into the greater promised land. Every step that God puts in front of us is meant to lead us and change us along the way.
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105, NLT)
The Enemy of our souls wants us to stop the journey altogether. But to combat complacency means to assess, process, and take action! Maybe you take some time to journal and reflect and you discover that God has given you your next step but you are afraid to take it. That’s okay to admit! But now it’s time to do something about it. Complacency is waiting to strap you down, but God’s Spirit is ready to make you advance. Awareness of your fear is the only way to address it. So, where do you go from here? You take that next step. Depending on what that is it might mean leaning even more into your community of faith in order to take it! But whatever it is, walk forward in confidence and away from complacency. Your faith adventure depends on it!