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Life-Changing Paragraphs: Mere Drift

*Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles where I asked leaders to tell me a single paragraph they read which affected the trajectory of their lives.

Q: When did you read the paragraph?

It was probably in my first year or so of college. In high school, I had some rebellious years. There was a youth leader in my church who was very helpful in swinging me out of that season. I decided to go to Kentucky Christian College. I thought it would be for one year, and then I’d figure out what I really wanted to do and I’d be gone. After the first year, I thought, Well, I might as well get my associate’s degree, and then I’m out. Ended up sticking around and getting a bachelor of theology. So it would have been during one of those first two years.

I don’t remember if C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was a class assignment or just something I had heard a lot about. I still have that copy I had that many years ago. Pages are bent; words are underlined; paragraphs are starred. I came across a particular paragraph which really resonated with me. Part of why it resonated with me is that I had an uncle who claimed he was an atheist. He thought it was stupid to believe in Christianity. But I read that passage of Mere Christianity and it made me look at everything in a whole new way.

Q: What’s the paragraph?

Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods “where they get off” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.”

Lewis goes on to explain that “training the habit of faith” means that we recognize that our moods change and then deliberately hold Christian doctrines in front of our minds each day. Daily prayers, going to church, and Christian reading help ensure that we are “continually reminded of what we believe.” He continues,

Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”

Q: What did you learn from this passage in Mere Christianity?

I thought about people I knew who had lost their faith—like my uncle—and realized that their unbelief hadn’t come from a bright epiphany; rather, they had mainly just drifted away. I’m not saying there aren’t atheists with logical reasons, but the vast majority of ex-believers just seem to drift away. I recently had a former student who posted that he had abandoned the faith and couldn’t believe it anymore. He drifted away.

This is why it is so important that we regularly pray, read our Bible, read Christian books. We do things that feed our Christianity. Because Satan just tugs at us. I would be skeptical of any Christian who says he never ever feels a sense of, Is this really real? It’s only by holding the truth of Scripture in front of us that we can really maintain a genuine, vibrant faith. If it’s a lukewarm faith that doesn’t matter to you, then why would Satan need to actively draw you away from it?

You’ll drift away eventually if you don’t regularly seek the Lord.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a book called Kim. Kim was going to be a spy, and as they were training him, they took him into a room. They broke a vase on the floor and then hypnotized him and told him to look at the vase. Under hypnosis, he was led to believe that the vase was coming back together. To resist the psychological manipulation, he began running through math problems which he knew to be true. He grasped at what was true in the face of what he knew wasn’t true.

We have to hold onto the truth because we are bombarded every day with untruth. This passage from Lewis has helped me realize throughout the years the value of Bible study and prayer, of holding Christian truths before me. I’ve got to make things like Scripture and prayer a daily thing in my life.

Q: Are there any surprising places you see the drift happen?

Some people on staff at church can get hurt in their ministries. The churches they serve can treat them badly, and over time they say, If that’s what Christianity’s like, I don’t want to be a part of it. And, yes, the church can be bad sometimes. But if Christianity is the way to eternal life, then just not liking what church people do doesn’t mean you give up the faith. Yet hurting people can tend to drift. Some churches show very little compassion and love to their ministers.

When we hold Scripture in front of us and pray regularly, we’re reminding ourselves of what we believe.

Q: What can drift look like?

The problem is, for a lot of these people who have drifted away, I’m not really close enough to them to know as it’s happening. And that’s part of the problem. We need to be in each other’s lives. Often, they’ll stop showing up at church. Sometimes you’ll say, “Hey, we’re missing you at church.” They’ll reply, “Yeah, yeah.” Or, if pressed, they’ll answer, “Why do I really need the institutional church?”

Essentially, what happens is they don’t have the community they need to sustain their faith, and they get sucked away into the world’s way of thinking. Whether or not you have a Christian community, you’re going to have a secular non-Christian community of some kind which will try to influence you. Drift happens naturally for many reasons—for example, the constant influence of the non-Christian world, the desire to be like everybody else, and being more considered with worldly than eternal things. But you can counteract drift away from the faith by staying connected with a Christian community and keeping the truth in front of you.

Q: What does Lewis mean by the “rebellion of your moods”?

Every person with a sincere faith is going to have questions sometimes. It might not be a life-altering question, but we all face moments of uncertainty. Is this really true? Am I dealing with my faith as I should? How come the rest of the world believes this way, and I believe the other way? There are always going to be questions. The issue isn’t whether or not you have questions. The issue is how you deal with them.

When we hold Scripture in front of us and pray regularly, we’re reminding ourselves of what we believe.

I’ve had a few days where it feels like everything is going wrong. What’s happening? Why’s it going wrong? God, I’m trying to serve you. It’s just a sense that comes over you, and sometimes there are tough questions that come with it. If you’re going to hold the Christian faith before you, you’re going to be all right. You just have to say, “Let’s get back to reality.” If you don’t, those moods/moments can consume you.

I remember years ago when one girl started coming to church and getting involved in the activities. But she quit coming eventually, and I remember seeing her later and asking, “Everything going okay?”

“No, I gave up on that. I tried it and it didn’t work.” As if it was supposed to be a magical charm. The truth is that she had drifted and let her moods take over. We’re all going to have moods that lead us to drift. It’s why we have to keep doing what feeds our faith.

Q: Do parents have a part to play in discouraging drift?

We all know parents who say, “You live under my roof, and we’re going to church. It’s what we do.” There was a time when I looked at parents who said that and wondered, “Why do parents have to do that?” When I read Lewis, the reason became more apparent. There’s a purpose to families taking strong stands on things of the faith like regular church attendance.

When I was on staff at Cincinnati, we were interviewing candidates for a position. A particular candidate’s resume sounded good, so we brought him in for the interview. When we asked about his family and which church they go to, his answer made my jaw hit the table: “I have decided that it’s not my responsibility to determine my children’s faith. So we let them go wherever. In fact, we’ve been traveling around to different churches. I kind of like the Unitarian Universalist churches.” What are these kids going to grow up to be? All they’re getting from their parents is, “Whatever you want is okay.” No sense of priority.

Some years ago, I was a minister at a small church, and I worked at a Christian camp in the summers. One Wednesday night, a car came zooming up and a man got out and said, “I’m here to get Bobby and Tommy.” When we asked why, he explained, “I’m their dad, and they’ve got a baseball game tonight. Then I’ll bring ‘em back.”

A missionary was there that week, and I remember him remarking, “Isn’t that funny? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid jerked away from a baseball game to go to summer camp.”

Parents need to realize that they are constantly teaching a value system. How valuable is Christianity going to seem to your kids when you skip church for a ballgame?

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