Contentment is essential for disciples of Jesus. It is, as the apostle Paul wrote, great gain to us (1 Timothy 6:6). Yet contentment in every part of life can be troublesome. When contentment turns into complacency, complacency gives way to laziness. Laziness then brings forth apathy, and apathy almost always leads to hardened hearts that care little for the things of God. That well describes the condition of many people both within and without the kingdom of Christ today. Are they content? Oh yes! They are content to warm a bench, contribute their obligatory pittance, and live whatever lives they choose. Any sort of challenge or opposition to their settled way of being is dismissed as “judgmental,” “harsh,” and “un-Christlike.” They are content, but in all the wrong ways.
Restoration shakes us out of our complacency, laziness, and apathy. At least, that is its intention. Restoration demands change on a personal and collective level; that is, it transforms our character and our congregations. It forces us to evaluate how we live, work, and worship against the teaching of Scripture. That evaluation is a challenge, and few want to bother rising to face it. It is easier to declare that we have reached the goal of restoration when we have barely started the process. That is precisely why so many of us have not grown an inch in Christ over the course of several decades. We have deceived ourselves into thinking we have already made it. To borrow from Hebrews, we have become “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). The inevitable conclusion of such self-deceit and dullness of hearing is eternal condemnation.
Throughout the history of the Old Testament, many restorers sought to realign God’s people with His ways. King Hezekiah resolved to break down the dearly held idols of his people and woke them up so they would turn back to God (2 Kings 18:3-4; 2 Chronicles 29-31). He started and continued the process of restoration. As the story progresses, however, we find that Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, rolled back the positive changes his father made (2 Chronicles 33:1-9). The restoration Hezekiah started promptly ended when Manasseh took the throne. While he eventually came around, it did not change the damage he had caused. Restoration began again with Josiah many years later, but it too was short-lived (2 Chronicles 34:1-7).
Oh, how familiar these accounts should be to us! All too often people who wish to please God seek to return to His ways revealed in Scripture only for it to be turned aside not a generation later. We speak not only of so-called liberals but even of the so-called sound and strong. The process of restoration initiated by their forebears turns into a contest of who can circle wagons the fastest rather than a genuine desire to continually cleanse our hearts, develop trust in God, and align our congregations with Scripture. Apathy steadily sets in, and any inkling of restoration dries up. It is also the case that the dominant culture infects the process of restoration and turns it into a matter of seizing on the latest trends to draw crowds and please people, not God. Neither path will suffice. How can we break the cycle and get back to the work of restoration?
The process of restoration must begin with confession of the problem. We have got to come to grips with the reality that we are complacent, lazy, and apathetic. It is only through confession that we can find forgiveness and get back on track (1 John 1:9). It will also take humility to understand that God’s ways, and not our own, are the way we must go (Proverbs 3:5-7). Restoration continues with self-examination. We must place ourselves under the microscope and determine if we are in alignment with God’s expectations. Our dearly held traditions, thoughts, and feelings are all on the table. The Corinthians, who desperately needed to engage in the process of restoration, were challenged by Paul to examine themselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). It could be that when we examine ourselves, we find some things wanting. We must then seek to shape our lives after Scripture.
Finally, restoration forces us to acknowledge that we are on a pathway that requires daily effort to walk. Our goal is heaven, and to get there, we must keep pressing forward in personal and collective restoration. The apostle Paul ever moved toward the “goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Friend, are you pressing forward or standing still? There is no plateau for our faith, nor do we ever make it to some spiritual zenith that sets us up for life with no further effort required. There is always room for growth and improvement. Restoration in this life calls us to continually seek out God’s pathways and continue walking in them. There are no detours or shortcuts, nor do we get to take the first exit we see and proclaim that the destination has been reached. Are you engaging in the process of restoration? If not, why not? Let us all think on these things and consider where we stand.