Neglect is not a pleasant subject, and it does not engender positive feelings within us. Stories of the death of an elderly person who has lived, not by choice, as a virtual recluse in our neighbourhood, or the neglect of a child whose parents who are so caught up in their abuse-driven lifestyle, do not bring a smile to our face or make us laugh. Neglect is not a good thing under any circumstances, but if it takes root in the life of the professing Christian it can have disastrous eternal consequences.
Neglect is never a sudden, cascading reality. Invariably it always has a quiet starting point and its progression is often marked by an almost imperceptible drift into its ever increasing form. The writer to the Hebrews calls his readers to pay much closer attention to what they have heard lest a drifting away from it lays hold of their lives. The picture he paints is of a little rowing boat which is tied to the dock with a rope. A failure to make sure that the mooring is tightly tied means that over time the movement of the boat on the ebb and flow of the tide begins to tug on the rope. The effect of this continual persistent tugging, under the influence of the motion of the water, means that the resistance of the knot is gradually overcome. In time the inevitable happens, as that which was bound becomes unbound. The rope falls into the water and the boat slowly and gently makes its way from the safety of the mooring out into the dangers of the rocky shoreline. Looking at the boat it had seemed securely tied, but lack of attention – basic neglect – means that it is now in a perilous situation.
That is the danger to the professing Christian. No one is going to come and say you should stop going to worship, that you should give up speaking with Christian friends or reading the Bible. That is unlikely to happen at least in our life time. But what there can be is an imperceptible, gentle drift in our lives. Initially, we are well bound to the things of God, things which hold us tight in our relationship with God and with each other. The daily reading of God’s Word, worshiping on the Lord’s day, engaging in regular Christian fellowship, a desire of personal holiness – these are the cords which facilitate and provide the positive friction for our abiding in Christ. But then over time, gradually and silently, our attendance to these means of grace is overcome by the seemingly unremitting demands of life, family, work, hobbies…things which in themselves are essential and healthy parts of life, but in time the ebb and flow of these important aspects of life can begin to demand positions of complete dominance in our lives. Unchecked their demanding attitudes begin to erode those priorities which formerly held us in Christ. Drift has taken root, a drift which if left unaddressed will lead to neglect. Neglect is not good, it is bad.
Where does this drift have its ultimate root? Wherein lies the failure on the part of the professing Christian which leads to this drift and ultimate neglect? How do things in our lives which are important get to the point where they suffocate to death our abiding in Christ? Well, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that the failure lies in the hearing of God’s Word. He writes, ‘‘therefore we must pay close attention to what we have heard’ (Hebrews 2:1). Jesus spoke to his disciples and said to them ‘blessed are those who hear and obey’. Paul wrote to the church at Rome and said ‘faith comes by hearing the word of God’. So there it is. In the exercise of hearing and then doing God’s Word, we will receive the faith we need to be constantly tied in the mooring of our relationship with God. The problem begins then when we develop a habit, for whatever reason, of failing to consciously apply ourselves to the hearing of God’s Word. When that habit takes hold you can be sure that the tide of life, the ebb and flow of the multiple demands we routinely face, will gently and silently begin to have an impact, the rope of faith will begin to slip, and the drift has begun. That drift is dangerous for, without being checked, it will lead to neglect. Neglect is not good, it is bad.
How are you hearing the Word of God? On the Lord’s day are you hearing God or is it just a smattering of words commuting their way through your head without stopping at any point to take hold? Think about it. For this malignancy of non-hearing, this spiritual cancer of non-engaging listening, is critical to your life now and for all eternity.