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Spiritual Drafting and the Danger of Christian Complacency

I’m no fan of most forms of racing. Cars, horses, drones, people—none of them do much for me. I find bicycle racing especially drab, except for those Olympic sprint events that suddenly grab my attention every four years. I do not know a whole lot about racing (which may well be why I don’t enjoy racing), but I do know enough to understand what they call drafting. Drafting is when a rider tucks himself immediately behind another racer, often settling just inches off his rear tire. When he does this, the lead rider has to muscle through the air resistance while the follower can enjoy the little vacuum that forms behind. The first rider has to work just a little bit harder which allows the second to conserve energy for that final push. In other words, the second rider benefits from the strength and diligence of the first.

Drafting is a great strategy for racing. Drafting is a lousy strategy for Christian living. Yet I fear that many Christians allow themselves to fall into a form of spiritual drafting. Let me explain—and let’s not push the analogy too hard since eventually, like any example, metaphor, or parable, it will eventually fall apart!

A number of times I have spoken to a woman and heard her admit that she essentially drafts behind her husband. She takes comfort in her husband’s spiritual strength and discipline but neglects her own. She goes to church when he is around but is quick to bail when he is not. She allows him to carry the load when it comes to teaching and training the children, when it comes to reading and praying with them. She doesn’t only allow him to take the lead (as, indeed, he should) but uses his leadership as a quiet excuse to not put in much effort of her own. She finds that the family is in good shape spiritually but admits that this is far more because she rides in his draft than that she is full-out pursuing the Lord. If he stopped putting in the effort, she would have little strength of her own.

Just as many times I have spoken to a man who confesses, perhaps a bit more sheepishly, that he drafts behind his wife. She is the one who has the living, vital relationship with the Lord and he coasts behind it. She is the one who guards her time to ensure she has a time of personal devotion each day. He allows her to be the one who suggests that they read the Bible and pray together. He expects that she will be the one to call the children for Bible and prayer. The family is doing well enough spiritually, but he can’t deny that it owes more to her effort than to his. He is drafting, taking advantage of her spiritual strength so he can put in little effort of his own.

It isn’t just husbands and wives. Teenaged children can coast along behind their parents instead of learning to pursue God on their own and determining they will personally develop spiritual strength and discipline. Church members can nestle in behind the few who are especially godly and neglect their personal spiritual walk. Sometimes the vast majority of the work of prayer, evangelism, or service is done by just a few members, often an indication that many are gladly coasting along, enjoying the greater efforts of the few. It’s all drafting.

Drafting is a concern because it is an indication of complacency. We all benefit from observing other Christians and seeing how they live the Christian life. This is God’s grace to us, giving us men and women who are worthy of imitation, putting people in our lives who are stronger than we are spiritually. But having such strong believers in our lives is meant to drive us to imitate them, not to simply take advantage of their efforts. Their example is meant to spur us on to greater earnestness in our spiritual lives, greater discipline in our pursuit of holiness.

The antidote to drafting is zeal, that quality we bring to so many of life’s pursuits but are prone to neglect when it comes to our faith. This is a good time to pull in that common biblical metaphor of the race. The Bible tells us that the Christian life is a race—not a race against one another but against the old man as we overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is a race that demands everything we have. It requires every effort. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1) We are to lay aside everything that hinders us, everything that slows us, including complacency. This race requires zeal deliberately directed to the highest pursuit.

We may think some people are naturally zealous or supernaturally gifted with spiritual fervor. Perhaps so. But my observation is that zealous Christians are those who are most committed to the awesomely ordinary means of grace—Word, prayer, worship, sacrament. This deep commitment to ordinary means is the fuel to their fire. This is a tremendous relief but also a significant challenge because it assures us that zeal is available to all Christians. Zeal is not bestowed only on the few and the gifted but is available to all who will follow the Spirit’s conviction. If you can honestly admit that you are drafting, putting in little effort of your own because of the greater effort of the one you follow, today is the day to confess that sin of complacency before God, to ask him to grant you godly fervor, and to pursue the means he offers to ignite such zeal.

Image credit: Shutterstock


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