Have you ever spent a lazy day at the beach, riding the waves and bodysurfing? I love doing this with our kids, but it’s always amazing where we find ourselves after we’ve been out in the water for an hour or two. We look back at the shore and suddenly nothing looks familiar. We can’t see our umbrella or beach chairs-sometimes we can’t even see our hotel! Without realizing it, we have drifted with the current and lost our bearings.
Without a strong direction toward a place where God is moving, without a secure anchor to keep you grounded, it’s easy to drift into a dead zone. You may be doing all the right things-at home, at work, at church-but you don’t know where your life is headed. You feel lost and disoriented from where you thought you’d be and how you thought you’d get there. But it’s almost too terrifying to acknowledge, so you just keep going with the flow day after day.
When I was reading about the Doldrums that sailors face, I was struck by the fact that this dangerous dead zone happens along the equator. When ships got trapped there, it meant they weren’t really in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere; they were stuck where the two meet. I think we often get stuck in a similar manner. If we’re honest, we know we don’t want to go to hell, but yet we don’t really want to serve God, either. We want to have one foot in the world and the other in the Kingdom of God. We want to straddle the spiritual equator, so to speak.
A lot of us have drifted to this place. We’re not on fire for God, but of course we’re not living for the devil either. We’re not abandoning God and leaving the church, but we’re not fully alive and enjoying the abundant life Jesus said he came to bring. We’re in this middle zone, a spiritual no-man’s-land.
We have gotten off course, and now there’s no wind to sustain us. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Jesus tells the church at Laodicea, “Some of you are not hot [not in the Northern Hemisphere], you are not even cold [not in the Southern Hemisphere], you are lukewarm.” And the result is just as disastrous: “There is no life there. I will spit you out of my mouth [if I find you in that lukewarm zone]” (see Revelation 3:15-16).
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul conveyed a similar message: he told them that he could not consider them spiritual, but he could not call them worldly either. They were a mixture of the two. They were carnal (see 1 Corinthians 3:1, KJV). The word carnal means that they were stuck in the flesh. The word’s root comes through in a usage you may be more familiar with: chili con carne-chili with meat. Paul basically said these Corinthian Christians were serving up a big dish of faith con carne. They were Christians but still had some flesh-based living in them.
Many of us today follow the same recipe. We want enough Jesus to get us to heaven, but we’ve got a little bit of the world in us too. We’re lukewarm, tepid, not hot or cold, not heavenly and not earthly, not sold out to God and not entirely through renting from the devil. So we drift away and get stuck in the doldrums.