Apathy

Deciding to decide

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4—7

During his freshman year at Yale University, William Borden, the great missionary, wrote a prayer in his journal: "Lord Jesus, I take hands off as far as my life is concerned. I put thee on the throne of my heart. Change, cleanse, use me as thou shalt choose. I take the full power of thy Holy Spirit. I thank thee."

This faith changed Borden's life and set in motion a shift of direction that had a profound effect upon his student years at Yale and Princeton Theological Seminary and in his brief career as a missionary to Egypt. Borden died in Cairo of cerebral meningitis at the age of twenty-five; his life was short but full. His commitment to Jesus Christ and the world missionary mandate of the gospel continues to challenge those who know his story.

Borden's journal entry suggests the narrow and fragile dividing line that marks the difference between active commitment to life on the one hand and apathy toward life on the other. In both, we make a choice that could be described by Borden's words as a freshman: "I take hands off."

It is remarkable that the same brief sentence—"I take hands off"—could be the key opening thought for motivated action on the one side and demotivation from all action on the other. How can this be true? In both instances we "take hands off" when we realize the limitations of human power; in both instances we become disillusioned with human achievement and success; in both instances we feel a disappointment with people who fall short of our expectations. Nevertheless, what we do with these fedings of disappointment, inadequacy, or fatigue makes all the difference between discipleship and apathy.

Borden came to this moment as a young man. He knew himself well enough not to place himself at the center of his life; he also knew too well the inadequacy of the people and institutions around him and the futility of enthroning in his heart the church, Yale, or any idealistic program. What Borden did instead was to decide in favor of Jesus Christ as the living center for his life. He chose to be available to live under Christ's will, and he claimed the assurance of the Holy Spirit. This act of commitment to life in Christ made all the difference.

Apathy, by contrast, institutionalizes disappointment. The soul withdraws from all effort at discovery and eventually decides to stop deciding. This is what apathy means: "away from pathos"—away from suffering or any intense experience.

Is there a cure? Yes. It happens in stages for most people, but sooner or later it requires us to join up with the rest of the human race and finally demands that we, as William Borden did, decide to decide. It finally draws us into the rich colors of human feeling where the rewards are better than the possible dangers. Best of all, the cure draws us into fellowship with the nonapathetic Lord of life.

—Earl F. Palmer

Reflection

What would it mean for me to "take hands off"?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I thank you that your safe and strong hands surround my life today. I begin this prayer trusting in those good hands.

"If we are going to wait until every possible hindrance has been removed before we do a work for the Lord, we will never attempt to do anything."

—T.J. Bach

January/February
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