By: Maynard H. Belt — Reprinted with permission
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.
Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it– prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart–O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
Have you ever wondered if you were backsliding? Now, isn’t that a rather strange question to ask of those who are on the front lines of service for the Lord? Maybe not. Even as you walk through the corridors of faith found in Hebrews chapter eleven, if you carefully track the lives of those found there, many also had in their lives of service for the Lord a “wandering” experience. Even Peter, one of the Lord’s “up-front” disciples lied under pressure, a sure sign of backsliding. Why? Because at that particular time the Scriptures tell us that “he followed afar off.” Peter, as the songwriter wrote, was “prone to wander.” Of all the prophets in the Old Testament we read where Isaiah, Joel and Micah prophesied; Daniel wept; Ezekiel preached; Daniel prayed; Hosea endured pain; Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakkuk, Zephaniah and Malachi warned against sin; Haggai and Zechariah encouraged; but Jonah ran from God while confessing to be fearful of Him (Jonah 1:11)! Ever so often, there is one among the many faithful who backslides, who wanders away, who slips from fellowship, who may even try to serve while scurrying away. As with the disciples in the Upper Room, we too must respond to the words of the Lord that one would betray Him, with the soul-searching question, “Lord, is it I?”
J. Oswald Sanders once said, “We must not just take it for granted that we are in touch with God. Joseph and Mary lost a whole day of fellowship with Jesus because they ‘supposed Him to be in the company.’ They took for granted something of which they should have made sure. ‘He (Samson) wist not that the Lord had departed from him’ (Judges 16:20). He was out of touch with God and did not know it.” Theodore H. Epp stated that, “Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it.”
Now there are many reasons for one’s backsliding. Puritan Thomas Manton suggested that tiredness could be one of them when he said, “Weariness maketh way for wandering.” But I would like to suggest from the life of Jonah several other possibilities that are very obvious in revealing how quick it is to backslide. We all know Jonah well so I won’t bore you with detail, only a few demonstrations of his slipping away from the Lord as found in the very first verses of chapter one. Three times in verses 3 and 10 it states that Jonah went “from the presence of the Lord.” This, my friend, is backsliding! As you read the account, Jonah went down from the hills of sweet fellowship with the Lord, down to Joppa, down into the lowest parts of the ship, and finally down into the belly of that great fish into the depths of the sea. Whenever you leave the presence of the Lord there is no place to go but down! You can do the study on your own, and hopefully you will, but let me suggest some signs that will always be present if you are beginning to backslide – Jonah has taught us well. Let’s observe him carefully.
There will always be the chastening of the Lord – Jonah 1:4
Verse three says, “But Jonah…” — but verse 4 says, “But God….!” God always has the last word. It says that the Lord sent (hurled) a great wind! God in His time, will hurl into our lives whatever is necessary in order to get our attention!
There will be unconcern for others – Jonah 1:5
In the very midst of the storm while the mariners were fearing for the their lives, Jonah was fast asleep in the bottom of the ship. I have never known a backslider to have a concern for the lost souls of others! Be careful if you are losing your passion for the lost!
There will be no interest in prayer – Jonah 1:6
Jonah was called upon to pray but there is no record, at this point, that he ever did. I have yet to see a believer running from God show any real interest in prayer. Just think of the influence Jonah could have had, had he been able to pray! Oh, how we must guard our prayer times with the Lord. The prayer chamber must not become a slumber chamber!
There will be a discovery of our sins – Jonah 1:7
As it says in Numbers 32:23, “…be sure your sin will find you out.” In Jonah’s time it was through the casting of lots. Today it is often through even more shameful ways. God always has a way of bringing our sin to the surface. Watching God do this in the lives of so many others over the years has kept me on my toes! Proverbs 28:13 – “He who covers his sin will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Backsliding is sin for “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
There will be a hypocritical spirit – Jonah 1:8-10
For Jonah to say that he feared Jehovah reveals how far away from the Lord he was. This prophet had become a fugitive. A prophet loves the Word and puts God first. A fugitive puts self first and loves the world. Jonah was a liar and in the language of Jesus was a hypocrite (Matt. 15:7-8). A backslidden preacher in the pulpit without question is a hypocrite!
There will be hardness of heart – Jonah 1:11-16
Sin always hardens the heart. Jonah, like so many when caught, acknowledged his sin but refused to break with his sin. Jonah would rather die by being thrown into the sea than separate from the wayward path he had chosen. It didn’t bother Jonah one bit that an entire nation would be destroyed by God if he didn’t go to Nineveh. Hardness of heart, just not caring, is a sure sign of backsliding from the Lord.
As we each search our hearts to see if any of these signs are present in our lives and in our ministries, let me close with this challenging thought by Charles H. Spurgeon:
“With deep repentance and sincere faith, find your way back from your backsliding. It is your duty, for you have turned away from Him whom you professed to serve. It is your immediate necessity, for what He has done is nothing compared to what He may do in the way of chastisement, since He is Almighty to punish.”
Reprinted with permission from: THE BARNABAS FILE
Volume 3 Number 7 4/4/03
Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches