Slow Drift: One Day You’re On Course, and Then, One Small Decision…

When I as about ten, my parents decided to take a houseboat vacation on the Mississippi. My dad had never piloted a bot before, but he did a lot of things he had never done before with a good mix of bravado and ingenuity.

One night, though, he made a mistake. A storm blew in overnight, and when we woke, we looked out on a shore line different from the one we had gone to sleep in front of. The anchor hadn’t held, and the boat drifted down the river—how far we had no idea.

It’s not a good feeling to be lost on the Mighty Mississippi, even if it is the far northern part.

I’ve learned, since then, that this kind of slow drifts happen in all areas of life, not just fast flowing rivers. The definition of the term means: a slow and gradual movement or change from one place, condition, etc. to another.

“So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?” (Hebrews 2.1-3, NLT).

The idea of “drift away” here is that one gets carried along, not by a conscious choice to change course but by allowing outside forces to take you along with them. If someone or something drifts into a situation, they get into that situation in a way that is not planned or controlled. They simply weren’t paying attention.

It could be as inconsequential as finding one’s way back up a short stretch of the Mississippi or as devastating as falling asleep at the wheel.

—No one plans to get into an accident reading a text, but drift across lanes happens without even knowing.

—We don’t decide to max out our credit cards in one day, but little by little it adds up.

—We don’t get married intending to ever leave, but one hurtful word today, one lack of kindness tomorrow, one slight thing that signals we’re not committed for long haul, one lingering look elsewhere or conversation that becomes more than they should—and we drift.

— People don’t stop going to church in one quick decision. It begins the first day they sleep in. The first time they felt slighted by a greeter. The first day they decide they have work to catch up on, or this place just isn’t like home, or the gas gauge is too low.

Like our houseboat, One day you’re on course, and the next you make one small decision that puts you off the track just a tiny bit. Then another and another. Next thing you know, you’re completely lost, and you honestly have no idea how it happened. You don’t know how to get back where you were anchored.

If we don’t want slow drift away, we need to set out anchors in the right places.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light & out into the nothing… Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without signposts.”

As I taught through Hebrews this spring, it occurred to me that this slow drift idea encompassed the entire book. The writer writes to people afraid of persecution, tempted to try back to their old ways, the old covenant, and safer paths. He or she implores them—don’t drift away from the greatness of the salvation you’ve been given. One day, you will accept a small going back, one easy way to avoid being harassed and harmed. The next, another. Before you know it, you will have turned away from where you’ve come. You will have pulled anchor and lost your way.

So set that anchor down now in solid ground, and don’t let it go.

“So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation?”

Again, “ignore” doesn’t mean turn away suddenly, decisively. There isn’t an intentional choice to no longer believe or to live a life of disobedience. “Ignore” in this case means to neglect. Set aside. To be careless of, like one’s faith is a car with the engine light on. It still runs fine, so why bother fine tuning?

The writer of Hebrews has harder words for those who neglect their faith than those who outright run away from it. He or she knows the outcome  might be more devastating. At least one who has turned away from the faith knows and owns the choice. One who slowly drifts away? They will continue to believe they’re fine.

When we delve deep into how amazing this salvation truly is, how can we comprehend any wish to ignore so great a salvation? The problem is, we don’t often do that digging. “Work hard to show the results of your salvation” (Philippians 2.12) implies hard work. It’s right in there. Yet in our easy grace gospel (and I do love grace), I wonder if we’ve downplayed that hard work too much.

—When we assume our car will run just fine without maintenance, we find out sooner or later the foolishness of that decision.

—When we neglect a spouse, assuming the marriage will run fine because we made a commitment once upon a time, we eventually discover the error of that judgment.

—When we neglect our faith, believing it will be just fine because we prayed a prayer and we go to church (sometimes), we invite the danger of a slow drift away from the great salvation we’ve been given.

Hebrews is a difficult book. But the point of it all isn’t difficult. Don’t drift. Set your anchors where they belong. Dig deep, and hold tight.

Photo credit: Sailboat – Jill Richardson

Photo credit: Mississippi River – Cindy – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jill Richardson
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