Are you in a rut? I can almost guarantee that you are, and probably more than one! Unfortunately, we don’t often recognize a rut until things go wrong and we sense a need to change. Ruts make us hate change!
But what is a “rut?” I would suggest a rut is any habitual approach to an aspect of life that frees from thinking (or even from feeling). Ruts make us very comfortable as stand-ins for instincts. Some even seem beneficial and profitable because they work in concert with our friends’ ruts. Unfortunately, they usually represent satisfaction with doing less than our best, because excellence requires thoughtful intent— never just doing what comes naturally! In fact, ruts almost always represent a deterioration of life.
The attractiveness of ruts is exactly what makes them harmful. They are way we can feel like we are fulfilling responsibilities by investing as little as possible. We find a way to get people off our back because a job is done, but in the process we have lived the strangely truthful lie, “It was the least I could do.” How did that phrase become part of our etiquette?
If I do my “least,” my output will shortchange others, embarrass me (if exposed), and fail to bring any glory to God, Who Himself is lavish in His ways! Can you imagine Jesus ever saying, “It was the least I could do?” While we are at it, did He live in ruts and just go through the motions? Was He boring to follow?
The Christian life calls for the repudiation of ruts. We have been called to excellence in all we do. A slave would naturally tend toward careless, mindless ruts—he or she did not owe the master anything, right? But Paul said, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:22-24) Their identity as Christians called for their best, most diligent effort (without a paycheck before eternity)! Unfortunately, church culture has made what we do in service for Christ alone in the church to be often of such poor quality and minimal effort, that we would be fired from a paying job if we did it in that manner! But ruts do that.
In terms of our growth in Christ, we are encouraged to give all diligence pursuing change (2 Peter 1:5-7), not simply to coast until we get to heaven. We keep adding to our faith, not settling down into a convenient rut.
Speaking of eternity, it is the finish line of a race we are running (Heb. 12:1-2; Phil. 3:8-14), not a safety net to catch us when we can’t avoid it anymore! There is a continuity between our efforts here and now and the rewards we receive then. Ruts don’t count for much—they are definitely made of inferior materials (1 Cor. 3:12-13).
So how do we stay out of ruts? Cultivate the character qualities of zeal (Rom. 12:11) and aspiration. Think about what you want to accomplish in serving Christ and never stop analyzing how to achieve it. Assume that whatever you are doing can be done better. Think about your goals, strategy, methods and motivations. If you can’t remember why you do something, figure it out and adjust your practice—I guarantee you are not doing it well if you have forgotten your purpose!
Most of all, avoid the rut-induced habit of taking the sow’s ear of mediocrity and claiming it is the silk purse of tradition! Just because you have done the same thing the same way for many years does not mean you are doing it the best it can be done. Genuinely valuable tradition always points us toward excellence. Anything else is a fraud.
May we be a people pressing forward to advance the cause of Christ!