Are You Content, or Are You Complacent? A Life-and-Death Difference

“Wait, what day is it again?”

I’ve found myself asking that question a lot lately. With both of us working full-time and with a baby on the way, the wife and I have had very full schedules and sleep has been hard to come by. On top of that, work has been pretty repetitive. No wonder the days start to blur together. As a result, I’ve been feeling like I’m living on autopilot – just flying through each week with the same old routines.

Now, you have to know, for me living on autopilot can feel pretty good. Life has been fairly predictable and stable, even if it is busy. Sure, a vacation might be nice, but overall I can’t complain. I like predictable. It means I don’t have to make plans or do unfamiliar things.

But even though it can be comfortable, there’s a serious spiritual danger to living on autopilot. When you’re able to get by comfortably without giving any thought to your spiritual progress (or lack thereof), you run the risk of drifting into a deadly trap.

I’m talking about the trap of complacency.

Complacency Kills

This verse from Proverbs keeps coming to mind recently:

“For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them.” – Proverbs 1:32 (ESV)

Notice who this verse talks about: the “simple” (some translations say “naive”) and “fools.” Throughout the book of Proverbs, these terms describe people who don’t give thought to their lives, who aren’t intentional about honoring God and walking in his ways. The naive one and the fool live only to please themselves. They do what feels good, regardless of whether it is good and regardless of what God’s will is. And the Bible says their complacency will destroy them.

Consider this definition of complacency: “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.”[1]

In other words, to be complacent is to feel comfortable when you should be concerned.

It’s willfully ignoring the fact that you’re not where you should be, or that you’re neglecting what you ought to be doing.

It’s the kind of thing James talks about when he says,

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17, NLT).

It’s what theologians have traditionally called the sin of sloth.

That’s right! Did you know you can be slothful even when you’re super busy? In his book Signature Sins, Michael Mangis points out that being slothful doesn’t just mean being physically lazy; rather, “we are slothful when we do not attend to our spiritual lives. We are slothful when we neglect anything that God asks of us and when we don’t do what needs to be done” (p. 52).

Going back to my own life as an illustration: complacency can look like me thinking I’m doing enough ministry that I can get by without spending personal time in God’s Word. It’s when I assume that because I’m busy I’m being productive. It’s being aware that God wants me to prayerfully set goals for my family’s spiritual growth, but instead choosing to fly by the seat of my pants, because planning would require effort.

Complacency may look different for you, but it’s always deadly to your spiritual growth.

The Fine Line Between Contentment and Complacency

When I was growing up, I loved learning about snakes (I would read about anything that scared me – I guess it was sort of a “know thy enemy” kind of thing? I was a weird kid. Anyway…). Here in Texas where I live, there are two types of snake that look very similar: the king snake and the coral snake. They’re both very colorful, with red, black, and yellow stripes.

But there’s a crucial difference between them. The king snake is harmless to humans and can actually be beneficial to help keep pests away. The coral snake, on the other hand, is very venomous and can be deadly. Since they look so similar, you have to train yourself to be able to spot the subtle differences in their appearance to know whether you’re dealing with a harmless king snake or a deadly coral. Knowing the difference could be a matter of life and death.

When it comes to your spiritual journey, contentment and complacency look very similar. They both have to do with finding satisfaction in where you’re at. And oftentimes there’s only a fine line separating them. But the difference is vital.

I’ve found that contentment has more to do with trusting God when you’ve reached your limits or when he’s placed you in circumstances that force you to rely on him. That doesn’t mean you won’t have any joy or satisfaction in your life, or that you have to be uncomfortable all the time. But when you’re content, your satisfaction will be focused on God and on gratitude for what he’s given you. You’ll acknowledge your limitations, and you’ll be intentional about following the Lord’s lead.

On the other hand, being complacent is all about being satisfied with yourself and with your own pleasure when you know God has more important things he wants to lead you to. It’s a state of stubborn stillness when God is actually wanting you to get up and move. Before too long, complacency can settle into apathy and unbelief. It may feel good now, but the end of that road is not pleasant.

Contentment is being satisfied with where God has placed you.

Complacency is settling for the place God is telling you to leave.

Learning to recognize the difference just might save your life.

Follow His Lead

Ask God to train you to recognize the difference between being content and being complacent. What’s the key here? Well, like most things in the Christian life, it’s a matter of trust and obedience. I think it all comes down to whether the Holy Spirit is telling you to stay and trust him with where you are, or else to move and to do something different.

For some of you reading this blog, what’s needed is a healthy dose of contentment. You may need to recognize that God has placed you where you are for now, and that’s okay. Even if it’s not ideal, he’s called you to make the most of it. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength, and trust that he’ll sustain you.

For others (like me), God is calling you to step outside of your comfort zone and be more intentional in your walk with him. You’ve been sitting on your hands instead of stepping out in obedience. Abandon the sin of complacency and do the one thing he’s calling you to do today.

Will you join me in fighting the sin of complacency today?

Let me know in the comments if this reflection was helpful to you!

See you down the path.


[1] Merriam-Webster.com/dictionary/complacency.



Categories: Practical/Devotional

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