The dictionary says it clearly right there on the printed page: “ drift — verb intransitive — to become carried along subject to no guidance or control.” The illustration given is of a conversation drifting from one topic to another.
My church history prof was a great “drifter.” He often would take questions in class and would wax eloquent on whatever the subject was for sometimes as long as 30 minutes. Then, as though coming to his senses, he would look at the student who initially sparked his response, and say, “Does that answer your question?” By that time the student and most of the class as well had forgotten what the initial question had been. The prof had “drifted” far away from the initial topic.
Well, I am here as living proof that drifting occurs in more than just conversations. And while drifting from one topic to another in a conversation or classroom may be confusing and somewhat difficult to follow, drifting in one’s driving can be destructive and downright dangerous.
It happened a few years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just enjoyed an afternoon off. I had driven about 20 miles to play a round of golf with a pastor friend whom I was meeting at the course. After enjoying a delightful time hitting golf balls — a lot, talking — a lot, and just being with each other, I was driving back home with a sense of relaxation and accomplishment. I had just called my bride and told her I was on my way home when it happened. I was driving down the highway at a low rate of speed and as near as I can remember, I had “drifted” to the right to allow a large, wide truck coming toward me the widest possible berth. But I drifted too far. The right wheel of my vehicle went off the road (there was no shoulder!), and before I knew it, I was sitting in the ditch about two feet away from a tree that had so kindly decided to stop me dead in my tracks. I was two feet away from the tree. That means that the tree was midway back in the engine compartment of my vehicle and yes, the airbags did deploy. As I saw that tree approaching, I must tell you that I was preparing and was ready to meet my Maker face to face.
I had drifted too far on the pavement. As I mentioned, there was no berm on that portion of the highway. The drop-off from the pavement to the turf underneath was significant — between four to six inches. I should have been more attentive and more careful. I was not speeding. I was not talking on my cell phone or playing around inside my vehicle. I was, I thought, being very attentive to what was going on. But the drifting was so very subtle. Even though I did get a ride in an ambulance and a trip to the hospital that day, I was not seriously injured in that misfortunate accident. I cannot say the same for the car I was driving — it was a total loss.
You know, the spiritual life is like that, too. All too often we are traveling down the roadway called life and we think we are doing pretty well, but we drift. That is, we allow little things to creep into our lives to dilute our walk with God in such a way that we simply are not all that God wants us to be anymore. The author of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament calls our attention to this fact when he says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away… how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3)
God is in the business of leading us through life, growing us up to be like Him, and helping us to move down the road toward maturity. But all too often we allow ourselves to drift. We become complacent with our spiritual life. We have grown in our prayer life and our study of His Word. But we almost take that growth for granted and do not continue to study or pray so diligently as before. Our complacency leads to, well, laziness. We then neglect praying, studying the Word, and being together with others of like faith by attending church. And before you know it, we’ve drifted off the pavement and may find ourselves waylaid in the ditch beside the road somewhere out in the far country.
The results can be disastrous. For me, I lost a car, gained a few cuts and bruises, and lost some money. But for the believer who drifts in his or her Christian life, the loss can be so much greater — the loss of eternal rewards!
So take it from one who has experienced it personally: Don’t drift. It can be disastrous if you do.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.