Vol.XVIII No.XI Pg.3
January 1982

"Turning A Stray"

Dan S. Shipley

The bank just presented me with my annual dividend — a new wall calendar. I like it. Mostly, I guess, because it features a western scene. Its central figure is a hard riding cowboy attempting to turn a galloping steer back to the herd. The painting is appropriately called, "Turning astray". As I reflected on this scene and its title, it brought to mind another kind of stray — one whose plight ought to be the concern of every faithful Christian.

The spiritual stray represents one of the oldest and most perplexing problems among God's people. Scarcely a congregation has escaped his hurtful effects, not to mention what he does to himself. Many have agonized over solutions. What can we do? Well, regardless of what we decide, it may be helpful to ponder his plight for a moment. How does one get to be a stray to start with? Obviously, it is not a deliberate thing, as the word itself indicates. Another term describing the same process is the word "drift" as found in Heb. 2:1. In this context (v. 1-3) we find a clue, not only to the cause of this condition, but to its cure as well: "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them... how shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation...?" It is not that one plans to stray — in fact, many are a long time in realizing they have. And herein we see the deceptiveness of this gradual and almost unconscious process. It always begins with a slight loss of spiritual appetite; a little less interest; and a bit less involvement — almost imperceptible at first, not only to the stray but to his undiscerning brethren as well.

In fact, what we normally consider to be the first signs of drifting may be nearer the last — and that is absenteeism from Bible classes and worship services. This may be due to a faulty concept of faithfulness; one that is more oriented to the church than to the Lord. While it is true that faithfulness involves our presence in assemblies, it does not follow that merely attending services makes one faithful. Being in the pew and in the faith are not the same. Lips that say "Lord, Lord", even from the pew, mean very little when the heart is far from Him (Matt. 15:8). And such a heart is where the problem begins. In spiritual deterioration the heart is always first to go. So it is the straying heart and not so much its symptoms that must be dealt with if meaningful changes are to be effected. And this brings us back to the remedy suggested in our context.

The key to faithfulness is giving heed to "the things that were heard"; to the word of God — and the "more earnest", the better. The more one's attention is on God' s truth, the less apt he is to stray. Not only will this keep one with God, it will restore the stray (if anything will). You might say that heeding Truth will keep us from turning astray and at the same time help us to turn a stray. Only an appeal to Truth can bring men to God or return men to Him. With it we can instruct, remind and admonish, but it is our only power to turn the stray. The need is heed!