A couple of days ago I posted about dissipation. Peter’s brilliant observation about dissipation is that it comes upon us like a flood, which implies gradually rising water.
The dictionary unpacks five aspects of dissipation: Dispersion, loss of energy or power, squandering, self-indulgence, and depravity. Interestingly enough, these five in that order illustrate the rising flood that will envelop us unless we take drastic action. Unless we choose devotion over dissipation.
The story of the prodigal son is an expose of dissipation. You can find it in Luke 15:11-32. But let’s walk through the five elements and see how they jive with the story.
Scattering or dispersion. The prodigal’s dissipation began long before he asked for his inheritance. Something was wrong with this family, this picture. An inheritance only kicks in when the father is dead, which means the son was saying, in effect, “You’re dead to me. I don’t have a father.” Something between the father and the son had crumbled. And it’s the same with us. Dispersion begins with a loss of intimacy with our Father in heaven. Our love slips from hot to lukewarm. Our sense of his presence wanes. But seen in this light, we learn that dissipation is anything we do that dilutes our devotion. As John Piper says, “Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God.”
When your love for God dissipates, you stop caring as much. You relax, let go, take a break, compromise a little. And the water rises a few inches. Now it’s lapping at your feet. The rising tide of doesn’t feel like death. It’s cold, but it feels GOOD. It feels like more. In the moment, it feels like just what we’ve been looking for. A welcome break from the intensity of walking with Christ. And if we don’t resist it, this dispersion…
Leads to a loss of energy or power. Before we know it, we’re following half-heartedly, without passion, holding to “a form of godliness, but denying it’s power.” We begin to notice that we’ve “lost that lovin’ feeling.” The Bible isn’t doing it for us anymore. There’s a hole. Something is missing. I care, but I don’t want to. This is where the Prodigal Son asked for his inheritance and broke his Father’s heart. The water rises a little bit more. Now you can’t feel your feet and it’s climbing up your thighs. It’s difficult to move around. Difficult to follow God. So you don’t.
Which results in a squandering of our life and calling. The heart of squandering is letting go of God’s best and knowingly wasting our lives. The water has now risen to waist level. This isn’t self indulgence…yet, it’s just… a lack of focus. Splashing around in lesser pursuits. Filling our lives with good or decent things instead of climbing toward the best things. Flitting away God’s blessings by not seizing the moment, making the most of opportunities. The Prodigal squandered his inheritance, and we do too. We’ve justified our excess because everyone is doing it… and because we can’t feel our legs anymore. Squandering leaves us a hairsbreadth away from indulgence.
Unchecked, this always leads to self-indulgent sin (:13). The Prodigal wrote the book on this, right? But we all engage in attempts to recapture what we’re missing by indulging ourselves. At this point, we’re done waiting for the water to rise. We wade in deeper ourselves. Some of this self indulgence is so common all around us that we can almost justify it. We’ve gotten pretty good at that. It may not begin with pure depravity, but as Stan Almendro says, “There is nothing more soul destroying than respectable selfishness.”
But eventually, we dabble in things we can’t justify at all. Hard marriage? Flirt with a coworker. Empty soul? Try internet porn. Not enough? What about the bottle? The pills? The drugs? We can never get enough of what we don’t need, but by this time we’re swimming in over our head, reveling in the inky blackness of sin…
Which always eventually leads us into depravity. We’re now living on the bottom of the barrel. It’s at this point we often realize we’ve been swimming in poison and that there is a looming hell to pay.
So here’s the warning: If we don’t change our direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re headed.
The prodigal came to his senses, thank God. He realized it was time to go home… not just to his house, but to his Father. Which, if you’ll remember, is where all this began. Wading out of the rising stream is a good start, but until we reforge the intimacy we lost with God, we’re doomed to repeat our slide…
… into dissipation.