Short answer: nothing.
Where nothing happens,
there is no spiritual growth.
No lightning bolt will fall from the sky warning you about spiritual danger. No one will return from the dead to plead with you about using your time of grace wisely. Nothing visibly upsetting may happen at all. In time, your conscience problems will go away, as well. Soon, there will be enough of a callus that you won’t feel a thing.
Jesus shared the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus in order to bring focus to this very issue. The man who “fared sumptuously every day” failed to realize that while he felt alive and well satisfied, he was severely malnourished and dead. His soul and conscience had flat-lined, evidenced by an obvious lack of concern for his neighbor in need. Nothing happened to him, of course. Until he died. Then oh, how he wished that God would send Abraham back from the dead to warn his brothers! “Nothing doing,” to paraphrase the response. “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).
The apostle Paul testified before Felix and Drusilla at Caesarea. They had front-row seats in an opportunity of a lifetime, but brushed aside the invitation and call to repentance. “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time, I will call for you” (Acts 24:25). As far as we know, nothing happened: no further discussion, no repentance, and no faith. Nothing.
As they passed through Samaria, James and John earned their nickname, “Sons of Thunder,” for wanting to call down fire from heaven. The target was a village of Samaritans who did not care to welcome Jesus to their town. “If that’s how they feel,” the two surmised, “then allow us to give them the judgment they deserve.” But no fire flashed from the sky. No plague ravaged that community. Instead, nothing happened at all. Jesus simply by-passed the town. No miracles were performed. No Gospel was preached. No sinners were saved (Luke 9:54-56).
Where nothing happens, there is no spiritual growth. Where there is no spiritual growth, there is spiritual atrophy. Some will remember the days when having a baby landed the mother in the hospital for two weeks. Total bed rest seemed like the best treatment after the rigors of labor. Today we know that it was the worst thing to do. When the new mom finally got out of the hospital, she was so weakened by the days of doing nothing that she could barely handle the duties of motherhood.
Faith grows through the Gospel. Where Christ is preached, hearers are blessed and made stronger. It works that way, not because the preacher is so dynamic or the music so uplifting, but because God operates through His Word and Sacraments. These are the tools He supplies for our spiritual good. If you knew that Jesus would be in your church on Sunday to bless your children, to put His hand on your shoulder, to personally assure you of His forgiveness and love, would you be there? He is there, and He does that through the Gospel.
What if you can’t make it on a Sunday? What if your ox falls in a pit and you need to get it out? (Luke 14:5) Then get it out. But, as the old joke goes, “If it falls in the pit every Sunday, you’d better either fill in the pit or get a new ox.”
If you can’t come to church, ask your pastor about ways the church might come to you: video recordings, printed sermons, online services and so forth. But do it before nothing happens.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.