by Richard Mansel, managing editor
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines “automatic pilot” as, “A navigation mechanism, as on an aircraft, that automatically maintains a preset course.”/1 Pilots avail themselves of this technology when they are fatigued or have other duties to perform. It has been a great blessing to air travelers.
There is a second usage of the term that is of interest to Christians. Moving through life on “automatic pilot” means, “A state of mind in which one acts without deliberate effort or self-awareness.”/2 It refers to disengaging our brains as we perform routine tasks without much conscious thought. It is similar to when we are driving and lost in thought and do not remember driving the last several miles.
The Christian life cannot be lived on automatic pilot. The fact that so many try to do so evidences our need for teaching in this area. Godly living requires attentiveness in all our tasks.
Nothing God has asked us to do is natural to man. For example, the flesh says to hate our enemies. Christ says to love them (Matthew 5:43,44). Our flesh says to retaliate against those who harm us. Christ says love them and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-42). Our natural man tells us to do that which gives us pleasure. Christ says to do that which gives him glory (Ephesians 3:20,21).
We cannot simply set our controls for heaven and get there. We cannot attain heaven by sleepwalking through our daily lives. Satan won’t allow it. He will attack, attack, attack (1 Peter 5:8).
C.S. Lewis discussed this idea in his insightful work, “The Screwtape Letters,” where an older demon, Screwtape, corresponds with a younger demon over the young man he is in charge of. In each of the short chapters, Lewis describes how Satan uses the different aspects of life against us. Screwtape says, “Keep pressing him on the ordinariness of things.”/3 Later, he warns, “The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”/4
Life is arduous and repetitious. We wake, shower, dress, drive to work, come home, eat, relax, and return to bed. Whatever our daily routine, it quickly grows stale and monotonous. Our faith can become the same way. We are simply being pulled along by gravity rather than actively following Christ. We are chaining ourselves to our clocks rather than hefting the cross (Mark 8:34-38).
We can even worship on automatic pilot. Yet, it is lifeless, robotic, and ultimately unsatisfying. Those who worship alongside of them can falsely claim that the methods of worship are the source of the boredom and seek to make the worship more exciting by bringing in new innovations. Their mis-diagnosis has led to an overhaul of that which was not broken. The problem was with those who were asleep, not with the style of worship.
As preachers, teachers, and church leaders, we must gently awaken people from their slumber. As we know, some awake easily while others lash out in anger. Therefore, when we try to awake brethren, we must be aware of the hazards of doing so. The effort will be worth the discomfort when they again are being disciples of Christ. They will again see the needy around them and the opportunities they have for service.
If we are sleepwalking, please wake up! Romans 13:11 says, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than we first believed” (NKJV).
3/ C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), 3.
4/ Ibid., 39.
Are We Living on Automatic Pilot?