by A. W. Tozer
Excerpted from Rut, Rot or Revival
East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this
The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this
mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go
to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the
western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the
Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I
have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the
Lord swore He would give to your fathers – to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and
to their descendants after them.” (Dt. 1:5- 8)
In the Old Testament, the enemy that threatened Israel the most was the
dictatorship of the customary. Israel became accustomed to walking around in
circles and was blissfully content to stay by the safety of the mountain for
a while. To put it another way, it was the psychology of the usual. God
finally broke into the rut they were in and said, “You have been here long
enough. It is time for you to move on.”
To put Israel’s experience into perspective for our benefit today, we must
see that the mountain represents a spiritual experience for a spiritual
state of affairs. Israel’s problem was that they had given up hope of ever
getting the land God had promised them. They had become satisfied with going
in circles and camping in nice, comfortable places. They had come under the
spell of the psychology of the routine. It kept them where they were and
prevented them from getting the riches God had promised them.
If their enemy, the Edomites, would have come after them, the Israelites
would have fought down to the last man and probably would have beaten the
Edomites – Israel would have made progress. Instead they were twiddling
their thumbs, waiting for the customary to keep on being the customary.
What is the worst enemy the church faces today? This is where a lot of
unreality and unconscious hypocrisy enters. Many are ready to say, “The
liberals are our worst enemy.” But the simple fact is that the average
evangelical church does not have too much trouble with liberalism. Nobody
gets up in our churches and claims that the first five books of Moses are
just myths. Nobody says that the story of creation is simply religious
mythology. Nobody denies that Christ walked on the water or that He rose
from the grave. Nobody gets up in our churches and claims that Jesus Christ
is not the Son of God or that He isn’t coming back again. Nobody denies the
validity of the Scriptures. We just cannot hide behind liberalism and say
that it is our worst enemy. We believe that evangelical Christians are
trying to hold on to the truth given to us, the faith of our fathers, so the
liberals are not our worst enemy.
Neither do we have a problem with the government. People in our country can
do just about whatever they please and the government pays no attention. We
can hold prayer meetings all night if we want, and the government would
never bother us or question us. There is no secret police breathing down our
backs watching our every move. We live in a free land, and we ought to thank
God every day for that privilege.
Dictatorship of the Routine
The treacherous enemy facing the church of Jesus Christ today is the
dictatorship of the routine, when the routine becomes “lord” in the life of
the church. Programs are organized and the prevailing conditions are
accepted as normal. Anyone can predict next Sunday’s service and what will
happen. This seems to be the most deadly threat in the church today. When we
come to the place where everything can be predicted and nobody expects
anything unusual from God, we are in a rut. The routine dictates, and we can
tell not only what will happen next Sunday, but what will occur next month
and, if things do not improve, what will take place next year. Then we have
reached the place where what has been determines what is, and what is
determines what will be.
That would be perfectly all right and proper for a cemetery. Nobody expects
a cemetery to do anything but conform. The greatest conformists in the world
today are those who sleep out in the community cemetery. They do not bother
anyone. They just lie there, and it is perfectly all right for them to do
so. You can predict what everyone will do in the cemetery from the deceased
right down to the people who attend a funeral there. Everyone and everything
in a cemetery has accepted the routine. Nobody expects anything out of those
buried in the cemetery. But the church is not a cemetery and we should
expect much from it, because what has been should not be lord to tell us
what is, and what is should not be ruler to tell us what will be. God’s
people are supposed to grow.
As long as there is growth, there is an air of unpredictability. Certainly
we cannot predict exactly, but in many churches you just about can.
Everybody knows just what will happen, and this has become our deadliest
enemy. We blame the devil, the “last days” and anything else we can think
of, but the greatest enemy is not outside of us. It is within – it is an
attitude of accepting things as they are. We believe that what was must
always determine what will be, and as a result we are not growing in
The Progressive Stages
As soon as someone begins talking like this, the Lord’s people respond by
getting busy. What I’m talking about, however, is internal. It is a matter
of the soul and mind that ultimately determines our conduct. Let me show you
the progressive stages.
I began with what I call the rote. This is repetition without feeling. If
someday someone would read the Scripture and believe it and would believe
what is sung in the great Christian hymns, there would be a blessed
spiritual revolution underway in a short time. But too many are caught up in
the rote, repeating without feeling, without meaning, without wonder and
without any happy surprises or expectations. In our services God cannot get
in because we have it all fixed up for Him. We say, “Lord, we are going to
have it this way. Now kindly bless our plans.” We repeat without feeling, we
repeat without meaning, we sing without wonder, and we listen without
surprise. That is my description of the rote.
We go one step further and come to what I will call the rut, which is
bondage to the rote. When we are unable to see and sense bondage to the
rote, we are in rut. For example, a man may be sick and not even know it.
The doctors may have confided in the man’s wife instead, “We don’t want to
frighten your husband, but he could drop any minute. He is critically ill,
so just expect it any moment.” The man himself does not know he is seriously
ill. He goes about his business as if nothing is wrong. He may play golf or
tennis, maybe even go on a hunting trip. He is sick, and yet he does not
know how sick he really is. This may in fact hasten his end. Not knowing is
risky business and full of danger. Spiritually speaking, the rut is bondage
to the rote, and the greatest danger lies in our inability to sense or feel
There is a third word, and I do not particularly like to use it, but the
history of the church is filled with it. The word is rot. The church is
afflicted by drive rot. This is best explained when the psychology of
non-expectation takes over and spiritual rigidity sets in, which is an
inability to visualize anything better, a lack of desire for improvement.
There are many who respond by arguing, “I know lots of evangelical churches
that would like to grow, and they do their best to get the crowds in. They
want to grow and have contest to make their Sunday school larger.” That is
true, but they are trying to get people to come and share their rut. They
want people to help them celebrate the rote and finally join in the rot.
Because the Holy Spirit is not given the chance to work in our services,
nobody is repenting, nobody is seeking God, nobody is spending a day in
quiet waiting on God with open Bible seeking to mend his or her ways. Nobody
is doing it – we just want more people. But more people for what? More
people to come and repeat our dead services without feeling, without
meaning, without wonder, without surprise? More people to join us in the
bondage to the rote? For the most part, spiritual rigidity that cannot bend
is too weak notice how weak it is.
What Is the Church?
For clarification, what is the church? When I say that a church gets into
the rote and then onto the rut and finely to the rot, what am I talking
For one thing, the church is not the building. A church is an assembly of
individuals. There is a lot of meaningless dialogue these days about the
church. It is meaningless because those engaged in the dialogue forget that
a church has no separate existence. The church is not an entity in itself,
but rather is composed of individual persons. It is the same error made
about the state. Politicians sometimes talk about the state as though it
were an entity in itself. Social workers talk about society, but society is
people. So is the church. The church is made up of real people, and when
they come together we have the church. Whatever the people are who make up
the church, that is the kind of church it is – no worse and no better, no
wiser, no holier, no more ardent and no more worshipful. To improve or
change the church you must begin with individuals.
When people in the church only point to others for improvement and not to
themselves, it is sure evidence that the church has come to dry rot. It is
proof of three sins: the sin of self-righteousness, the sin of judgment and
the sin of complacency.
When our Lord said, “One of you will betray Me,” thank God those disciples
had enough spirituality that nobody said, “Lord, is it he?” Every one of
those disciples said, “Lord, is it I?” If they would not have so responded
there could not have been a Pentecost. But because they were humble enough
to point the finger in their own direction the Holy Spirit fell upon them.
Self-righteousness is terrible among God’s people. If we feel that we are
what we ought to be, then we will remain what we are. We will not look for
any change or improvement in our lives. This will quite naturally lead us to
judge everyone by what we are. This is the judgment of which we must be
careful. To judge others by ourselves is to create havoc in the local
Self-righteousness also leads to complacency. Complacency is a great sin and
covers just about everything I have said about the rote and the rut. Some
have the attitude, “Lord, I’m satisfied with my spiritual condition. I hope
one of these days You’ll come, I will be taken up to meet You in the air and
I will rule over five cities.” These people cannot rule over their own
houses and families, but they expect to rule over five cities. They pray
spottily and sparsely, rarely attending prayer meeting, but they read their
Bibles and expect to go zooming off into the blue yonder and join the Lord
in the triumph of the victorious saints.
Is Simply Self-Deception
I wonder if we are not fooling ourselves. I wonder if a lot of it is simply
self-deception. I hear the voice of Jesus saying to us, “You have stayed
long enough where you are. Break camp and advance into the hill country.”
This would be a new spiritual experience that God has for us. Everything
Jesus Christ did for us we can have in this age. Victorious living, joyous
living, holy living, fruitful living, wondrous, ravishing knowledge of the
Triune God – all of this is ours.
Power we never knew before, undreamed of answers to prayer – this is ours.
“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of [it].” The
Lord gave it to you in a covenant. Go take it – it’s yours. It was given to
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all their seed after. Jesus prayed, “My prayer is
not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through
their message” (Jn. 17: 20). That embraces all those who belong to the
church of Jesus Christ.
If we call Him Lord, how dare we sit any longer in the rut! The Lord has
called us to move on. But when people are in a rut, not even the angel
Gabriel can help them if they will not come out of it. This is not an
accusation but a suggestion. If you are not in a rut, don’t get mad –
somebody else is. But if you are in a rut you ought to get out of it.
The difference between a wooden leg and a good leg is that if you prick a
wooden leg the person would never notice. The difference between a church
that has dry rot and a church that is alive is that if you prick the live
church it will respond. If you prick the other kind, it is already dead. The
tree that stands alive has lush, green leaves. Take a knife, scar the bark
deeply and the tree will bleed. It is alive. The old dead tree just stands
there, a watchtower for old sentinel crows. Take your knife and dig in as
far as you want to, and nothing will happen because the tree is dead.
So it is with my message. If you’ll get neither mad nor glad nor sad under
my preaching, I know nothing can be done. But there are some who are alive,
and I believe it is the majority.