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March 30, 2020

Addressing Spiritual Lethargy: An Introduction

Defining Spiritual Lethargy

Called to care for and cure souls, pastors invest a significant amount of time and energy addressing a malady which can be diagnosed as spiritual lethargy.  The Apostle Paul urged the Thessalonians to avoid succumbing to spiritual lethargy: “so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober” (1 Thess. 5:6).[1]  Paul also attempted to rouse those saints in Rome who were in a moral stupor: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber” (Rom. 13:11, NIV).  Peter the Apostle warned believers about the prowling adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  In the face of ever present spiritual danger, all believers must be “in a wakeful activity” taking great pains to be watchful.[2]

Spiritual lethargy may be defined as a state of indifference and/or inertia with regard to one’s own spiritual growth and vitality.  A. W. Tozer describes this condition well: “there is little communion and little joy in the Lord. To have a cold heart with little pity, little fire, little love and little worship is spiritual lethargy.”[3]

Some of the most common symptoms of spiritual lethargy include any combination of the following:

  • chronic indulgence in sinful thoughts and actions;
  • little or no desire to pray;
  • engagement in exclusively Christ-less entertainment;
  • avoidance of personal accountability;
  • decreased appetite for Bible study;
  • selfish and materialistic orientation;
  • reluctant and sporadic church attendance.

Some of the above symptoms may be difficult to detect even by observant and discerning pastors.  For example, a person who is languishing in spiritual lethargy may still engage in some form of religious activity albeit in a perfunctory manner. Further, those symptoms do not heal easily.  However, pastors should be encouraged by the fact that none of them are incurable.  In the weeks ahead, pastors can receive help and hope as this series of blogs will approach spiritual lethargy from three perspectives: biblical, theological and homiletical.


[1] All Scripture quotations are from the Updated New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.

[2] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews; James; 1 & 2 Peter; Jude (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 379.

[3] A. W. Tozer, The Dangers of a Shallow Faith: Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2012), 20, 55.

Rock LaGioia

Rock LaGioia

Rock LaGioia, Professor of Pastoral Studies, is passionate about building up the body of Christ by training the next generation of effective church leaders. Rock has many years of pastoral experience and enjoys preaching and teaching sound doctrine regularly at worship services, conferences, and seminars.


  • D.Min. 2007 Preaching, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois
  • Th.M. 1992 Practical Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois
  • M.Div. 1991 Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois
  • B.A. 1989 Pastoral Studies (Greek Emphasis), Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois
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