A few years ago, our daughter found an old, discarded bicycle and brought it home to decorate our back yard. Its basket now serves as a planter. The bike hasn’t been ridden in many years I’d guess, because the chain has rusted solid, the seat is cracked, the tires are flat, and the paint has faded. What has happened to this bicycle is what physics calls entropy.
Entropy refers to the propensity of systems to break down into disorder and randomness over time. The term decay comes to mind. In the field of physics, the second law of thermodynamics states that entropy always increases with time. But the principle of entropy can apply to any system: manmade or natural, physical or relational, organic or organizational, religious or political.
Without constant intervention and care, entropy will eventually destroy anything in this world. If we were to try to restore that old bicycle in our yard, it would take a lot of effort and money to renovate it to its original condition. Frankly, at this stage of its deterioration, it wouldn’t be worth it. But if that bicycle had been cared for and well maintained all those years, someone would still enjoy riding it instead of it decorating our backyard.
If not cared for and invested in, our relationships are subject to entropy as well. Throughout our married life, my wife and I have moved a lot. We’ve lived in several different states in the U.S. and in two foreign countries. Everywhere we’ve lived, we’ve established friendships. Most of those friendships have gone the way of entropy due to lack of contact and investment on our part and theirs. However, a few of those friendships we’ve been able to invest in and maintain over many years.
But the distance that can lead to entropy isn’t always measured in miles. Sadly, entropy occurs in many marriages when couples cease to invest in and care for their relationship. They may live in the same house, but their relationship falls prey to entropy due to neglect. Sure, a good marriage requires the investment of both husband and wife, but if each is waiting for the other to initiate, entropy will have its way.
Our relationship with the Lord can go the way of entropy as well. Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2 warned them of this danger. Despite their hard work, perseverance, and adherence to sound doctrine, their relationship with the Lord had been neglected and was degenerating. Jesus explained, “I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:4-5 NIV)
What is true for a church in this regard applies to us as individuals as well. So, how do we cultivate a living, growing relationship with the Lord and with others and prevent those relationships from degenerating into entropy? For without consistent effort and care, just like that old bike in our back yard, our relationships will corrode and crack and go flat.
The apostle Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7) How did we receive Christ? By faith through His grace, and so we must continue to cultivate our relationship with Him by faith through His grace.
The apostle Peter also reminds us that Christ “has given us everything we need for living a godly life” through our relationship with Him. (2 Peter 1:3) What has Christ given us? He has given us Himself, His Holy Spirit living within us, His written Word, prayer, His church filled with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and He has given us life itself, and so much more!
Jesus has given us all the tools and disciplines for investing in and maintaining a healthy relationship with Him and with others. But how many of those tools and disciplines do we ignore? I think we often neglect His church, His Word, and prayer.
But let’s put those tools and disciplines in the right context. For if Christ is no longer our first love (Revelation 2:4-5), then these disciplines seem hard and legalistic to us. And God forbid that we should fall into legalism! So, claiming to avoid being legalistic we legitimize our neglect of the very disciplines that would help us keep our relationships with the Lord and others vibrant.
But if Christ is our first love, if we are enthralled with Him, if He is the pearl of great price for which we are willing to forfeit all else to obtain, then we eagerly, hungrily, and joyfully pursue those disciplines, because we know that they lead to even deeper fellowship with Him and with others.
Some reading this might argue, “What if I don’t feel that way about Christ right now?” Feelings are fickle, we pursue Christ and love Him by faith, not by feelings (Colossians 2:6-7). Love Him by faith (a decision) and the feelings will follow.
The same kinds of tools and disciplines are readily available to us for cultivating our relationships in marriage and with others. The fruit or outcomes of walking in step with the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23 are a great place to start.
Entropy in relationships is inevitable unless we actively invest in and care for them. Which of your relationships are at risk of falling into entropy?
©2023 Rob Fischer