Ok, so here is the deal. When I get hungry, I eat. When I get tired, I sleep. When I get discouraged, I eat. Just kidding on the last one. I usually go watch a movie or watch my kids play.
On a serious note though, if hunger is the sign that something needs to be put in our stomach’s, what are we supposed to put in our spiritual belly when we are spiritually hungry? This is a question that I have been trying to get my head and heart around over the last couple of months. I do not have this all figured out, but I think that I am going in the right direction. So, let me share with you what I have been thinking.
There are two places in the Gospel’s were Jesus says something about spiritual food. What makes these two instances interesting is that one has to do with consumption and the other has to do with activity. I am by no means the symbol of fitness or dietary excellence, but I know that if I want to be healthy I have to eat well and exercise or stay active.
This is what Jesus said. The first he said to the devil and the second he said to his disciples.
But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4, ESV)
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work….” (John 4:31-34, ESV)
Remember, we are talking about spiritual diet and spiritual exercise.
Learning to tell the difference
When Jesus said this, he was at the end of a forty day fast. Jesus was preparing himself for the ministry that God had sent him to accomplish. He is tired, physically weak, and most importantly, hungry. So what does the devil use as his first temptation? He goes right after the most immediate need in Jesus life, food. The devil attacks the one need that Jesus needs satisfied. But, Jesus response is to tell the devil that no amount of food can satisfy the soul. The devil went after the physical and Jesus responded with the spiritual.
Too often, when we find ourselves weak and struggling with where we are in our spiritual journeys we have to be careful not to confuse the physical with the spiritual. There is no easy way to separate the two, but what we have to do is learn to distinguish the source of the problem. The devil tried to get access into Jesus spiritual life through the physical. That is why when the devil challenged Jesus with a physical solution Jesus responded with the deeper and true solution. The solution was not food for the stomach, but food for the soul.
Whenever we find ourselves confused, dazed or seeking answers, the danger will tend to be in trying to resolve a spiritual problem with a physical remedy. This will not work. Last year (2011) I realized something:
You don’t know how malnourished your soul is
until you start feeding it properly.
Our spiritual food, the nourishment that God has provided is his word. If we are not consuming his word on a regular basis (regular = everyday!), you are starving yourself. There is not enough spiritual nutrition going into your soul to help you stay healthy and help you see what God is actually doing. The first step to resolving struggle is to eat properly.
Spiritual Couch Potatoes
The second step is to exercise. This is exactly what Jesus was telling the disciples. I do not think it is a coincidence that the disciples were the ones that received the “get to work” half of the spiritual health talk. Possibly the greatest danger for every Christian is knowing more than we are able to put into practice. The more we know, the greater the possibility of falling into pride and complacency. Our tendency to sit back and talk about what should be done is increased because we “know” what God wants to happen.
If I eat and eat and eat and never exercise, there will be one result,an unhealthy life. And the longer this goes on the hard it gets to go back to a healthy lifestyle.
The exercise of our faith is found in two things. First, we have to do the will of God. That is what Jesus said was satisfying him. And, the only way that I know of that we learn that is by being in the Word of God. If we are not faithfully reading, studying and meditating on God’s word searching it for God’s will, we will never be able to do it. We have to be students of the word. Listen to what John Wesley had to say on the subject.
“Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of lights: ‘Lord, is it not thy Word, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God”? Thou “givest liberally and upbraidest not”. Thou hast said, “If any be willing to do thy will, he shall know.” I am willing to do, let me know thy will. I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, ‘comparing spiritual things with spiritual’. I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God, and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.
In a more direct manner he said this in the same text:
“God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!” [John Wesley, Preface to Standard Sermons]. [Source]
I am growing in my conviction that the reason too many churches in a America are in decline is not that there are not enough programs or opportunities. Churches are in decline because we are starving for the two things that satisfy the soul: Spiritual food and spiritual exercise. And, what makes all of this worse is that we do not get to decide what those are. God has decided and for some of us that is not fair; that is unrealistic; it is too much to ask; it does not seem like enough; or any number of reasons that we can give for not obeying these two simple principles.
How do I know if I’m spiritually starving? We will look at that next time!