Don’t worry, I am not about to start meddling with your food intake. I know we’re barely past December and our pants are still a little tight from too many holiday parties. My primary form of exercise last month was wrapping a gazillion gifts and running Amazon boxes from my porch to my closet before the kids saw.
But since this is the time of year when many people start focusing on their physical health, I’d like to encourage us to consider our spiritual health as well.
We consent to annual checkups, have blood drawn and tests run and strip down to be examined, but how often do we lay ourselves bare before our Maker?
Do we notice when our own heart is bleeding from emotional wounds left unchecked?
How often do we ask God to test us and search us, to know our anxious thoughts and see if there is any offensive way within us (Psalm 139:23)? Does exploratory "soul surgery" seem more terrifying than a colonoscopy?
Your stomach is not the only part of yourself that needs feeding. Jesus said that man cannot live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). We are more than the material; we have an inner spirit that hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
Not everyone realizes that they are, in fact, starving for a relationship with God. Some mistake those hunger pains as a craving for comfort, status or sex, wealth or work, intellect or inclusion, power or possessions. But all of these things - while they may be gifts from God - will eventually leave us empty unless we reach for and eat spiritual bread.
"Don't work for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set his seal of approval on him" (John 6:27).
Trying to satisfy the physical in place of the spiritual has age-old appeal. There is no temptation that has enticed you or me that isn’t common to man (I Corinthians 10:13). Jesus Himself was tempted to eat when He was fasting, to test God when He was suffering and to grab hold of kingdoms before His work on earth was complete. But He fought off all of those temptations with the pure and perfect Word of God (John 1:14, Matthew 4:1-11).
Jesus hungered, thirsted, ached, tired and grieved. He entered the world through a birth canal. He was circumcised. He grew up in stature by Mary's breast. He felt the rugged wood on His back as He carried the cross, the nails enter the skin of His hands, the spear pierce His side, the blood trickle down His head. He felt every physical and emotional feeling we will ever have. He battled every mental challenge we will ever have.
Do not doubt that Jesus is concerned about meeting our physical needs, partly because He was so well acquainted with them. He turned water into wine, raised the dead to life, healed the blind and told the lame to walk for the glory of God, a glimpse of heaven and the benefit of mankind. He wasn't content leaving things in their fallen physical state.
But Jesus will never meet a physical need without also meeting a spiritual one.
He died - willingly - so that He could be physically raised again, prove His Lordship through the resurrection, and pave the way for us to be spiritually renewed on earth and to receive new and glorified bodies in heaven (I Corinthians 15:42-44).
Jesus is not limited by our resources
When Jesus was at the point in His ministry that huge crowds followed Him because of the signs and miracles He was performing, a natural problem arose that required a practical solution. Masses of people, likely in the tens of thousands, were physically hungry with nary a Chick-fil-A in sight. But there was one little boy who had five loaves of bread and two small fish. The limited supply was enough for Jesus, because Jesus is always enough.
“Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated … as much as they wanted" (John 6:11).
Did you notice that Jesus thanked God in the midst of the scarcity, spoke grace over what wasn’t enough, and then broke it and created abundance? He passed out hope when he passed out food. He filled their souls while filling their stomachs - as much as the people could eat. They left their encounter with Jesus completely satisfied, not only physically but spiritually.
We can too.
Over the course of my Christian life, I have ranged from being a spiritual anorexic to feasting on the bounty of God. He has always prepared a table before me, set a place with my very name engraved on it, but I have not always chosen to come (Psalm 23:5, Isaiah 49:16).
There are times when I am too distracted or busy or unmotivated, and I miss the feast for pig slop. And there are times when I wisely accept His invitation to pull up a chair, talk and whisper secrets, to break holy bread, taste and see His goodness, and to swallow down all of His provision (Luke 8:10, Psalm 34:8).
Time with Jesus is always the best and most productive part of my day. There is no greater way to feed my spirit and fuel up for what lies ahead than to eat from His Word and be welcomed into His presence.
Taking inventory of your spiritual diet is a worthy exercise. It is not a call to rigidness or self-righteousness or even remorse but to reflection, repentance and renewal. It is for the sake of being filled and fully satisfied in Jesus that we evaluate our lifestyle.
So what have you been feeding your spirit lately?
Do you often skip meals, neglecting to meet with God until you feel dizzy and disoriented? This puts you at risk for grabbing the first thing in sight to fill you instead of reaching for what is truly soul nourishing.
Are you a fast food eater who regularly crams down a two-minute devotional on your way out the door? This is probably the reality of most of our diets, yet this type of intake should be considered a supplement and not our regular meal times with God. He has so much more to offer us.
Do you prefer to let other people feed you, allowing them to break down the meat of God’s Word so that you can more easily swallow it? As part of the Body of Christ, this should always be part of how we eat – sitting under wise teaching and growing up in our salvation by constantly learning more about Jesus and His Word. But we shouldn’t completely delegate this task to our pastors or teachers. We have to be self-feeders throughout the week to grow into mature believers.
Do you binge eat, stuffing yourself on Scripture without time and space to digest it? Sometimes, less is more. Meditating on one passage or verse can bring great satisfaction and depth of understanding to our spirits.
Are you a consistent eater, but the Word sometimes tastes bland or stale? Never in history has there been more ways to infuse flavor into your diet … Bible reading plans, books and studies, podcasts, blogs like this one, the fellowship of other believers, and physical fasting so that you can eat and drink more deeply from God’s store house, can all refresh your time with the Lord.
Are you a grazer, eating truth nuggets a la carte but never letting yourself be filled to the point that your cup overflows? Try reading a chapter or whole book of the Bible consecutively or in one sitting, instead of a few verses out of context.
Are you eating junk food – self-help books and media filled with the world’s truth that may taste good going down but will cause heartburn later? These are empty calories that will honestly do nothing for your spiritual health except put it at risk.
Do you indulge in the Bread of Life and Living Water, savoring Scripture and enjoying every part of God – the salty, spicy, and even bitter parts – because you believe that they are all good and necessary for you (John 7:38, Psalm 34:8, 2 Timothy 3:16)?
Our spiritual eating habits may be a mixture of these, depending on our maturity, life stage and the season we are in. When I first became a mother, hands full with babies and desperate for a few hours sleep, I was more than happy to cram down a devotional or let others feed me. This is not a bad thing, as long as the food (and the feeder) is rooted in Biblical truth.
As the kids and I have grown a little older, I am busy shoving bite-sized truth in front of them while I vacillate between binging on God, chewing on some meaty topics and feasting with my Father. And although I do sometimes still miss a meal, I am now hungry to get back to Him as quickly as possible.
The Good News is that He doesn’t care if I’m a messy eater! He gives grace over my time with Him, and it is only by His grace that I can meet with Him at all. I don’t have to understand everything in the Bible or even always like it to enjoy and profit from it. I just have to show up.
Because, truth be told, aren’t most of us a little bit like children who don’t naturally want to sit down to a two-hour meal but instead would rather eat the bare minimum and run off to play? But as we grow up in God, we’ll stop equating spending time with Him to eating our vegetables and we'll start craving time with Him as the most decadent part of our day.
May God cause our spiritual stomachs to ache and growl this year until we yearn to feed ourselves with His holy, daily bread. May we be so ravenous for Him that going to Him for sustenance is no longer viewed as optional but essential. May we choose authentic connection over crumbs every day as we abide in Jesus.
"I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again... This is the bread that came down from heaven ... The one who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:35, 58).