February 16, 2011
Is it possible to be surrounded by Christianity without actually being fed by it?
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about nourishment.
A few months ago, I was surprised to find myself dealing with some issues that I thought had long been resolved. Despite fervent prayer and careful action, I found the problem cropping up in ways that reminded me of a persistent cough: ill-timed, intrusive, and occasionally embarrassing.
As I prayed and sought the insight of wise Christians, I slowly realized that one component of my problem was that I was spiritually malnourished.
This was not the kind of issue I was used to dealing with.
I’m surrounded by spiritual resources—at home, my bookshelf holds several Bibles and sags with faith-oriented books, and I own more Christian music than it’s possible to listen to. I live in an area where there is no shortage of churches. Yet I’d been engaging these resources in the most perfunctory of ways, if at all. I’d mistaken being surrounded by these things for actually being fed by them.
Although I’d been enjoying good music, good art, and even television shows that spoke to my situation, I’d failed to seek nourishment from spiritual sources.
As a result, my soul had withered in a land of plenty. I didn’t have the strength to speak God’s truth to my heart, or to stand firm in spiritual battle, the way Paul instructed Christians to in the sixth chapter of Ephesians.
As I thought about this one evening, I wondered: What if I fed my body at the same frequency I’ve been taking in spiritual food? I imagined my body, once well-nourished, shrunken and emaciated. I saw my limbs, spindly and lost in the bright clothes I like to wear. My normally full cheeks were hollow, my hair flat and sparse.
I imagined myself struggling through the basic tasks of my day, like climbing stairs or walking uphill. At the same time, I was cheerfully impervious to my struggle. I noticed looks of concern on the faces of my co-workers and friends, but didn’t realize why they were worried.
I appeared satisfied on the food I’d eaten in the past. After all, I knew where to find food if I wanted it, and had even been able to feed others before.
Startled, I realized that God had used my imagination to give me insight into the condition of my heart. He gently revealed my need for humility, repentance, and recommitment to the nourishing spiritual practices I’d neglected.
I memorized Matthew 4:4 as a child. But lately I’ve appreciated the contemporary rendering of the verse in The Message: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.” Now, more than ever, I’m mindful of my need for that steady stream.