The Importance of Nourishment

I think it is fair to say that most of us have an appetite throughout the day. Granted, some want to eat nearly every hour, whereas others might only be hungry a couple of times a day. The point is, a healthy body needs to be taking in nutrients. If a person has no desire for food and will not eat, then something is probably wrong.

Many of us have experienced being sick and having no appetite. How many of us have experienced similar discussions during such times?

“Do you want some soup? How about some juice?”

“No thank you. I’m not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten anything all day. How about a piece of toast and a cup of broth?”

“Okay.”

An hour later a piece of toast with a bite or two missing is sitting on a plate, and next to it is a cold cup of broth.

Something similar happens with the spiritual part of our beings. When our souls are healthy, we should maintain an appetite for God’s Word. Peter writes:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. ~ 1 Peter 2:2-3

Another writer notes that a healthy, mature believer should be eating “solid food” not mere milk of elementary teachings.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. ~ Hebrews 5:12-13

My wife could tell something was wrong with me when I was going deeper into depression. You see, I enjoyed reading and discussing God’s Word. I enjoyed, and excelled in, my studies in Bible college and Seminary. However, she noticed more and more I was disengaging in discussions of the Bible. Less and less I wanted to go to church or Bible studies. I did not want to pray. I did not want to do much of anything, really.

Whenever I did try to read, my mind seemed to go in multiple directions. I could not concentrate. What I did try to do each morning before leaving for work was still have my devotional times. However, I would simply read a verse or two, and the accompanying devotional. For me, this was sort of the equivalent of taking in some toast and juice. Ideally, it is preferable to be in a more healthy position to take in more spiritual nutrition, however.

Perhaps you are in a season where you are not “hungry” for the Word, as you had been. This does show something is wrong, spiritually: anxiety, depression, busyness, burnout, sin, or something else. I want to encourage you to remember the importance of nourishment. Certainly whole servings of fruit and vegetables is better for your body than mere sips of orange juice and broth. However, juice and broth are better than nothing at all. So too, digging into the Word is better than simply reading a verse and devotional. However, these are still better than no nourishment at all.

As you read, especially if your mind is going in different directions, do not try to know every part. Pay attention to key words, phrases, promises, or aspects of God’s character. Simply try to think about these periodically throughout the day. God will use these to nourish your soul back to better health.

You Are Not Alone

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Light in the Darkness for Weary Travelers

Depression is a strange terrain. Perhaps you are there now. For me, when I was in the depths of my depression, the feelings of loneliness bit like a frigid Minnesota winter night, although people could be all around me. Like the old Casper, the Friendly Ghost cartoons, I desired to connect with others but could not. At times, I felt as though I was literally invisible.

As such, crazy thoughts would begin to churn in my mind like clothes in a dryer, going round and round. “Why am I here? Does my life really matter? Would anyone really miss me if I was gone? Would anyone even notice?” Oh, believe me, there were plenty of seemingly legitimate reasons why my life did not matter, etc. I have known the sting of betrayal, and the wounds of being forsaken by some.

I felt like screaming when persons would say things like, “I know how you feel,” because they did not know. They had no idea what I was feeling. I knew some meant well, but their words were like salt in an opened wound. I felt as though I was existing in the realm of the dead—not dead, but not living either.

When I was in the depths of my depression, I felt as though I was in a deep pit, surrounded by darkness.  I could not climb out of it. I felt forsaken by people and by God. During this time I experienced a lot of confusion, fear, and anger. Honestly, I just wanted the Lord to kill me and take me home. “I came. I tried. I failed. Kill me now, Lord.”

How does a person get to such a place? There is no single reason for depression. Perhaps you can relate to the feelings of the prophet Elijah:

And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers …. I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” ~ 1 Kings 19:4, 14 (ESV)

Perhaps you are experiencing depression right now. I am not going to criticize you or accuse you of lacking faith. I am not going to tell you I know how you feel, because I do not. I only know how I felt, and it was a hellish experience that I do not wish upon anyone. What I will say is this: I know the loneliness can  be crushing, like a ten ton boulder. Perhaps you are surrounded by a deep darkness. May the words from the prophet Micah be of hope for you:

I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light…. I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7-8 (CEV)

You might be sitting in a “dark night of the soul,” but the light of the Lord has not been extinguished. At a coming hour His radiance will be bursting at dawn. Perhaps God seems but a flickering star a billion miles away—even so, His presence surrounds you, whether you “feel” it or not. And know that you are loved and needed. By your parents, your spouse, your child(ren), your pet(s).

While you might feel alone in this experience, know that there are others experiencing something similar. Elijah felt as though he was alone, but God tells the prophet of seven thousand others, like himself, had not bowed their knees to Baal (see 1 Kings 19:18).

I know the feelings are horrible. You might feel embarrassed for feeling this way, but you are simply feeling your humanity in a fallen world. I know this blog is not a cure for depression; however, I hope you will know that you are not alone. I might not be by your side, but please know I am with you in spirit. Know that God is sending people to you, though even strangers they might be, to give a warm smile. This might seem insignificant, but many of these persons are struggling with similar feelings. Most importantly, God is with you. His presence is not dependent on your faith or feelings. Continue to talk to Him, regardless if He seems absent (He is not). Continue to pour your heart to Him. In due time, as He did with Micah, he will lead you to the light.

I hope God will use this blog to give you strength to fight through another day; and regardless of your feelings, you are not alone.

The Necessity of You

This blog is just as much for the pastor and missionary as it is for the layperson. I ask you honestly, was not the prophet Jeremiah an utter failure, a disgrace to the ministry? Is he not certainly one we can look down on, shaking our heads? Is he not one whom God clearly did not really use? After all, he did not have many, if any, converts. He did not spark any revivals or great awakenings. His message only upset people. Although two books in the Old Testament are written by him, are either of them anyone’s favorite? He certainly would not be “hired” by most churches today.

As a person, he does not seem to have the wisdom of Daniel, the strength of David, the zeal of Paul, or the leadership qualities of Moses or Nehemiah. Was Jeremiah not a sissy-boy, always crying? Would he not have been an embarrassment to the likes of Joshua?

Now, I hope you realize I am totally being facetious. What foolishness to think Jeremiah was not a man of God whom He used mightily. Although miracles and revivals did not accompany Jeremiah’s ministry, what made him great was his obedience to God. Yet, do we not play such non-sensical comparison games in churches? Admittedly, laypersons and pastors alike are guilty of this. This pastor has a big church, God must really be using him, while the preacher down the road ministers to a congregation of twenty-five persons. Obviously, God is not using him, right? Or that person has an M. Div. degree and is a great teacher, but this person is only a greeter. Honestly, is not the common (mis)perception that the latter person is not as used by God, and the former is more spiritual? The chances are great that you and I are quite guilty of such nonsense.

Many of us are also guilty of this at a personal level. “I am not a great speaker.” “I have never been on a mission trip.” “I do not have a formal theological education.” Or such comments can also come from a condescending standpoint. When I was enrolled at a certain Bible college, there was an underlying attitude of some that the less of a theological education one has, the less God can really use such a person. What hogwash!

Many of us would agree the church in Corinth was a messed up bunch. Yet, ironically, is this not the very church Paul rebuked for such stinking-thinking so common today?

“What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ~ 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, ESV

Later, Paul writes:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty…. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12, 21-23, 29-31

Would Paul not rebuke us today? Many of us have our favorite preachers (“I follow John Piper,” “I follow John MacArthur,” “I follow Charles Swindoll,” or “I follow Max Lucado”), as if they are some sort of rock stars. We go to conferences and we treat the preachers we have not heard of like unsigned opening acts (hey, Paul would rebuke me, too).

At a personal level, how often have many of us been guilty of comparing ourselves with others? If we are not careful, we might begin criticizing ourselves (or others) as though we (or they) have less significance or purpose. “I’m not an eye, I’m worthless!” “I’m just a foot, the body doesn’t need me.” Be honest, have not many of us questioned our worth and significance because we are not this or that, as compared to this or that person? Or else looked down on another because of something we do not like about them (as though we are somehow better)?

What does Paul tell us? He notes that God does not give everyone the same gifts; rather, He gives each a specific place and function. None is the better, none is the worse. Furthermore, each is necessary. While we have not yet discussed it, Paul writes that there is something even greater than our gifts and functions. In chapter 13 he explains that this something greater is love.

Permit me to shift gears for a moment. There are some preachers and authors who give us pep talks about being “earth shakers” and “world changers.” Although they mean well, these are not only unrealistic, but also misleading. Unrealistic, because most of us are simply “ordinary” individuals. This is not an insult, but only to say that we are not superheroes or greatly influential. Misleading, because Jesus has not called us to be “earth shakers” or “world changers.” (What?!?!?!) But what does He say?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:4-5

What does Jesus tell us to do? He does not tell us to do anything but to abide in Him. Why? Because apart from Him we can do nothing. So notice, appearances can be deceiving. There are times when things appear a lot is happening, when nothing is truly happening for God’s kingdom. Strangely, there are times when it seems nothing is happening, when there is a lot going on. All is dependent on whether or not persons are abiding in Christ.

This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 13. We tend to put a lot of stock in the external—the glitter, noise, bustling, and excitement. We enjoy the extraordinary. But Paul says if he has the gift of tongues—to the point of speaking the language of angels—but has not love, he is just making noise. If he gives everything to the point of including his life but has not love, he has not really given anything at all.

So, what is my point? Do not let mere externals or spiritual gifts determine your sense of worth. Our worth is solely based and secured in Christ. Furthermore, do not be active for the sake of being active. Busy-ness does not equal being “spiritual.” Rather, abide in Christ and He will bring true life to you, and then you will bear fruit. Also, genuinely love God and others. Great speakers and entertainers abound, but how many people in our lives genuinely love without any expectations in return? Abide in Christ and genuinely love, and you can be certain your life is bearing real fruit—even when it might not seem like it. This is what made Jeremiah a great man of God. By and large, truly, he would be rejected by many churches and persons today. Yet, here was a man who remained obedient when the going got tough, and a man who poured his heart out for the sake of others. God, indeed, was with Jeremiah—and his legacy continues onward today. Gifts and activities do not create significance. The real issue is whether or not we are abiding in Christ, obeying God’s Word (which goes hand in hand with abiding), and truly loving others. These are what determine true success. If you are doing these, then you can be certain God is using you in mighty ways, regardless what your eyes—or other’s eyes—see (or do not see)!