by David F. Maas
"My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."
— John 4:34
One Sabbath morning, several years ago, I awoke to some strange noises downstairs in the kitchen. Upon investigating the disturbance, I discovered that my son, Eric, who was just five at the time, had made a makeshift staircase out of the kitchen drawers to reach the counter. He was reaching for a cereal bowl as I came up behind him.
"Why don't you let Dad help you?" I called out.
"No, Dad, I want to get my own breakfast," he replied.
I felt a surge of parental pride in seeing my offspring take charge of his life. Often youngsters are encouraged by overprotective parents to remain in a dependent, passive role long after they should have been assuming grown-up responsibilities.
Fortunately, the apostle Paul was not an overprotective parent. He continually expressed frustration and annoyance at the chronic dependency in congregations that he had assumed should exhibit some maturity. To the Corinthians he writes, "I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are not able; for you are still carnal" (I Corinthians 3:2-3).
He tells the Hebrews:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
These congregations were not equipped to feed themselves—to discern sacred or spiritual from profane or carnal. If we are in a dependent state, it would be to our advantage to learn how we can wean ourselves spiritually from the bottle. Some of us over the years have seemingly lost our appetite for solid spiritual food and need to be fed intravenously.
All of us need to become less dependent on spiritual milk and instead become more capable of profiting from solid food. For those who are losing the capacity to enjoy solid food, there is a way to revitalize our spiritual appetite for the weightier matters.
Most of us would agree that the state of spiritual dependency described by the apostle Paul in Hebrews and Corinthians seemed lamentable and disgusting. Yet, how many of us during the last ten, twenty, or thirty years in the church, especially before the massive split, became conditioned to wait for the minister to prepare our weekly formula of Enfamil rather than ravenously devour God's Word every day?
Perhaps we have developed "baby-bird syndrome" in which we, in a helpless "take care of me" posture, open our beaks to get our weekly or bi-weekly worm. If Sabbath services were the only times we were spiritually fed, we would eventually starve to death.
Sometimes late in life, after leading a full life, people for no apparent reason lose their will to live and must be fed intravenously. A number of years ago, I knew a man about my age—a father of two teenage children, a boy and a girl—who was a patient in the Los Angeles County Hospital. He had developed the delusion that his brain was wired to a bus terminal. Over time, this man began slipping into a catatonic stupor, refusing to take nourishment. Eventually, he was transferred to another institution, where he was kept alive by intravenous feeding. Ultimately, having lost his will to live, seeing no meaning or purpose in his life, he died.
Actually, when we all think about it, without an overriding purpose for our existence, we have no reason to eat or sustain our life. After the belief system was altered in our prior fellowship, people indeed started to lose the vision of their purpose for existence and eventually lost their capacity to endure solid food. Hopefully, most of us have passed the stage of the milk bottle, or God forbid, the need for intravenous feeding.
We desperately need some further instruction on how to maintain a balanced diet or how to sustain a healthy, spiritual appetite.
Carbs and Proteins
Much of our spiritual diet, like our physical one, consists of a combination of carbohydrates and proteins. From biology class, we remember that carbohydrates serve as ready fuel. Starch that is converted to sugar becomes metabolized as fuel. Proteins, on the other hand, become used as building blocks, giving structure or form to the bones and skin tissue. Proteins can be broken down into fuel, but carbohydrates cannot be formed into building blocks.
We can liken God's Holy Spirit to spiritual protein. It can take isolated spiritual facts (usually in the form of scriptures) and transform them into eternal principles. The individual scriptures given in the sermonettes or sermons could be likened to carbohydrates, useful for immediate fuel. However, without the structure provided by God's Spirit, they often remain knowledge without understanding.
In the past, I observed my sons taking notes at services and Bible Studies. When they first began taking notes, they would only write down the specific scriptures (book, chapter, verse) given in the message. I pointed out to them that all they really have over a period of time is a list of scriptures—related to be sure—but without the vital connecting links. These connecting links should have been, and probably were, supplied by the speaker's message. The principles expounded in the message—inspired by God's Holy Spirit—are what hold the scriptures together and give them structure.
As I told my sons, the scriptures in a random list are of little value unless they are linked together by some spiritual principle. Herbert W. Armstrong repeatedly said that the Bible is a coded book, with parts of doctrines deliberately jumbled throughout Scripture like a jigsaw puzzle. A random list of verses without the organizing principle is just like stringing out jigsaw puzzle pieces in a straight line.
We are reminded in Isaiah that God's truth is not all neatly packaged together in one place: "For precept must be upon precept . . . line upon line . . . Here a little, there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). At times, it takes considerable work and energy to find the connecting links.
In my American Literature class, I gave a series of essay questions in which I asked: "By specific references from your text, illustrate Benjamin Franklin's use of diplomacy." Invariably, students would parrot back passages I had quoted in our class discussion. I said, "Fine—now explain the significance of these passages. Why are they important?" This focus on the insight of the passage separates the students who merely have knowledge from the students who have understanding.
As students of God's Word, we are required to demonstrate both knowledge and understanding. We have to consume both carbohydrates (for immediate fuel) and proteins (for long-term building blocks), providing structure and form for the body. Remember, Jesus says we cannot live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4). To the young people, we might add, we cannot live by cookies or candy bars alone. Spiritually speaking, we need both carbohydrates and proteins.
Preparing spiritual food like an adult often necessitates preserving, canning, and storing it properly. If we are diligently taking notes (which I assume we are) we are storing up spiritual preserves so that if we ever have to endure a sustained famine of the Word (Amos 8:11), we will not be caught without something to eat.
In Proverbs 12:27 we learn, "The slothful man does not roast what he took in season." What good is meat in due season (Matthew 24:45) if we fail to prepare and dress it properly? Meat in due season will rot and putrefy if the innards are not removed and it is not preserved by salt or smoke.
It is hoped that we would never assume the posture of a congregant in a Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox church—who merely stands or sits passively, as if to be entertained. These people rarely recall anything about the sermon.
Perhaps it is like the story of President Calvin Coolidge, whose wife had to stay home from church services because of illness. Trying to find out what had happened in church, she asked: "Cal, what did the minister talk about?"
"Sin," he replied.
"Well, what did he say about it?"
"He's agin it."
The necessity for storing up spiritual preserves should have been underscored by the breakup and dissolution of our previous fellowship. At several points in the early 1990s, it became apparent to us that we were starving to death spiritually. Many had not stored up spiritual preserves to tide them through the antinomian heresy. Fortunately, for all of us, God has provided shepherds loyal to the Word of God, who led the flock to suitable pastureland. Many of us had the experience of realizing we were starving to death, devouring tapes and articles to reactivate the faith once delivered (Jude 3).
We found our areas of refuge and started to rebuild our strength. We dare not allow ourselves to let our guard down again. Having accumulated a backlog of Forerunner issues and sermon tapes should not give us a sense of false security. Just having these resources is not the same as using and assimilating these resources. We have to learn to feed ourselves.
In the observant Jewish community, the Torah (the five books of Moses) and the Haftorah (selected readings from the prophets and writings) are systematically read and expounded in an annual cycle. One parasha (sermon or commentary) is read each week, but it constitutes only a small portion of the weekly lesson. The member of the congregation is expected to read and meditate on the other portion at home. Not every Jew devotes himself to this practice, but the devout, observant ones do. We as members of the greater church of God should have as much zeal in maintaining our daily Bible study. It is our life sustaining manna.
Calling Uncle Art
Are we ravenously devouring our notes or transcripts from previous sermons, or are we pick-picking at occasional articles like a finicky child? When I was growing up on the farm, my parents, who had both lived through the Depression, admonished my brothers and me to eat everything on our plates. If we did not, they threatened to call Uncle Art.
To this day, I do not leave anything on my plate—unless it is unclean or spoiled, of course. My sons have learned this same principle. When they would start picking around their plates, I would threaten to call Uncle Art. Unfortunately, if we do not read our Forerunners, review the last week's sermon, or engage in a private Bible study, no one is standing over us, threatening to call Uncle Art.
Is private, systematic Bible study really a meaningful part of our daily spiritual diet? A minister once told the Duluth, Minnesota, Spokesman club that they were not really studying their Bibles properly unless their foreheads were hot enough to fry eggs. The danger for all of us is that the Scriptures begin to sound so familiar that we pick, pick, pick around in the Bible like children, losing that deep, overwhelming hunger through which God called us into the church in the first place.
Some of us may feel full—even when we are not—because of failure to exercise when we have eaten and digested previous meals. Jesus says, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34). In verse 35, Jesus points out that we are in the middle of harvest season right now. Doing the work of God or participating in the harvest today takes on a different but just-as-urgent stance as ten or twenty years ago. The final push of God's harvest is to prepare the bride for Christ. We have been, through the design of Christ, split into small groups where the opportunities to serve and help one another overcome have increased dramatically.
If we want to develop and sustain a real spiritual appetite, we must become involved in this phase of the harvest. From firsthand experience, I know that participating in a harvest is one of the best ways to build up a physical and spiritual appetite. When I stayed with my grandfather for part of the summer, I had the opportunity to help with the grain harvest, driving the tractor and wagon up to the hopper of the combine.
After half a day sweating under the hot, August, southern Minnesota sun, my grandfather and I had no problem devouring huge portions of Grandma's steamy-hot mashed potatoes with gravy, thick slices of roast beef, buttered green beans, corn on the cob, and a bottle of Dad's Root Beer. No one had any inclination of picking around on our plates like spoiled wimps. Uncle Art would have been proud of us.
If our spiritual appetite is gone, it might be that we are not really as involved or excited about our part in this phase of the spiritual harvest as we should be. The key to developing an adult, spiritual appetite—as well as its satisfaction—is applying John 4:34: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."