Fire Needs Fuel 2 – Spiritual Junk Food

Last week I wrote about realizing that if I want to be passionate, if I want to burn for Jesus, and be on fire for God, that I need to feed the fire. A fire cannot be sustained without regular fuel. It was one of those A-ha/Duh! moments. I can’t believe I had never really thought about my relationship with God like that before.

But just that realization alone is not enough. After all, you can’t throw just anything into a woodstove and expect to get heat from it. The metaphor starts to break down at this point, though, so I’d like to set it aside and talk about spiritual food.

I recently opened up the book of Hebrews again, and the passage about spiritual milk and meat hit me anew:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:12-14

I was shocked when I read beyond those few verses to find out what the author (probably Paul) considered what spiritual milk was.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. – Hebrews 6:1-2

All these years I was wrong, calling something milk that was not that at all.

Will you allow me to be blunt?

We, the North American church, are not just immature; we are addicted to spiritual junk food.

You see, milk is nourishing. When an infant receives milk he grows as he should, craving more of that goodness and eventually moving onto solid food. Junk food, on the other hand, tantalizes our tastes buds, but isn’t nourishing. It does not support development, or lead us to want more of God as we grow; it makes us crave more of itself. Eventually it makes us sick.

I am sad to say that we have been duped into believing an imposter, just like the “healthy” processed food at the grocery store. Spiritual junk food is the stuff that makes us feel good – but doesn’t really change us. It is the happy story, the inspirational song, the movie with the moral ending. It has a form of godliness, but denies it’s power.

It’s a sad reality that many Christians spend their entire lives wandering around a spiritual wilderness, malnourished, thirsting, and consuming rubbish because they have never feasted on the soul-consoling, heart-transforming, zeal-engendering truth… – Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Found in Him

That’s the truth I really want, but how to figure out what’s good for us?

In this culture, where information abounds, discernment is needed more than ever. Do not take this lightly, our very souls are at stake. If we fill ourselves up with junk food, we will never have the strength to withstand a trial – our malnourished spirits will crumble at the slightest difficulty – but for the grace of God.

If I want to really nourish my faith I need to start filling up on true milk and meat – real food, not “food like substances”. And how will I know what is what? Obviously the Bible is the best source, but what about the book, the blog, and all the other hundreds of sources of so-called “spiritual encouragement”?

I can’t make this complicated, so how about two simple rules:

Is the message true to the Gospel? Does it keep the focus on Christ’s work or on what we need to do? Does it elevate an “ism” over the good news?

Does it fill me with desire to know God more, to pray, to open the Bible, to love others? Or do I just want to consume more of “it”? True, real food, will cause me to crave the purest source of spiritual food – junk food just feeds the addiction.

How shocked I am when I realize how much of my intake does not pass the test.

Father, give me an appetite for food that truly satisfies, for water that truly quenches my thirst – for you alone. Deep in my soul I know that apart from you I have no good thing. Forgive me for falling for the imposters. Give me the discernment of your spirit, that I might worship you alone.

Fire Needs Fuel – Part One

We heat our home with a woodstove, and supplement with a furnace. This means that every day for about half the year I have to build, and keep, a fire going. I’ve been doing this for three years, and have learned a few tricks along the way about building a fire – which pieces of wood work best for starting, which ones burn hot, how to arrange them, how to tinker with the flue etc.

Apparently it takes me three years of seeing something every day to really “see” it.

Last week I was struggling to keep the fire going. I started it in the morning, and then headed off to another part of the house to homeschool, or clean the kitchen or something – by the time I wandered back into the living room the fire was smoldering. So I started it up once more – a few pieces of tinder and paper and it was burning again. I went off and came back an hour later to find only a few glowing coals. This pattern repeated itself all day and into the night.

And while I sat there trying, again, to get this fire really going, it struck me: a fire needs fuel. If I want to be “on fire” for God – that fire needs fuel, too

How many times have I prayed for more passion in my relationship with God? How many times have I lamented the feeling that it had gone cold?

And while the answer may be overly simplistic, the question still needs to be asked: Have I been feeding the fire?

Well, honestly? Not enough.

I wanted God to work some sort of magic that made me feel emotionally passionate about Him, without investing in that change myself. I wanted to be able to throw a few pieces of tinder on the fire, light it up and have it burn strong all day (or week), without any more of my attention.

I want to give my energy to all the details and distractions of life without that fire going cold.

Though it’s embarrassing to admit, I never saw it before.

Father, what can I say? You are most important to me – the sweetest part of my life, and yet I neglect you. I am a hypocrite and incurable by my own efforts. I feel the pull of a hundred different distractions every moment of the day, and I surrender to them. Instead of attending to the details of life with your strength and perspective, I push you aside and try to do things myself – and then I fail at everything. I fail to do things well or with a pure heart, and I fail to involve you in my life.

I want to burn for you – to be a light for your glory. I want to be consumed with passion for you. I don’t want to be a flickering candle, or smoldering coals. I want to be a bonfire – I want your light to shine through me into this dark world. I want the fire of our relationship to warm and encourage those around me.

Help me, Lord, for I don’t know the way. I don’t know how live any differently than I do now, only that I must. Open my eyes to see the path ahead, and strengthen my will and resolve to follow it. Above all, I desire you.

A Prayer for the Wonder-Starved

Father God, I know that you are wonderful, beautiful. You are full of wonder and the fullness of beauty. I know that the skies declare your glory. I know that you are always good. But lately, Lord, I’ve struggled to see it, and when I can’t see I start to forget. I try to remember the times when I have known you were speaking to me, the times I was just in awe of your beauty, and I am comforted, sort of. But what I really want, Lord, is to gaze on your beauty today – and every day.

Like Bartimaus, Lord, my eyes are sick. It’s not that you are any less glorious – you have not lost your lustre like cheap jewelry – I just cannot see. I’ve developed cataracts – I’ve focussed too much on my little life, my little problems and worries. It’s as though I’ve held a book in front of my face, blocking out all the wide world beyond, blocking you from my line of sight.

Forgive me for not trusting you with my small concerns, for making mountains out of molehills, for again and again seeking out and settling for a second-rate substitution when I know that only the love you offer truly satisfies.

Jesus, have mercy on me. I want to see.

I want to see the way a baby sees the rain for the first time – to laugh giddy at the miracle of a sunrise, a smile, and daily bread.

Heal my blindness, Lord – and make the daily and everlasting song of my heart that “apart from you I have no good thing“. When distractions and the cares of life vie for my attention; please, PLEASE, Lord, be the foreground…the largest thing in my sight – be the glasses that put all other things in perspective.

And when I still choose to turn away? Thank you that your beauty and goodness CHASE AFTER ME! Your grace overtakes me. How can you love me like you do? I rejected you, and you died for me, and then drew me back to you, as you are drawing me even now – removing the scales from my eyes, and showing me once again your great love, your goodness, your glory.

Thank you.

Rethinking Love

 

If you’ve ever read the part in The Screwtape Letters where he picks on someone who disdains everything that is popular, just because it’s popular….um, yeah, that’d be me, but I really care about what is here, so in spite of the fact that it’s almost February 14th I am posting this anyway.

Have you heard about the Five Love Languages? (That’s mostly a joke, by the way, but just in case you somehow have never heard of this 20 year old bestseller, click the link!)

It is totally possible that this book has single-handedly saved hundreds of marriages (according to the reviews). It’s a fantastic concept, and terribly practical – that each of us has a particular way in which we receive love best. According to the author, people can feel loved when lavished with acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, are physically touched, or spend quality time with their spouse. Armed with the knowledge of what you and your spouse’s love language is you each try to “fill the love-tank” every day in a way the other can appreciate. Do this, and you will live happily ever after. Oh so easy.

If only our selfishness didn’t get in the way.

I’m picking on the 5 Love Languages idea, but really most marriage books and advice fail to effect lasting change. At least they have failed me.

While knowing Carl’s Love Language (aka, knowing what he really appreciates) is helpful, when I care enough, knowing my own has proven dangerous. There is something in the knowing that “Acts of Service” is my love language that has made me feel ENTITLED to being loved this way, especially if I am intentionally showing my love for Carl in the way he appreciates. Eventually our relationship becomes little more than a mutual exchange, a trade-off of love where I could say “you take out the garbage, and I’ll give you praise – I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine – and we’ll be happy.” Is this really all there is to a happy marriage?

But even if we could, theoretically, come to some sort of negotiated peace, it wouldn’t ever really be enough. Because enough is never enough. For example, I might think that if he just cleaned the kitchen three times a week I would be happy – but I know that as soon as I got used to that I would want more. I always want more. The ugly sin of self-centered ingratitude will grow in me again, and I will never be satisfied – and neither will he.

And what if I am showing more love in his language than he is reciprocating back? Well then bitterness starts to creep in and we are really on a slippery slope.

There has to be a better way.

If we are each in this relationship for our own good, it is never going to work. We might stay together by sheer determination, but we will never be truly happy.

Should I refuse the gifts of love that don’t fill up my love reservoir as effectively – or can I humbly and graciously accept Carl’s love in any form? More than that, can I sacrificially show love even when I’m not feeling loved? There are so many verses I could pull from:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

Do nothing out of selfish ambition …rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Phil. 2:3-4

I hesitate to pull this verse out of context (read the whole chapter here), because it is planted in the middle of the gospel. If we just try harder to be less selfish and put our spouses first we are doomed to fail. Our efforts must be rooted in the example of Christ, the transforming power of his love, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

I love what Tim Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage

“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet so wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ that we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. …the gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should.”

The reason that speaking each other’s love language will never fully satisfy is because we were made for unconditional love. Giving and receiving love from our spouse alone will always be somewhat conditional – there will always be in the back of our minds some kind of scorecard. We will feel either that the other is in our debt, or that we owe them – and that conditionality taints our happiness, so that the best we can hope for is just a mutual complacency.

The better way is not to ultimately look to my spouse to fill my love needs at all – rather my perspective changes completely. When I am not feeling loved, I can look to Christ who loves me with a never-failing love to fulfill me. When I am feeling loved by Carl, I can thank God for showing his love for me through my husband. Furthermore, in my own small way, I can show Carl how much God loves him by loving him. Our love languages, then, become a way in which we seek to reveal God’s love to each other instead of a way to earn brownie points.

True love, must be rooted in the only True Love, God’s love – then we lay down our lives for one another, because Christ laid down his life for us. …and then we find true marriage.

I would love to write so much more, but instead I’ll tell you to read Time Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage. It is an eye-opening exploration of Ephesians 5. Get it. It’s worth every penny.

These Bedtimes are Numbered

I feel like I haven’t exhaled in four and a half hours.

There was a lot of good today, but the last couple hours? When the kids complain about dinner, and the kitchen is an unholy mess, and the baby is fussy, and the toddler pees his pants, and “couldn’t you just listen and not talk back for once!” echoes accusingly in my conscience.  And did I mention Carl was away for the week?

But, we soldier on – somehow we get through it, the dishes, the fuss, the fight into pajamas, the tooth brushing, the Bible stories, the lights out – but I’m so tired that I send my dilly-dallying button-pushers  to bed without a kiss. I wasn’t angry, I didn’t yell or threaten, but my patience was wearing thin and the chinks in my armor were starting to show – so quick! Bring this to an end before she blows!

God forbid that they go to bed one minute late.

Breathe, Sara. Just breathe for a minute. Breathe in some grace, breathe out some thanks.

It’s been 20 minutes since I came downstairs, and there hasn’t been a peep since – maybe I wasn’t the only one who was tired.

And then, Ann Voskamp in my inbox:

When you realize that what you have, you will lose —  you win real eyes. You win grateful joy. …It’s only when you realize everyone you love will one day leave you— that you really begin to love.

These long and exhausting days will come to an end, and they won’t want me to kiss their sore finger, and they won’t want to cuddle up and read one more story, and they probably won’t just look at me funny and blurt out “I love you mom”. When that day comes will I wish I had kissed their finger instead of just saying “oh, you’ll be alright”? And will I wish I had read just one more Bible story and kissed them silly, even if bedtime was a little late?

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” Ps 90:12

That’s my prayer tonight, as I sneak up the stairs, tuck them in a little more carefully, and kiss them each good night. Thank you Jesus for the gift of these precious ones, but also that I am not facing an eternity of bedtimes like tonight – for it is only in their finiteness that I can appreciate them.

A Happy Birthday

The day before my birthday I decide to finally do it – finally start a blog about fighting for joy, and the next day I really get a chance to practice. I guess it’s kind of like that cliché about praying for patience.

Have I ever had a birthday when I wasn’t a little disappointed?

Can I admit to the world that secretly I really want a really special birthday? Not every year, of course, but a few?

Well, this year was not going to be that year – and my expectations weren’t very high, but I still had that secret little girl hope that my realistic pragmatic self would be surprised somehow.

They weren’t.  And yet they were.

When I woke to a -37C windchill, squabbling children and a husband rushing out the door, forgetting to even say Happy Birthday, and knowing he’d be gone until at least 9PM – I knew this would be a real fight. Is it possible to have a happy birthday when it starts like this?

I trudged downstairs, started toast for the kids, made a very large cup of tea – basically started my day the same way I start every day. The kids sang me happy birthday, and my mood lifted a bit – how could I refuse their gift to me by remaining grumpy?

The baby went down for a nap and we made cinnamon buns – the quick ones from the cookbook I got for my birthday last year. While those were baking I kneaded a big batch of sourdough bread – it took 20 minutes. 20 minutes of tactile pleasure, time to enjoy the simple satisfaction of working hard to provide something nourishing and healthy for my family. 20 minutes to pray, just enough time to take some of my disappointment to Jesus and to be reminded of how blessed I am.

We brewed a big pot of rooibos tea. We enjoyed our hot out of the oven cinnamon buns. The kids sang me happy birthday again, and gave me sweet birthday kisses. Instead of slogging through our regular curriculum, we read together, curled up warm under blankets and started reading “Little Lord Fauntleroy”

I still secretly hoped that my husband would come early, that he would bring me flowers, or at least call or something. There were other calls I was hoping for, too… was I going to wallow in bitter disappointment? Again and again I took my on the verge of unhappy heart to the One who cares.

I prayed through Psalm 16 (more on that another day)

And the Lover of my soul proved so faithful. Who loves better than the One who made me? Who celebrates with me more than the Savior who died for (whiny, petty, selfish) me?

Carl called at 4:00 to say Happy Birthday. I knew I could be gracious – after all he was just caught up in everything that day was going to hold when he left – and haven’t I done the same, time and again? I put my own concerns above those of the ones around me – especially my precious husband and children. Even that very morning, I cared more about celebrating myself than about all that he was heading into – that -37C windchill, a long drive to the city and endless meetings.  (Thank you for mercy, Lord)

Mac and cheese for dinner, and a freezer burned carrot cake I baked at least 9 months ago. The kids insisted that I light a candle and they sang me Happy Birthday, yet again, and this time I stared at them in wonder – how did I get to have all this, all these blessings beyond measure?

Thank you Jesus for my quiet, low key, beautiful, happy birthday, and for eyes to see the gift you were giving me.

Seeing the Unseen

What this blog is about

… or perhaps more appropriately, what this blog is going to be about.

I have fought and debated and wondered for a long, long time about this – why I should blog. Why should I put any more words out there, when there are millions of (mostly meaningless) words out there already? Well, I don’t know, precisely, just that I cannot shake the idea that I must.

I’m a Christian, a mother and wife, a homeschooler and homemaker, but I am certainly no expert in any of these things. I fail more than I succeed. I have no interest in pretending to be more together than I am. I am not terribly witty, or wise. I don’t even think I am a good writer.

So why do this at all? Why click “publish” today, and however many times after?

Perhaps it has something to do with living incarnationally. It definitely has something to do with being intentional in my own life about looking for the truth, seeing the truth – the reality of God – in a broken and fallen world – and speaking truth in a world full of lies, even if I am only speaking to myself.

The now, what we can see with our physical eyes, it threatens to consume us and steal our joy. Indeed, even our very souls are at stake. I must fight for joy, fight to see the unseen, to see Christ, God at work and in control when it looks like all hell is breaking loose.

And when what is seen is lovely? Well, I ought to celebrate it, not blow past it! I want to love the Giver of Life, and be grateful for his good gifts.

That is what this blog is about – the fight for joy, and celebrating joy – for the sake of my soul, and perhaps for the sake of yours too, and for the glory of God.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen in temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” 2 Cor 4:18