Nutrition and Nourishment
Okay, okay. I’ve been wanting to write this blog post since before I had a blog. I’ve had several conversations with people where the subject comes up and say, “I want to write a post about this…” I had one such conversation yet again this week and woke up today at 3:30 AM with a burning desire to finally write it. So here I am, finally writing in the pre-dawn darkness.
When I was in the process of losing weight a couple years back, I took a trip with my husband to visit my best friend in Las Vegas. In a desire to maintain my weight-loss momentum, I brought a picnic basket full of healthy foods for me to eat while I was there. At the time, her daughter (Reagan) was a young toddler and I realized with a great deal of amusement that she and I ate many of the same foods, such as oatmeal and fruit. I had gone to all the trouble to pack food only to realize that I ate like a toddler, so my friend already had everything on hand.
It was then that I realized an important truth about nutrition and nourishment: I, as an adult, need the same things that a child needs. We need fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein. We need different quantities and I like to add certain spices and flavors that some kids won’t like, but by and large the fuel that runs a toddler, runs an adult.
This is just as true on a spiritual level. I’ve heard over and over again in many different churches that you cannot feed everyone at once. “You’ll choke a seeker or young believer with a meatier sermon while you’ll starve a mature Christian with the milk a baby Christian needs.” I humbly disagree.
The things a soul needs to grow are the same whether you’re just starting out or have been a believer for decades. We all need to see God and to grow in our understanding of him. We need to see ourselves for who we really are: namely, our abject, daily need for a Savior. We all need to grow in our understanding of the Gospel because it’s so much bigger than simply a one-time conversion lesson.
Karl Barth famously summed up his years of theological writing with “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I find myself with tears in my eyes over the same things as a new believer, but from a different perspective. Grace becomes increasingly sweet over time. If it hasn’t, something’s wrong.
A message that focuses on revealing and lifting up Christ will never starve people. A mature believer will never “grow past” those messages. We always have something to learn about God. We always have room for the Cross to get bigger in our understanding and perception (to steal a phrase from Wilhoit).
How those sermons are packaged varies wildly. Yogurt is not necessarily less nutritious because it comes in a brightly colored tube rather than a cup. The packaging is simply the way you get food into our stomachs. I don’t care what you call a sermon; if I see God face-to-face, I’m coming back whether it is my first day or my five-thousandth.
Sadly, our understanding of God, ourselves, and the Gospel is not always growing. I believe that is when people complain that they are not being “fed.”
As a preacher, I will not feed my congregation what they need if I’m not stocking my personal stores with it. It is a discipline to train my eyes to see God, especially in the Scriptures and to help others to do the same. [Of course, it is easy to see God in the Bible–it is a revelation of God–but we often settle for using the Bible as if it were an instruction manual for our lives and not a picture of the God of the universe].
My prayer for preachers everywhere is that we would not be satisfied to prepare and serve anything but that which will nourish and grow our congregations, no matter where they are on their spiritual journeys.