We wear nametags at Lifehouse Church. It’s a practice I have historically avoided until now. Now I see the benefit of helping newcomers get to know about a hundred people. One Sunday morning, the woman writing out nametags gasped when I slapped the sticker to my shirt. Apparently, I had leaned back as I breathed in and she saw the ridge of my ribcage. “Isaiah! Oh my goodness! Are those your ribs? Do you eat?” She and I stared at each other for a moment. If she’s asking if I eat, I thought, that’s one thing. If she wants to know if I eat enough, that’s a different question altogether. It didn’t occur to me until later that I should have asked if she wanted to feed me. She apologized for making a scene about it and I told her not to worry. I’ve been this way my whole life.
If you can’t figure it out from my pictures, I’m a fairly scrawny dude. At a height of six feet two inches, I have, once, weighed a little more than one hundred forty pounds. There are a few reasons for this. First, I have a world-class, championship, gold-plated metabolism. Second, even if I have enough money to buy three meals a day, I usually forget about eating. One of my old roommates once said, “How can you forget about eating? That’s all I think about!” I’ll tell you how. I’m busy. I’ll get to reading and writing, playing music, cleaning, watching a baseball game, or anything besides taking the time to preparing a meal. Grazing typically gets me through the day, though. If I can wrap my teeth around a granola bar or bagel while I’m working, I can sustain for hours. Sometimes days. This will go on until I see an oversized, perfectly cooked steak advertised on television or smell someone grilling as I walk by their house. Then I’m reminded, “Oh right! I haven’t eaten.” Suddenly, I feel downright ravenous. The next chance I have to eat a meal, I will devour it without any thought towards table manners.
Like most stories, I didn’t see any significance in what Nametag Lady said until much later. I’m re-reading Lilith by George MacDonald and came across a certain passage. The narrator has come to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Raven. “We are in want of something to eat and drink, wife,” he said; “we have come a long way!”
“You know, husband,” she answered, “we can give only to him that asks.” She turned her unchanging face and radiant eyes upon mine.
“Please give me something to eat, Mrs. Raven,” I said, “and something – what you will – to quench my thirst.”
“Your thirst must be greater before you can have what will quench it,” she replied; “but what I can give you, I will gladly.”
The whole book is like that. One, big metaphysical knot that MacDonald takes his sweet time in untying. How can a person be hungry or thirsty, but not nearly enough to have the thing that will really satisfy? Wouldn’t it makes sense that if a person were only a little thirsty, a little water would take care of the thirst? Isn’t a snack sometimes enough? Mrs. Raven’s enigmatic reply reminded me of two passages in scripture. Psalm 42:1 says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” Then, in John 4, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well. He asks her for a drink and this sets off a conversation that makes MacDonald’s dialogue seem elementary. Jesus then begins to talk about the difference between well water and “living water” that He has come to offer. He says in John 4:13-14, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
A good friend of mine told me that he wanted to become more disciplined in spending time with God. Then just a few weeks later, he confessed to how little time he had spent in prayer or reading his Bible. He said, “It’s not that I don’t have the time, but when the opportunity comes to spend time with Him, I make up excuses to do something else. I think the reason is that I don’t desire God enough.”
I told him, “Dude, please, I know you. You desire God. You’re hungry. You just don’t know how hungry you really are. I’m not going to pray that you become more disciplined. I’m going to ask God to show you just how desperately you already want Him. If you want something bad enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.”
Of course, discipline is a good thing. Paul commended the church in Colossians 2:5, “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.” But I believe that desire leads us to begin a pattern of discipline, after which we need to persevere in it. In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul talks of working hard for the sake of the gospel. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
My friend’s problem with discipline and my eating habits look very much alike. When I have the time to eat a meal, I toast a bagel or open a bag of chips because I think it’s more important to do other things. I’m misdirecting my hunger to something that won’t satisfy. My friend wants to spend more time with God. At the moment he has the chance to get alone with God, though, he chooses to do something else that he believes is more important, like sleeping in.
Jesus’s death and resurrection enabled us to come into God’s presence. We now have the opportunity to accept His gift of salvation. This is at the heart of the gospel, and we must want His presence so badly that we’ll do anything to get there and stay there. We have to love the gospel so much that we can’t help but tell other people about it. We have to need God’s presence like the deer needed water in Psalm 42. We must feel our need to drink the living water Jesus offered before our thirst is quenched. We very well could be starving, but sometimes we need a lady to ask us if our ribs are showing. Once I realize that a granola bar isn’t a substitute for a solid breakfast, one meal isn’t enough. I have to commit myself to eating three meals a day, otherwise nothing will change. And I really should stop losing weight.
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