Anyone who has read my posts over the last few months is most likely aware of the unusual diet that I embarked on in a desperate attempt to improve my declining health. After being on a diet of only porridge for three months, followed by a month of slowly introducing food, I am reflecting on how much this hard journey has taught me. Although I’m not back to full health, I have seen God’s goodness to me through this process by not only restoring a little bit of health, but also teaching me many spiritual truths along the way. I’d like to share three more lessons I’ve learned through this unexpected season.
~WE MUST LEARN CONTENTMENT AND ONE OF THE WAYS THIS IS LEARNED IS THROUGH REALIZING THAT WE NEED FAR LESS THAN WE THINK WE DO.
After a few months of eating porridge, my stomach began to shrink to a smaller and, most likely, healthier size than it was before. I came to realize that, if I was feeding my body what it needed, I was more easily satisfied than when I was filling it with things that tasted and seemed good, but weren’t providing what my bodied needed. I found it fascinating when a blood test revealed that I was no longer anemic after years of being so. How could eating only porridge, which seemed strange and even unhealthy to some, actually prove to bring more healing and strength to my body than ever before? Because it was providing my body with what it needed for the building blocks of what it was created to do to, rather than filling it with all the delicious and rich foods that seemed so needed before.
This is true in the spiritual sense as well. We can attempt to fill ourselves with many things that seem good and right, but if we neglect to fill ourselves with Christ, where our strength and contentment are found, we will remain hungry and malnourished.
Paul discovered this truth, which led him to say –
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
How did he learn this?
By experiencing both abundance and need, he learned that these external factors were not ultimately where contentment was found. Abundance never satisfies as we often expect it will and being in need tempts us long for abundance and tirelessly seek a way out of being in need. Paul must have recognized this empty pursuit of contentment in earthly provisions, teaching him that contentment could only come from a heart of contentment in Christ and, the realization that every provision from Him was an undeserved and gracious one. Paul came to rely solely on the strength of Christ in both abundance and need, realizing that freedom and contentment were a byproduct of trusting the provisions of Christ, rather than his own self-sufficient efforts.
Is there an area you have seen this in your own life? Have you experienced the temptation to tirelessly pursue earthly gain, and yet, always needed more to satisfy? Have you experienced something that has left you anxious, fearful, and envious of those who seem to have everything you desire? If you find yourself in either place, would you find encouragement in this truth? Whatever you have in the earthly sense, if you are in Christ, you are far richer than you may even be able to grasp. The richest man on earth may be the poorest man in the eyes of Christ. So whether we have little or much, if we pursue the richness of Christ, we will learn contentment in whatever circumstance we may find ourselves.
~SECONDLY, THE LOSS OF EARTHLY PLEASURES CAN FREE US TO FIND A GREATER JOY AND LOVE FOR CHRIST AND SERVING OTHERS.
After the first month of what seemed like torture, I actually came to find porridge somewhat freeing. It was simple, less time consuming to decide what to eat, and freed me to serve and love others in a more selfless way than before.
When I found myself no longer able to enjoy the food I had cooked for my family, I began grieving over not being a part of things. I realized just how much food is a means to fellowship! I battled the selfishness that rose up in me as I cooked for others and then had to sit with my same old porridge as I watched them eat what I had just made. It wasn’t fair!
Over time, however, what began as purely an act of obligatory service, slowly became an act of service out of love and joy for those whom I was serving. What changed? Christ opened my eyes to see my selfish motives and self-pity, leading me to repent of those responses and ask for a greater love for others than I had within myself.
Christ faithfully did this in me and, in turn, it led me to a greater joy in serving my family. I came to find enjoyment in their pleasure rather than my own. Only the love of Christ can do this in us.
The sacrifices Paul made in earthly comforts and well being for the sake of the reaching others for the gospel must have increased his joy when he saw those whom he had sacrificed for repent and receive the truth of Christ. We can see this in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi;
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:3-6.
The only way that this would bring Paul joy, however, was if he found the glory and pleasure of Christ as his primary desire. His love for serving Christ naturally spilled out into a love for serving others for the sake of the gospel.
Have you found this to be a response of your own heart when you are called to serve others? It always amazes me how quickly selfishness and pride rises up in us when we are called to serve. We can quickly be burned out, irritated, and begin grumbling when something doesn’t go as planned, becomes inconvenient, or seems unappreciated. Ultimately, it reveals that we are not serving out of love for Christ. Therefore, the best place that we can begin is by asking Christ for a greater understanding of his sacrificial love for us and, in turn, a greater love for others.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-4).
Let’s be a people who are so filled with the love of Christ that we overflow with a joy in serving and loving others.
~LASTLY, JUST BECAUSE WE CAN HAVE SOMETHING DOESN’T MEAN IT IS BENEFICIAL.
As I’ve introduced food again, I’ve found myself quickly wanting to enjoy the things that I used to enjoy. However, I have learned the hard way that, although I now have the freedom to eat what I’d like again, that doesn’t mean that all things will be beneficial to my body.
“’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up'”(1 Corinthians 10:23).
In the same way, Paul reminds us that, although we have the freedom to enjoy many things, we still need to apply discernment and self-control, keeping our eyes on the holiness of Christ, rather than the values of the world around us and our own desires.
Just because we have the freedom to eat Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza at every meal (a weakness of mine), doesn’t mean that it would be helpful towards building up the body. Just because we have the freedom to watch any movie or television show, doesn’t mean that all are beneficial towards building us up to reflect the image of Christ.
Therefore, we need to learn discernment and self-control through prayer and a constant drip feed of the Word of God in order to profit and build up our minds and bodies for the purpose of reflecting Christ and being equipped to stand firm in a world of frequent temptations and trials.
At times, this will look slightly different for each of us. Therefore, we must learn our unique areas of weakness and put guardrails around ourselves for the sake of training our bodies towards righteousness. But we must be prayerful as we go about this, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, strength, and conviction in order to protect ourselves from drifting into a self-righteous and legalistic attitude as we pursue these things.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
The question should always be; will this “thing” better equip and help me run this spiritual race or, will it hinder me from reflecting and glorifying Christ with my time, health, gifts, and witness to others?
Friends, these lessons are all part of a believer’s lifelong journey of sanctification. Please do not be discouraged if you feel convicted in one of these areas or feel as though you have so far to go. I am right there with you; striving, failing, trusting, questioning, persevering, longing, and hoping. The reason I write is for the purpose of encouraging others with the truth of the gospel and how it is applied in the genuine hardships, trials, questions, and blessings of life. While I am thankful that Christ has used this diet to grow these truths deeper in me, in reality, I, along with every other believer in Jesus Christ, will continue to be sanctified until the day I am called home. May we continue to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and seek to know Him more down each and every road we are led.