13 June, 2008

Are You Hungry?

My good friend, Neil Smith wrote a piece on his blog about being spiritually hungry and in it he spoke of a time when he fasted for 30 days. He spoke about how that after a few days he really did not feel hungry any longer and that he got to the point that he could sit at a table where others were eating and not feel hungry himself. As I read this, a thought hit me that I want to examine briefly today. One of my members asked on another forum a few days ago, something to the effect of "Why is it so hard to get back into going to church again?" To that person, this blog is not meant to point at you, to criticize you or hurt you in any way. Rather, I believe your question triggered this thought process within me, and I write this to hopefully help you, as well as others who have been (or will be) in this same place.

Over the years of pastoring, I've seen it over and over how regular attenders begin to miss a service now and then, then they begin missing a few weeks at a time, then before they know it, they are hardly attending church at all. It can begin so innocently, with an illness, a trip, family outings or other activities, but then they find themselves fighting to find it within themselves to have the "Want To" to attend church again. It can happen so easily. Over the years of pastoring, I've seen it happen to folks that if you'd have asked them, they'd say that it would never happen to them. It is something we must guard ourselves about.

As I read Neil's blog, I began thinking about times I have fasted, and he is right. After a few days, the hunger just is not there. Another thought hit me. My wife will tell you that I have a tendency to get so busy that I forget that I need to eat. There have been many days that I come in late at night and when she asks me if I have eaten anything, I realize that I have not had a single thing to eat all day, yet I am not hungry... until she mentions that I need to eat. Seems when you get busy, your business masks or hides the hunger. I find it amazing, because if you know me, I certainly am not a skinny man, and everyone KNOWS that I love to eat. But I don't feel the hunger.

After reading Neil's blog, I did some Google searches on starvation and read about how that in so many of these cases, once the initial period of starving the body is over, the body does not "feel" hungry or at least not as hungry as it once was. When this occurs, the body begins to "eat" itself. Slowly, the body begins to draw the nutrition it needs from itself, which is in turn slowly killing the person who is starving. I read on one website how that as the body reaches this stage, people will often refuse food. They don't "feel" hungry any longer. When others do encourage them to eat and they begin to take food back into their bodies, it does not taste good and will frequently make them ill. Eating is not appealing and they will literally starve themselves to death. This is why they usually need to begin with fluids, possibly even by IV and slowly have solids re-introduced to them.

As I read on these things and I saw such spiritual parallels. I've been there myself in the past and thinking back, I can now recall how it was. I never made a conscious decision to not attend church. It just slowly happened. A service here, a service there, then 2 weeks at a time... and before you new it, I had not been for months at a time. Oh, I might go once in awhile, and honestly, inside, I'd be thinking, "I wish I could feel God's presence" but I was miserable when I went to church, because my soul was sick. I did not realize that was the issue, I just knew it was not the same. The next week, I'd think, "why go? I didn't get anything last week." So I found myself staying home.

See the parallel? I was hungry... but when I tried to eat, it did not taste good. It even made me sick, because I was so consumed with guilt. So I avoided church even more. I was starving myself.
Now if you asked me... I'd tell you I was fine. But everyone knew I was not.
Everyone but me.

Going back to what I mentioned earlier. There have been many times I've come in after a very busy day, and Libby asks me if I've eaten and I will realize I've not had a thing to eat all day. Most of the time, this is enough for me to realize that I need to eat, but there are times, that I will not want to eat, even after Libby has reminded me that I need to eat. She often has to get a little stern with me and tell me "go eat something now!" I don't like it when she tells me this, and we might even have a few words. Sometimes I have gone to the kitchen, looked around and there was nothing convenient to eat, and I did not feel like cooking, so I walked back out of the kitchen without eating. Again, she will say, "Darrell, you need to eat!"
Reluctantly, and often with anger and resentment, I will go in to the kitchen and pull out a piece of cheese, a cracker or something and eat it, and say to her, "There, I ate. Are you happy now?"
But the funny thing is, once I begin to eat something, I will realize that I am REALLY hungry and my stomach will begin to growl and will go back into the kitchen and eat a lot. I was really hungry... but I did not recognize it.

So my answer to that member who asked the question about why is it so hard to get back into church is this...

You need to eat!
You may not realize it, you may not want to, but if you will just go eat... the hunger within you will arise and you will eat until you are full.
I guarantee you that you are really hungry... but your body is lying to you and tell you that you are not. You have to make the effort. You have to make yourself start to eat (worship) and when you do... what is natural in your spirit man will arise and take over. But you have to make the first step.


Kevin S. (manmail) said...

I see the spiritual parallel, but with The Lord and not church. In other words, I am saying that being hungry for church is like being hungry for potato chips. There isn't a lot of redeeming value in potato chips or church.I know you are in ministry, but the truth is that being in church doesn't satisfy like walking with the Lord.
Yep, I go to church every week and even teach a Bible class. But the real deal is being hungry for God, not church. Don't you think we are offering a false hope if we make church the point of worship?
I am not ripping on you at all, and I hope you don't read that in my tone. This is an area I am growing in. Focusing on church is similar to the duck hunter who focuses on the little bead at the end of his shotgun. He usually misses his target because he is looking at the wrong thing. As soon as the hunter looks mostly at the duck and hardly at the bead, hitting the mark becomes natural and surprisingly easy. Church is that little bead. We need it, but it is just there to look past as we focus on the Lord. As that bead becomes bigger, invisioning the real target gets more challenging.
Just my .02.


Darrell said...

Kevin, I agree with you completely.