“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
While most of us would never admit it to anyone else — and many of us may never realize the following truth unless forced to think about it — our behaviors clearly say, “I doubt it!” to Jesus’ statement. We don’t doubt that this statement was true for Jesus, but we can’t imagine it being fully true for us. We doubt that doing the will of God is our sustaining food.
Food is important to us for many reasons. We eat and drink for celebration, comfort, consolation, and community. Some of that is natural and needed. We see Jesus bring those to others and share those things with others around meals — this is especially in the gospel of Luke. But these situations are the backdrop for Jesus’ presence and grace. Meals are the occasions. Jesus is the reason to celebrate, the person who brings comfort, the Lord who brings consolation and hope to the grieving, and fills community with love. However, when we depend upon the food and drink more than Jesus and his grace, grace is derailed. We seek celebration, comfort, consolation, and community in the food and drink, not in the one who gives those value and meaning! For many of us, if we are gut-level honest with ourselves, this switch in focus is a problem.
About ten years ago, a series of events led me into a crisis of confidence and faith. I loved the Lord. I was heavily involved in productive ministry. Then, without warning, the slats were knocked out from under me. The assurance I felt was mine in Jesus suddenly felt uncertain. The foundation upon which I had built my life suddenly seemed to be dissolving under my feet.
Sure, I turned to the Lord in prayer... many times. For 18 months I would play several Christian songs to spiritually reassure myself that everything was going to be alright. There were even some brief moments when I felt reconnected to the Lord. However, for much of two years, I lived in the dark night of the soul — that dark and lonely place that feels impenetrable to the light of grace.
I knew Jesus’ promise:
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).The truth was, simply living in the will of the Lord during this time wasn’t enough for me; I still felt empty... hungry and thirsty.
The Lord wasn’t the food I craved. My soul may have hungered for God, but I wanted something that I could taste and chew for my comfort, consolation, and certainty. I resorted to sugary caffeinated drinks to fuel me, to give me the gumption to get up and go each day. I turned to comfort food to... well, be my comfort. Despite the promise of Jesus that he could be my “real food and drink” (John 6:55), I didn’t trust him to be enough to fill me, to satiate my hunger and thirst for something I couldn’t quite identify. This turning toward physical food wasn’t a conscious decision; instead, it was a gradual loss of spiritual appetite replaced by comfort food and caffeine colas. It was the eat-all-see diet washed down with lots of Dr. Pepper. The result was deeper darkness as well as an expanding waste line.
After my spiritual darkness had lifted, I had ingrained habits that were not good. As I returned with joy and excitement to ministry, I also felt the presence of the Spirit leading me. I rediscovered God’s call in my life. Ministry was fresh and exciting again. The presence of the Lord was evident everywhere I turned. I basked in the joy of seeing God’s grace happening all around me. I was blessed with a goodness I didn’t deserve and a joy I couldn’t manufacture. But, I still depended upon my bad habits to physically fuel me. I still wasn’t fully trusting Jesus to be my “real food and drink.” Most of the time I thought I was trusting in him, but my ingrained habits would short circuit my honesty with and my dependency upon the Lord.
As people asked me to help them reconnect with the Lord, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to follow the plan I was encouraging others to pursue. I needed to do two things:
I needed to read one chapter out of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John each day and ask:
Intentionally, I needed to address my destructive habits by changing them. When I needed a pick-me-up, I needed to turn to something other than sugar and caffeine. When I am disappointed or elated, I needed to turn to something other than comfort food.
Doing one or the other didn’t address the spiritual short-circuit I had built into my life. Fake “real food and drink” deadened my hunger for Jesus. Not daily pursuing Jesus increased my hunger for fake “food and drink.”
While I may never be able to say what Jesus said about his food, I do want my life to find its sustenance in Jesus — doing the Father’s will and completing the work he has called me to do. I also know that as I pursue Jesus more fully, the diet change is easier and the exercise habits find their focus when I’m walking with him. I can hear his voice when I have decisions to make. I can feel his presence when doubts creep into the background of my heart. My emotions are more tuned to feel what I believe he wants me to feel.
Food is now food. Drink is now drink. (At least most of the time.) Food and drink are the setting of my experience of Jesus, not the focus. Jesus is life and hope and joy and peace and sustenance.
For now, my heart has found its joy in Jesus, and my waist size is slowly decreasing. My passion has returned for living out God’s call. Food and drink are the occasions of experiencing Jesus, not the substitute for him.
I invite you to join me as I share Paul’s life-goal:
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).
Without doubt, I want this to be my real food!