O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
(Psalm 34:9-14, New Revised Standard Version)
You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that when you look at me you see a delicious strip of bacon. Rather, it’s meant to convey that the kind of food we ingest, whether it is physical groceries or spiritual sustenance, is of great importance and significance. Eating unhealthy stuff makes you unhealthy. Conversely, ingesting healthy things helps one to maintain proper health and vitality for functioning and thriving in life.
The psalmist encourages us to seek the LORD because in going after God we will be filled with goodness. Using our tongues for good and not evil; our words for encouragement and not for forming lies; our constant verbiage for uplift and support and not with the poison phrases of evil; and, our voices for pursuing peaceful relations and not for disharmony; are all beautiful buffet foods of health and goodness to fortify our souls.
Back when I was in seminary (in a galaxy far, far away) it was difficult to keep up with the bills. Finances were tight in our young family. Despite working sometimes up to three jobs at a time, our budget had no budge to it. In one unusually and particularly hard month, we were down to our last groceries. In fact, on one summer evening we all had a bowl of Wheaties for supper. The refrigerator was empty. In our bedtime prayers with our girls, my wife and I voiced and expressed our need to God.
As Mary and I readied ourselves for bed, it was raining cats and dogs outside. At 10pm, we heard a knock on our back patio door. We looked at each other as if the other would know that we’re expecting someone. We weren’t. As I pulled back the curtain, there stood a sweet little Puerto Rican neighbor holding two large bags. I quickly ushered her into our little apartment. Her next words to us I will never forget:
“I went to bed at 9:00 and quickly fell fast asleep. At 9:30 the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to fill two bags with as many groceries as I could get in them; then, go and give them to the Ehrhardt’s. So, here I am.”
All my wife and I could do was look at her and each other slack-jawed and simply say, “Thank you.” No one knew our need. We told no one about it; only God.
My family learned an invaluable lesson that stormy night, one you can’t learn any other way but being in a place of desperation. The spiritual food that we eat is so important that Jesus put it this way:
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Many years later after that rich spiritual feast, I told this same story in a congregation on a Sunday morning. Afterwards, a middle-aged man came up to me and said something that initially took me aback: “So, how do you justify being in such a state of deprivation and not taking care of your family?” After gathering my thoughts, I gave him this retort:
“You have asked me an honest question. I will ask you one before I answer yours: Have your teenage kids, you, and your wife ever been in a situation where you needed God and cried out to him for something?” Long pause…. “Well, no, not really.” “Then, sir,” I replied, “I like the lessons my encounter with want and privation taught my kids better than the lessons your kids have never learned.”
You see, my friends, you are what you eat. This obsession we have with being independent, self-sufficient, and our compulsions about money has spawned an entire generation of folks who just don’t know they need God. Then, parents wonder why their kids abandon God. God is simply irrelevant to them. After all, why serve a God who has never touched my life in any significant way? If we eat from a table of our own making, then the Table of the Lord becomes only a dusty piece of furniture in an empty church.
When we come and eat the bread which the Lord offers us we find satisfaction and fulfillment. When we allow God to serve up a delicious spiritual meal we discover hospitality and joy. When we accept the invitation to seek the Lord we find that little is much when God is in it. In God’s upside-down kingdom, the poor are rich, and the rich are poor.
Good days of plenty don’t come because we ingeniously orchestrate it all. Yes, of course, planning is both necessary and important. Yet, all of our best laid plans are just that. The outcomes belong to God, not us. We have because God gives, and not because we figured out how to work harder, or smarter, or better.
The one who truly fears the Lord has learned to first receive from Him. Open-handed reception can only result from a heart posture of humility and need. Close-fisted folks only know how to figure things out on their own and are not in the position to receive anything.
Whichever way you slice the Old Testament bread of poverty and the New Testament teaching on being poor in spirit, the rich are typically not in the best place – the poor are. Being a spiritual beggar who recognizes his/her need for God, and who is desperate for Jesus is the one who has found the narrow entrance to where the Lord dwells. And, upon entering, finds a lavish spread that is worthy of the marriage supper of the Lamb.