Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hungry?

How’s your appetite? My question is not really a trivial one, because a healthy appetite always accompanies a healthy body. Sick people have a diminished hunger. Jesus often spoke about the appetite, or hunger, of people. In Matthew 5:6 we read, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."Jesus is asserting that there is a direct link between the hungry heart and the fullness God offers. Blessed are those who are spiritually healthy. God feeds you and serves you from a table overflowing with every good and delicious thing. However, He will not treat you like some toddler in a high chair, forcibly feeding you. Instead, He sets the table and asks a question: “How’s your appetite?”

Have you ever prayed and found the experience empty? How about worship that fails to inspire you? Have there been times when you have opened your Bible and the words on the page were no more than that, just words on a page? What is the problem? Has prayer, worship, God’s Word, your church, pastor, etc. failed? On those occasions, you might have left your heart behind. Beloved, God’s table is filled; there is joy, music, laughter, nourishment, and refreshment. But the issue is appetite. Is your heart hungry? A healthy spirit means a healthy spiritual appetite.

Spiritually speaking, God has set the table. In His word is a lifetime of daily bread. The diet is balanced and delicious. Don’t pick at your food! It’s not a healthy vital sign.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Psalm 84 is a psalm that demonstrates a deep longing for God, as a pilgrim focuses his attention on his homeward journey. This psalm suggests three features of a healthy spiritual appetite. Those people who have optimum spiritual health, who hunger after God, display it by their:
  • Devotion to God – (Psalm 84:1-4, 10)
  • Direction towards God – (Psalm 84:5-7)
  • Dependence on God – (Psalm84:8-9, 11)
Before continuing, read through this magnificent (Is there another kind?) Psalm 84.


Devotion to God

According to the psalm, a person with a good spiritual appetite will always be found praising God with the people of God (Psalm 84:4). The description of this person is given in Psalm 84:2 - longing, fainting, and crying out are verbs of intensity. The psalmist is not describing an occasional pleasant diversion in his life. He is not talking about a casual commitment to God. He is proclaiming that his very identity is a deep craving for God. That devotion to and for God is the explanation for who he is and where he is going. He possesses a spiritually hungry heart.

Now ask yourself this question: What is the deepest longing of my life? What is it that I am all about as a human being? No one can answer those questions but you and God.

The psalmist provides a profile of a person who has a spiritually hungry heart. There are three keys to identifying this person’s praise.

The Location of Praise
The first four verses of Psalm 84 are replete with the desire to be at the Temple; particularly verse 3. The psalmist wishes he could be a sparrow, nesting in the rafters in the holy place! Have you ever longed to be in God’s house like that? That’s what we do when we have a ravenous spiritual appetite.

Compare the psalmist’s attitude towards God’s house with the person in Amos 8:5. Here you have a merchant, who will go to church, but he is “clock-eyed”, continually checking his watch, hoping the service doesn’t stretch into business hours. Quite a contrast: two people in the house of the Lord; two very different attitudes and experiences. One sits at God’s table with a healthy, voracious appetite. The other is set before the same table, but has no appetite.

I want to stress a crucial point before moving on. Though a Christian can never be separated from the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), he can be separated from God’s people. And when you voluntarily choose not to be among God’s people, it speaks volumes about your spiritual appetite.

The Foundation of Praise
Consider how the psalmist addresses God throughout the psalm: "LORD of hosts…the living God…my King, and my God…O LORD God of hosts…O God our shield…the LORD God is a sun and shield"

Dear reader, God alone is worthy of worship and adoration! However, I fear that many Christians, in the perfectly legitimate quest to know God personally, have diminished God in their minds from the stature with which He is presented in Scripture. Too many have lowered Him down to the limited status of good friend or pal in our lives, rather than bowing down before His awesome majesty and splendor of His greatness.

The Expression of Praise
Psalm 84:4 - "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee." The idea is continuous praise, not a certain time of day. Praise cannot stay locked up in the church building, confined to a couple hours per week. Praise God with your thoughts, your voice, your hands, your heart, and all within the very routine of your days. Praise is a continual thing, a controlling passion.

Paul said to us, but first to the Ephesians:
…Be filled with [controlled by] the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - Ephesians 5:18b-20
Please do not confuse expression of praise with style of praise. Real praise and worship of God does not come as a result of any external stimulus. It’s not a matter of the right tune, the right time or place, or of having things just the way you want them. Praising God is strictly an affair of the heart. For those who have left their hearts behind, prayer will not be profitable. Praise will fail to uplift. The Word will seem dull and unenlightening.

The living God, LORD of hosts is the foundation of all true praise and worship. And unless you have fulfilled a personal appointment with the living God in the time of worship, all you can really say is that you were physically present.

Direction towards God

Those who have a healthy spiritual appetite will have a devotion to God, and be moving in a direction towards God. They have their hearts set on pilgrimage. They see life as a campground, not a final destination. In short, they’re just passing through! Psalm 84:5-6, "Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them [pilgrimage]. Who passing through the valley of Baca"

If you have trusted Christ as your Savior you are a pilgrim who is just passing through. This world is not your Plymouth Rock. Your home is in heaven, an eternity with the Lord! You are on a journey! Don’t encumber yourself with the non-essentials of this world, which, after all, are not created to last! The more dependent you become on things around you, the more devastated you will be when they are suddenly taken away or destroyed. Avoid that devastation by maintaining a pilgrim sense of direction.

While on this pilgrimage, the psalmist referenced traveling through the “valley of Baca.” What is this valley? You know what a valley is, a lowland between two mountain ranges or hills. Figuratively, valleys are referred to as discouraging places, and the word “Baca” means, “weeping; sorrow.” “Passing through the valley of sorrow.” The psalmist is talking about going through difficulties, tough times, and tribulations. Even the pilgrim, with his eyes set on Jesus and filled with an insatiable appetite for God, must travel through valleys of Baca, valleys of sorrow.

Don’t Be Discouraged by Your Difficulties

Christians become discouraged by their difficulties far too easily, and I do not say that uncaringly. I am well aware that within every pew there sits a broken heart. Job said it best, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble."

Valleys are inescapable. Don’t fall victim to erroneous doctrine that says, “God wants you ‘healthy and wealthy’.” That theology comes from empty heads and closed Bibles. Listen, if God’s own Son had to endure suffering to complete the will of the Father, should you expect anything different? All must travel through their valley of Baca. They are behind us and in front of us. Many times, the exit of one valley leads to the entrance of another. Your valley may be death, disease, disappointment, divorce, dismissal, or any number of things. But I say to you, “Don’t be discouraged by your difficulties!”

Don’t Be Distracted from Your Destination
But you may be thinking, "How may I not become discouraged by my difficulties?!" Here’s how, don’t become distracted from your destination!

Think of the psalmist as your example. He knew where he was going, and he determined where he was not staying! Don’t set up shop or put down roots in the valley. Keep pressing ahead you are on a pilgrimage! Your destination is a place where sin and death have been vanquished. Don’t forget, you’re just passing through. Point yourself and others toward heaven. Jesus said in John 16:33: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

Discouragement and defeat are natural byproducts of a Christian being distracted from his destination.
  • Job and all his difficulties
  • Daniel in the den of lions
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace
  • Jesus Christ on the cross and in the tomb
They were all just PASSING THROUGH!

I want to share with you some spiritual counsel that has helped me and I know will help you. Psalm 84:6 says: "Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools."

Here is what happens far too many who find themselves temporarily in a valley: their discouragement skyrockets and…
  • They give up their class.
  • They quit teaching Sunday school.
  • They quit coming to church regularly.
  • They stop tithing.
  • They no longer hang out with Christian friends.
  • They quit the choir.
  • They let their guard down and their discipline drop.
In short, their spiritual appetite evaporates.

But only until things get better!They say.

Have you ever tried that on your job? Why don’t you call your boss and say, “I’m a little down today. I‘ll come in when I feel better.”

I’m sure your boss will say, “Well, God bless you. We’ll call the prayer chain.”

That’s not going to happen. Try that with raising your children.

“I don’t feel like taking care of my baby today. Hopefully, I’ll feel more like it in a week or two.”

You would never do that with your job or with your kids, but it often happens with the things of God. Christian, the things of God are too important to be treat like that.

Now here is that counsel that I promised. When you don’t know what to do, the best thing to do is to keep doing what you know to do!
  • Keep reading your Bible.
  • Keep getting on your knees in prayer.
  • Keep being a positive witness for Jesus Christ.
  • Keep going, and being active in, your church.
  • Keep on loving God’s people.
  • Keep doing all the things that you know you need to do!
“When passing through the valley of Baca, make it a well. Do you realize that Jesus was refreshed from the well that Jacob had dug hundreds of years earlier? In the moment of your discouragement and distraction, dig a well so that others, traveling down that same valley, might be refreshed!

Dependence on God

How is your appetite? Are you devoted to God? Is your direction towards God? Finally, is your dependence on God? The only way you can dig that well in the valley of Baca is through reliance on the Lord. "Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."

God’s might and power is ample and it never abates. God’s grace will always prove sufficient to preserve you. Troubles will come; temptations will come, but do not be overwhelmed by them because you are kept by the power of God through faith in His Son. "For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."

It gives me goose bumps to realize that the promise God made to Abram (Genesis 15:1) is the same promise that He makes to me! "Fear not, Travis: I am your shield and great reward!"

If that doesn’t get you hungry, you need to get checked out!

"O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee."

Do you trust God? Do you trust Him not only with the great decisions and big events, but with the little things as well? Do you trust Him with the things you speak to others about, and the things that you speak to no one about? Do you trust Him with your marriage, your child, your boyfriend, your career, your schooling, your business, and your life? Or do you live by the dictates of a panic-stricken world, caught in a frenzied scramble to feed its appetite with every empty thing in sight?

Do sheep get frenzied? Sheep simply listen to the Shepherd's voice. They know the sound and are prepared to follow Him down any dusty trail. They know He will lead them to green fields and protect them from wolves.

Our Shepherd calls each of us by name. He leads us onward, not withholding any good thing from us, knowing exactly what is best for us. I am prepared to trust that kind of Shepherd. Are you? How’s your appetite?

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