While we now, thank God, seem to be on the download curve in relation to Omicron, there is still a lingering sense of un-ease. The world as we knew it has not been returned to us, and we can feel – consciously or unconsciously – that we are living in an alien land. Everywhere we […]
While we now, thank God, seem to be on the download curve in relation to Omicron, there is still a lingering sense of un-ease. The world as we knew it has not been returned to us, and we can feel – consciously or unconsciously – that we are living in an alien land. Everywhere we look we are reminded of this: masks, COVID-19 safety posters, notices about RATS availability or non-availability, QR codes (redundant), vaccination statistics …
We cannot escape all these reminders that life is more tenuous, more fragile than we might have thought it was two years ago.
I’m going to backtrack a little, two years. In March 2020, we were just at the start of the pandemic. I was on holidays so I had a lot of time to watch and absorb the horror stories coming out of Europe and America – people on ventilators gasping for their next breath, hospitals with no more room to take in desperately sick and dying patients. Excavators digging mass graves. A makeshift morgue in the heart of New York.
I’m an anxious person by nature anyway, and I quickly noticed that my anxiety about COVID-19 was getting out of control. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and all my thinking was worst-case scenario sort of thinking. I was heading into a dark downward spiral. I had to stop this. I talked to God about it – Where was this fear coming from? What would make it go away?
During a prayer time I remembered a meme that I’d seen on Pinterest years ago.
I couldn’t find it, so I re-created it for you. It goes something like this:
The one you feed.
The one you feed.
And now the title of this devotion might make some sense to you. What are we eating? What are we feeding our minds, and thus, our souls?
Think about how many negative images and words we see and hear every single day. Multiple that by 7, for a full week of negative input. Then a month, and a year – and more and more years. And even if all the input into our minds is not negative, think about the sheer volume of stuff we absorb! The morning news, the radio chatter on the commute to work, social media, our inbox, conversations with family and work colleagues, meetings, demands, jobs to do, all these things we have to keep in our heads without any of them falling out …
This generation is exposed to information overload on a scale unimagined by even our parents’ generation. And the information is generally not helpful information. I saw a social media post last week along these lines: Why are we so addicted to gathering more and more information? We’re addicted to wallowing in the problems and sins of 8 billion people. Aren’t our own problems and sins enough to deal with in any one day?
It’s a good thought. Our own life and those of our immediate family and community pose enough challenges on their own. But add everyone else’s bad news, a global pandemic on top of that … and something has to give. It might be our mental health, or physical health, or our relationships might suffer. And I’m pretty sure that, for all of us, our spiritual health suffers when we are scoffing down only mental and spiritual junk food. Meanwhile, we are starving our souls.
We need to watch what we are eating. Are we feeding our fears, or feeding our faith?
Years ago, back in Brisbane, I interviewed a leading Muslim imam and his wife, for a series of stories in The Lutheran, right after September 11. Over the years we developed a strong and enduring friendship, which lasts to this day. (In fact, he now also lives in the Adelaide Hills, and I run into him in Woolies from time to time.) I once asked Mohammed about the Muslim practice of stopping everything five times a day in order to pray. Coming from a grace-grace-grace background, that practice sounded like a hefty dose of law to me. Here’s what he said (at least, something along these lines):
You Christians might have better memory than we Muslims do, he said. We Muslims have bad memory and we are easily distracted. As we get into the demands of every day, we quickly forget God. We find ourselves focusing on everything that’s going on around us, and we start to think that this is our life. These things are not our life. God is our life. So we have to construct physical stop signs in our days, so that we must stop and must refocus our minds and our hearts on God. Five times a day. It is a discipline that helps us to keep our eyes, our hearts and minds on God, and not on the things around us that steal our attention away from God and drive us to anxiety and despair.
Wise words …
It makes you wonder if we could introduce some discipline like this into our lives. We already stop what we are doing in order to feed our nagging stomach – several times a day. I wonder if we could think of our spiritual nagging stomach in a similar way … and try to build into each and every day some time (or more time) to consciously and deliberately feed our faith.
So, assuming this is your heart’s desire, let’s do something about this right away. Let’s get some soul food into us. Let’s take a few minutes now to shut out the noise, especially the negative noise, of our life – and turn our attention back to the only thing that is needful (as Jesus said to Martha). Let’s give God and his promises our full, undivided attention. Let’s not look to the left or the right, backwards to the things we regret or forgot to do this morning, or forwards to all the jobs ahead of us this afternoon – let’s focus fully on God and what he wants to give us today. Let’s feed our faith.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. [Jesus] John 16:33
Do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. 1 Chronicles 22:19
The Lord waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. Isaiah 30:18
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
Look to Jesus … Hebrews: 12:2a
And on that note, Let’s pray.
We come to you for food. We open our minds and our hearts to receive the food you want to give us today.
Jesus told us that in this world we would have troubles. Help us to accept this reality, in the sure hope that this world is not our final home, that we are merely passing through this life, and that Jesus has already overcome every fearful thing in our world and has brought them all to heel.
Heavenly Father, you know our human tendency towards fear. This is why, over and over and over, you have said to your people, and you say to us today: ‘Do not fear. I am with you. I am your God. I am at your side.’ Help us to hold onto that invincible truth today, and every day.
You wait for us. You long to be gracious to us. What an extraordinary thought – that you, the God who made the universe and all that is, yearns for us to turn our face toward you, to spend time with you. Help us, by your Spirit, to come to you – in those times when you are all that we have left to hold on to, and also in those times when we want to celebrate the joys of life with you.
Every day, point us away from those things that drag us down in body, mind and spirit – and point us towards the things that will build us up, free us, and feed us; those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.
And finally, in all things, in good times and in bad, point us to Jesus, point us to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
And it’s in his name we pray.