The Cure for Spiritual Anorexia

Matthew 4:4

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Dear Friends in Christ,

If you hang around the Meyer household very long and watch any television with us, sooner or later you are going to see one or more episodes of the old TV show “Full House,” especially if my granddaughter Brooklyn is around because that is one of her favorite shows that she records and watches at our house.  And on that show you will see the cutest and tiniest girl of the family, Michelle, who was actually played by twins.  Remember their names? Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.  And while we knew that they were talented, I sincerely doubt that many people would have predicted the multi-million dollar empire that they would one day be a part of and that they took full control of in January of 2005 at the ripe old age of 18.  This empire consisted primarily of a line of merchandise that includes clothing and beauty products.  It proved to be so fruitful, so lucrative, that in 2007 Forbes Magazine ranked the twins jointly as the eleventh-richest women in the entertainment industry, with an estimated combined net worth of $100 million.  And yet they stand as a striking example to us that money cannot always buy happiness or security from all the problems of life.  For in June of 2004 the one twin, Mary-Kate, checked herself into a rehab center so that she might receive treatment for an eating disorder that was reported to be anorexia.  Her obvious weight loss had become the subject of many tabloid magazines and apparently for once the tabloids were telling the truth.

Well, it’s sad to say, but there are many Christians today who are also suffering from anorexia – only not the type that Mary-Kate Olsen battled, but anorexia of a much different and more deadly nature.  I would call it spiritual anorexia, starving to death from spiritual malnutrition.  And it’s shocking that such an illness is so widespread because the truth of the matter is there is plenty of food available.  There are more Bibles in print today than at any other time in history.  But a Bible that sits on the shelf and gathers dust does the owner no good at all.  It is absolutely worthless.  It’s like having a refrigerator stocked with the most delectable delights imaginable but never opening it and eating any of them and then dying of starvation.

That’s why today, as we continue our look at how to live a good news life in a bad news world, I want to use my time to help us find a cure for this type of spiritual anorexia.  I do believe that those of us who claim the name of Christ want to be spiritually fit.  We want to be healthy disciples of our Lord.  But in order for that to happen, we need to feed regularly on the life-giving, soul-saving, faith-strengthening truths of God’s Word.  Jesus had a special word that he used for what I’m talking about here.  He called it “abiding.”  In John 8:31 he says: “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.”  So how exactly do we do that?  How exactly do we abide in Christ’s Word?  Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today in the form of 3 practical suggestions.

First of all, I must accept the Bible’s authority.  It must become the gold standard for my life, the compass I rely on for direction, the counsel I listen to when I’m faced with tough decisions, the benchmark that I use to evaluate everything that happens to me and everything that happens in the world, including those things that I simply do not understand.

Unfortunately, we don’t always do a very good job of that, do we?  I think it would be safe to say that many of our troubles occur because we base our choices and decisions upon unreliable authorities like popular opinion (“Everyone else is doing it”); tradition (“We’ve always done it that way”); reason (“It seemed like the logical thing to do”); or emotion (“I did it because it just felt good”).  There’s a problem though with those so-called authorities.  And the problem is that every one of them has been flawed ever since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin.  And therefore they cannot be depended upon.  They cannot be trusted.  What we need then is a perfect standard, a flawless benchmark that will never lead us astray, that will never let us down.  And the only thing that meets that standard is God’s Word.  For Proverbs 30:5 says: “Every word of God is flawless.”  And in 2 Tim. 3:16 the Apostle Paul tells us: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.” (NLT)

Unfortunately, we’re living at a time right now where so many people no longer believe that there is such a thing as this type of absolute truth.  Truth, we’re told, is something that you must determine for yourself.  Consequently, what may be true for one person may not be necessarily true for another.  Well, you don’t have to be an Albert Einstein to figure out that this way of thinking is going to lead to complete and utter chaos sooner or later.  And that is precisely what has happened in our culture today where time-honored standards and truths and morals and values are constantly being called into question.  For example, does it make sense to you that a 15-year-old girl cannot be given an aspirin at school without her parents’ permission, but if that same girl should get pregnant, she can be taken to an abortion clinic and have the life within her destroyed, all without her parents’ knowledge and consent?  These are the kinds of things that happen when we abandon the idea of absolute truth and make truth out to be something that is relative, something that each person must create for himself or herself.

The story is told that in the early years of his ministry, Billy Graham went through a time when he struggled with doubts about the accuracy and authority of the Bible.  One moonlit night, however, he dropped to his knees in tears and told God that though he didn’t understand everything in the Bible, from that point on he would completely trust it as the sole authority for his life and ministry.  From that day forward, Billy Graham’s life was blessed with unusual power and effectiveness.

May I encourage you to do the same, my friends?  To make the Bible your ultimate authority so that regardless of what popular opinion is saying, regardless of what tradition, reason, or emotion are telling you, the first question you’re always going to ask is, “What does God have to say about this in his Word?”  I guarantee it will save you a lot of grief and a lot of pain in the long run.

That takes us to a second way to abide in God’s Word.  Not only must I accept its authority, I must also assimilate its truth.  You see, it’s one thing to read the Bible and to even believe it.  But unless and until that Bible becomes a part of me, unless and until I surrender myself to it truths, unless and until I allow it to transform me and impact everything I do, it’s just another book.  So how exactly do we do that?  How do we assimilate the Bible?

Well, a good place to start is by reading it.  Do you realize that for most of the 2000-year history of the church, only priests got to personally read the Bible?  But now that’s changed.  Now, praise God, billions of us have access to it.  And yet many believers today are more faithful at reading their daily emails or their Facebook page than they are their Bibles.  They have no problem sitting in front of a TV set or a computer screen for hours on end, but ask them to read their Bibles for 15 minutes a day and they claim they don’t have time.  It’s no wonder so many people suffer from spiritual anorexia.  By the way, did you know that if you would read your Bible just 15 minutes a day, you would read through it completely in one year?  Or how about this?  If you cut out one 30-minute TV program a day and read your Bible instead, you will read through the Bible twice a year.  And I guarantee you’ll get a lot more benefit from doing that than you will from watching that 30-minute television program.

Then another thing you must do to assimilate the Bible is you must receive it.  In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus tells of the farmer who went out to sow seed and how that seed fell on different types of soil.  Some fell on hard, rocky soil, which would represent a closed mind.  Some fell on shallow soil, which would signify a superficial mind.  Some fell on soil with weeds that choked the young plants.  This would symbolize a distracted mind, a mind that is cluttered with the cares and worries of life.  But some fell on good soil, rich soil, receptive soil.  And it produced a bountiful crop.

So whether you are hearing the Word of God proclaimed to you in a sermon or Bible class or whether you’re reading it on your own, do it with an open and receptive heart.  In fact, I would suggest that you ask the Holy Spirit to give you that kind of a heart because the truth of the matter is, there are going to be some parts of Scripture that are going to hurt, some parts that are going to be tough to hear and tough to receive.  But the Holy Spirit can take those parts and help you understand why you need them.  And he can use them to transform your life and mold you into the kind of person he wants you to be.

And that leads us to one more way to abide in God’s Word.  And that is I must apply its principles to my life.  Reading the Bible, hearing it proclaimed, receiving the message are all great things, but they are useless unless and until we put what we read into practice in our daily lives.  Like James 1:22 says: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”  Or to borrow more modern terminology, we need to do more than just talk the talk.  We also need to walk the walk.  And this is where it gets tough because this is something that Satan fights so intensely.  You see, he doesn’t mind you going to church or Bible studies or reading the Scriptures on your own as long as you don’t do anything with what you learn.  That’s why Jesus said in the conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  If you want a rock solid foundation upon which you can build your life and your eternity, then you need to take the principles of Scripture and apply them to yourself.

Now as I mentioned before, that’s not always easy to do because sometimes that personal application of God’s Word is difficult and even painful.  Jesus once said that the truth will set you free, but sometimes before it does that, it makes you miserable as it exposes your motives, points out your faults, and makes clear your sins.  But that’s where we need to take into account all of Scripture.  For when we feel the sword of God’s Word piercing our hearts and convicting us of our sins, it is that which drives us to our beautiful Savior Jesus who loved us in spite of our faults and carried every one of our sins to the cross where he suffered and died in our place, receiving our punishment, paying our penalty.  And that Savior reminds us in our text for today that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

While I was finishing up this sermon and trying to come up with a good conclusion, I remembered a time some years ago when one of our members came to church on a Monday morning looking for her Bible that she thought she had left here the previous day.  Sure enough, it was in Ange’s office just waiting to be picked up.  And when she was leaving I said, “Well, at least you missed your Bible.”  And she replied, “Oh yes, I read it everyday.”  Made me wonder, what would happen if you lost your Bible.  How long would it be before you missed it?

So if, by chance, you have felt a bit convicted today, if you feel as though you have been diagnosed as spiritually anorexic, the good news is there’s a cure.  And that cure may very well be sitting on a bookshelf or coffee table in your home.  The key is to not let it sit there any longer but to open it, read it, and receive it.  Or as Jesus said, abide in it by accepting its authority, assimilating its truths, applying its principles to your life, and understanding that a good steady diet of God’s Word is just what you need to keep you from ever becoming spiritually anorexic again.

Amen.