When our bodies are physically malnourished, we get run down, tired, and short-tempered. Extended malnourishment can lead to depression, muscle loss, tissue damage, and more. Children who are malnourished actually stop growing, physically. Something similar can happen when we are spiritually malnourished. We experience loss and damage in our sense of self and our love of neighbor.
With extended spiritual malnourishment, we stop growing.
One sign we are spiritually malnourished is an excessive desire to make our faith about rules. When we haven’t gotten the nourishment we need, we try to make our relationship with God transactional. We default to thinking of grace as something we can earn. At our worst, we may even think that God owes us something for what we perceive as good behavior.
After Jesus feeds more than 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two dried fish, the crowd asks “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?” (John 6:28, CEB).
When Jesus tells them God wants to nourish their souls, they ask: What can we do to earn this eternal food?
The idea that God doesn’t expect us to earn our way into relationship, acceptance, wholeness, or salvation can seem too good to be true. So instead, we try to earn it. We make up rules for ourselves. Or worse, we make up rules for other people.
Many times, Christians have chosen to be known by they don’t do. For many people, being a Christian means they don’t drink (at least not too much, and not in public). Being a Christian means they don’t swear (at least not too much, and not in public). Being a Christian means they don’t … well, you get the idea.
Too often we have chosen to be defined by rules about what we do and don’t do rather than by who we worship.
This is a symptom of spiritual malnourishment.
When we are spiritually malnourished, we default to a transactional relationship with God. “If I do this, then God will ___.”
But that isn’t what God offers us. That isn’t what Christianity is about. Christianity is about a relationship with a life-giving person. Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, The Bread of Life.
And, yes, our relationship with God will inspire, encourage, and empower us to live differently. We will live in ways that respect the humanity of others. We will “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2)
That’s how we live when we are spiritually nourished and spiritually healthy. It is the result of a relationship with God, not a prerequisite to it.
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