Find Something and Eat It!
by Dr. Lynn Karidis
When a previous employer transferred me to a rural city in another state, I immediately began searching for the local grocery store. I knew I wasn’t in Metro-Detroit anymore when, on my way to the front door, a complete stranger looked me in the eye, smiled, and said “Hello!” Though the culture of this new area was obviously different, at least the store clerk spoke my language, and I could read the labels on the food! Since then, I’ve heard from many cross-cultural workers that learning how to find food in a new location is a very stressful thing.
I’ve noticed the same anxiety in believers who are searching for spiritual food. Candidates heading for the field wonder what they should do to prepare for the time when they live in cities and attend churches filled with people who don’t speak their first language. And members who have served on the field for years wonder what they should do when the spiritual disciplines they have been using don’t seem to work anymore.
Two pertinent questions people typically ask are “What should I feed myself?” and “How should I feed myself?” Regarding what I should feed myself, though spiritual health is multifaceted, Scripture is clear that prayer and Bible intake are the staples of a believer’s spiritual life, just as food and water are necessities for our physical life. On prayer see: Matt. 6:7-13, 26:41; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16, 18:1; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:1-4, 8; Heb. 4:16; Jas. 5:13-16. On Bible intake see: Deut. 6:1-9; Ps. 1:1-3; 19:7-11; 119:9-11, 97-104, 105; Prov. 2:1-6; Matt. 4:4; Rom. 12:2, 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Heb. 4:12. The extent to which we partake of this spiritual food is often a barometer of our spiritual health.
As to the question of how we feed ourselves, there are a multitude of good books full of ideas on how to spend time in the Word and in prayer, including: Shaped by the Word, by M. Robert Mulholland Jr., which describes the difference between “formational” and “informational” reading of the Word; Dynamic Bible Study Methods, by Rick Warren, which provides instructions for 12 different Bible study methods; Prayer, by Richard Foster, which describes over 20 different types of prayer practices; and Godly Servants, by David Teague, which specifically addresses the spiritual formation of missionaries.
Perhaps the most comprehensive book on this subject is the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, which provides more than 350 ways to practice suggested spiritual disciplines. If you’re looking to try something new because the old practices don’t seem to be working anymore, this is a great place to start.
The key to our participation in spiritual growth is perseverance in the disciplines—almost any prayer or Bible intake discipline will do—coupled with an understanding that just because I don’t feel like I’ve gotten anything out of today’s Bible reading doesn’t mean that God isn’t using it to transform me from the inside out. God’s work in our souls is not always obvious in the moment of Bible intake. It often shows up later, when God reminds us of a verse exactly in the moment we need it.
One of my favorite cartoons—drawn by Gary Larson (The Far Side)—shows a dinosaur contemplating his daily calendar. It’s open to the month of March and in each little daily box is written (I’m paraphrasing): “Find something and eat it.” Good advice for the dinosaur—and the Christian, too.