Spiritual malnutrition can strike anyone. You wake up one morning feeling drained of hope and optimism. Your depressed mood makes even praying an effort, and participation in church activities is out of the question.
Symptoms include acting crabby, being short-tempered, even profane and cynical; feeling discouraged and self-centered; lacking coping skills, creativity, imagination and a sense of humor. You are no fun to be around; you are easily incapacitated by adversity, accident prone, a poor listener.
These are some of the ways my life has been affected when I have allowed the "spiritual hunger" to get me.
It's not something that we allow to happen on purpose: We become busy at work or at home or at our leisure activities. We think that spiritual nourishment does not need daily attention on a private basis or weekly attention on a public basis. The "spiritual hunger" begins to get us when we try to deal with the complex world with only our human resources. This "hunger" also gets us when we neglect to call upon God to help us maintain a meaningful marriage and family relationships. The stress and strain take their toll, and our bodies and minds begin to show it.
Drastic action is often required to restore spiritual perspective and replenish spiritual nutrients. Since "the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak," the best way to become spiritually well again is to take part in a spiritual retreat.
Denominations regularly offer such retreats for members. There are retreat houses that sponsor such programs. Start by talking with your pastor about a yearly spiritual retreat for the congregation or participation in someone else's event.
How can you prevent spiritual malnutrition? Daily private Bible reading and prayer are essentials.
The story of God providing manna from heaven to the Jews in the wilderness contains a strong message for us today. God expects us to receive nourishment from what he has provided daily. Just as God created the body to require physical nutrients each day, he created in us a need for daily spiritual nourishment.
You also need to take advantage of what your congregation offers each week. Weekly worship is a spiritual discipline neglected at your own detriment.
Worship is something that we do, rather than something others do for us. We are to shift the responsibility of receiving "spiritual food" from the preacher and the choir to our shoulders.
Do you listen to the words of the prayers, the hymns and the choir's anthem? Do you arrive early for worship so you are in the mood to participate wholeheartedly? Do you do more during the interludes than plan what you are going to do after worship?
We all need God's help just to get out of bed in the morning. Even more we need his presence, power and peace to do our daily work and to get along with others.
If you allow God's Spirit to nourish you with what he alone can provide -- "bread from heaven" -- then the "spiritual hunger" will not get you.
Dr. Gene Norris is a local Presbyterian pastor who serves as a hospital chaplain and a marriage and family therapist.
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