It is a tremendous joy to watch young couples who are growing their families by having children. In our medically aware world, we have come to understand the importance of the health of the mother for the sake of the baby. There have been many realizations and advances in the last half century that benefit the fetus by strengthening the mother. I recently noticed an article entitled, “The Five Most Important Things to Do When You Find Out You’re Pregnant.” It suggested these five considerations:
1. Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day
2. Stop smoking and drinking alcohol
3. If you have a medical condition, make sure it is under control
4. Stop taking over the counter medicines unless approved by your doctor
5. Avoid contact with toxic substances
Now I am not hosting a pre-natal clinic; but I am suggesting that if mothers must modify their behavior so that the infant in the womb is physically healthy, then we must consider doing the same for spiritual nurturing.
The spiritual health of those we minister to is directly related to our own spiritual health. Much of what we do in the ministry focuses on giving of ourselves to serve others. After all, we are “servants.” However, the Lord recognized and taught His disciples the need to serve from a supplied life. None of us can run on empty for very long.
Consider four elements in which we must discipline our lives if we are going to grow ourselves as we nurture others.
Attitude plays a very important role in what we do. In John 4:31-35, we find that the Lord, though harried and hungry, never lost sight of some very important truths.
He was able to keep the perspective of eternity in the chaos of the temporal. Though the Lord was in unfriendly territory with pressing physical needs, He remembered that souls were more important than sandwiches. The disciples were completely consumed with solving the physical crisis, to the point that they did not even recognize the spiritual opportunity. In His statement, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of…” The Lord is aware that His Father will provide as He is faithful to the Father’s will and work. It is the knowledge of faith that says if I attend to the souls, my Father will attend to the sandwiches.
It is easy to get caught up in the chaos of the temporal and miss the spiritual opportunities. The Lord reminded the disciples about the readiness of the spiritual harvest and their need to be involved in it.
Our God is a providential God who has made great promises about His care for us. Matthew 6:28-34 makes that very clear to us, and we must be careful to live our lives believing it is true and acting upon its truth. We serve God at His calling, and our focus should be on His priority. He will provide all the needs for His work.
Job said that he, “Esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” Our Lord Himself refers to the Word as meat in John 4. You and I will not grow properly or have spiritual health if we are not feeding personally on the Word of God.
Our culture and generation are losing two great aides of spiritual life: reading and meditation. We want everything fast, easy, and convenient. Can you imagine being physically healthy on microwave popcorn, Hot Pockets, and Ramen noodles? We must develop the discipline of feeding on the Scripture, which will lead to the discipline of prayer.
We are not going to have a strong spiritual life from which we can nourish others if we are about short cuts in our own devotional life. Drawing near to God is not just a catchy phrase for a sermon; it is essential for our spiritual life and ministry.
George Mueller came to understand his need to satisfy his spiritual hunger from the Word of God. Listen to his thoughts.
It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, the benefit of which I have not lost, for more than fourteen years. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.
Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing, to give myself to prayer, after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, while meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experiential communion with the Lord.—George Müller of Bristol, Pierson, Arthur, T.
It is easy for us to grasp the importance of nutrition for the expectant mother, but we must also understand the importance of the believer partaking of the Word of God.
John 15 teaches us that just as physical trees need pruning and feeding so do our spiritual lives.
There are habits in our lives and characteristics about our souls that need to be pruned. Perhaps we are hasty in our anger or unforgiving in our hearts. We might be careless in our separation or even slothful in our organization. The Lord is always shaping and pruning us, cutting those hindering branches away. You and I must be willing to be purged and cooperative in the process. I suggest three practices:
1. Regularly examine your life. First Corinthians 28:11 tells us to examine ourselves. The word means literally “to test” or “discern.” It is a word used to describe the process in which metal was tested to see if it was pure. We are to test our own lives with the help of the Word of God and the Spirit of God to make sure that our living matches our profession.
2. Set targets of growth for yourself. When the Spirit of God exposes an area in your life that is not pleasing to Him, set tangible goals to change and improve that area. Take the matter before the Lord, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help in making God-honoring changes. Whether it is a personal life matter or some aspect of ministry, set a concrete goal for improvement.
Set improvement goals not only in ministry mechanics but in relationships as well. If the Lord exposes to you the need to grow in your relationship with a person or a group of people, what are you going to do about it? Ask the Lord to help you establish an action plan for growth in that relationship.
3. Persevere with patience. Growth is not easy and does not come quickly. With God’s help we can grow and have victory and then minister to others.
One of the things an expectant mother realizes is that if she is going to nourish the little one in her womb, she herself must get proper rest. Many of us realize that busy mothers don’t have much time for rest, and neither do people in the ministry. I know life is busy, but I also think that planning and discipline can allow for rest; and in those times when rest is planned and spoiled, God will supply.
In Mark 1:35-38, the Bible speaks of a “solitary place,” where Jesus would go to pray and meditate. He often went early and stayed late. Rest does not always equate to sleep and recreation. Our souls need the rest of devotion and communion with the Lord.
In Mark 6:31-33, we read of a time when Jesus encouraged His disciples to go to a quiet place to rest; but their rest was interrupted by crowds and ministry. However, because the Lord was in the interruption, they did not leave the event more tired but refreshed from being involved in the work of the Lord.
Of course, we do need down time, personal time, and family time; but we must be careful to recognize that in all of life the Lord is the source of our rest, not escaping from Him or His work.
For things to be pleasant and refreshing, they do not have to be expensive or intense. Pleasure is like work: it must be planned and executed. Communicate and plan with your spouse so that there is understanding. I also recommend a hobby—yes, a hobby. One in which your mind can be engaged in something you enjoy and that provides a quiet moment away from questions, problems, and meetings!
We know that the expectant mother must modify her behavior if she is going to properly nourish the baby. We too must realize that if we are going to nourish others, we must be careful about our own spiritual health. In Psalm 63, while suffering great duress David kept his priorities straight; and instead of first providing for the day’s physical needs, he sought the Lord for the feeding of his soul. We would do well to not only read his words but to live them as well.
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.