In our family, we try to be fairly healthy. We’re not the best at it, but we do try to ration the sugar, especially at breakfast on school days. There is one exception, though: SUMMER.
Summer for the Desilets is travel time. On top of some camping trips and a family vacation, we spend several weeks in Vermont for our SERVE summer youth group trip. This is a fairly consuming endeavor, so when it comes to food, all bets are off! We’ve even developed a tradition that before leaving for Vermont, we go to the grocery store and everyone gets to pick out two boxes of any cereal they want. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Krispies, Lucky Charms, you want it – you get to have it!
Sugar is very effective at creating strong reactions in my children. There is the running around screaming because “I’m so happy and have so much energy!” which wears off just in time for someone to get hurt (or even worse someone’s feelings to get hurt) and then we lose our minds!
The funny thing is that inevitably, many months later, no matter how much we love it (and fight over it) there are at least one or two boxes of this stuff left in our cabinet at home! This cereal is completely stale and no one is eating it, but I’m still not allowed to throw it away 😉
Experiences with God can be just like sugar cereal – when we see God work or feel His presence, a reaction occurs within us. In that moment, emotions like joy, passion, conviction, gratitude, and love well up. But when the moment is over and life goes back to ‘normal,’ the feelings wear off and our relationship with God can start to feel stale. We wonder if God is there or if He’s even working in our lives because we can’t seem to feel Him anymore.
Mark 8:11 takes us to a scene where: “The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.”
As religious leaders, highly respected by the common people, the Pharisees weren’t big fans of Jesus. His impressive miracles and controversial teachings were massing crowds of thousands. His popularity was overtaking theirs, so, in an attempt to discredit Him, they put His power to the test. In doing this they were saying, “Do something that will produce a reaction in us and then we’ll be satisfied that You’re from God.”
But instead of performing for them, He “sighed deeply” in grief at their misunderstanding of His power and walked away.
In the next verses, we find the disciples on a boat with Jesus. As recent eyewitnesses to one of these impressive miracles (the feeding of the four thousand), they had experienced the satisfaction the Pharisees were demanding. But they still didn’t get it:
The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:14-15)
Like any good teacher, Jesus took advantage of this teachable moment – while they were thinking about physical bread, He began talking to them about spiritual bread. In warning them about the “yeast” of the Pharisees, He was telling them to stay away from the dangerous belief that God’s work is all about the actions of people or that certain reactions need to happen inside of people to prove that God is working.
The next verse is my favorite. It’s classic disciples – classic humans:
They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” (v. 16)
I can see Jesus shaking His head with that same deep grief He experienced a few verses earlier. The disciples could not step outside of their humanity and stop thinking about their own physical satisfaction for even a moment!
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (v. 17)
The number one reason our faith seems stale is because, like the religious leaders, we think God can only be working if certain emotional reactions or human feelings are present. Like the disciples, we have a hard time stepping outside of our humanity and need for physical satisfaction – we want the things of God to be all about us. Our faith gets stale when we make a personal God into a “personal god“.
God is intensely personal. He formed you and He knows you inside and out – better than any other person could ever know you and better than you could ever know yourself! He cares deeply about every aspect of your life – every action, experience, thought, and emotion. He’s a personal God.
Because of this, there are many times God works through those actions, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. But I’m scared that in our Christian culture we’re starting to believe that we have to feel God in order to experience Him. We’ve started equating feelings with God – and the more we make the God of the Universe about us and our feelings, the smaller He gets. When we make Him a ‘personal good-feeling-giving assistant,’ we strip Him of His power to work in all things and all feelings and all times and all places!
We naturally seek after high and mighty “God moments” – tingly, tear-inducing, emotion that brings us to our knees or big stories of how God has worked powerfully in someone’s life. But I’ve found that God is most often at work in the exact opposite. It’s in the mundane, unseen, everyday, “real life” moments that He’s doing His greatest work!
Like the sugary goodness of our summer cereals, those high “God-moments” always wear off and even if we could repeat them every day they would get old – and we would stick them in the back of the cabinet and forget about them. Maybe God’s a smart parent who doesn’t give them to us over and over again for a reason! If He did we might start worshiping the experience instead of worshiping Him.
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (v. 17-21)
Jesus holds in Himself every ounce of satisfaction you’ll ever need and He’s offering you enough of Himself to satisfy you every moment of every day. You don’t need more feelings or experiences to prove that!