I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what affects me the most. What impacts my attitude, my mood, my behavior, my words, and my choices? Thinking about times when I’ve felt joyful, hopeful, or satisfied compared to times when I’ve felt discouraged, anxious, or alone I began to see a common thread. What I think and what I do are intrinsically linked. There’s an old saying- “You are what you eat.” This is also true spiritually. The things I consume impact my thoughts, which in turn impact my behavior.
When it comes to my physical health, a small amount of “junk food” in an otherwise healthy diet is not detrimental. However, the more junk food I consume the more I start to crave it. When I give into these cravings I slowly begin consuming larger quantities of it more frequently. Eventually, the healthy foods no longer taste as good and they don’t seem to satisfy me anymore. I often don’t even notice the effect it is having on me until my diet has become quite unhealthy. That’s when I finally start to see that I have gained weight, I feel sluggish and lethargic, I have digestive problems, and I just don’t feel good.
I had never previously thought about this same concept applying to my spiritual life, but it makes sense. Because we are both physical and spiritual beings so there is a deep connection between the actions of the body and the essence of our spirit. The experiences of our bodies is reflected in our spirits, and vice versa as well. This explains the connection between the body and the spirit that is repeatedly seen in worship (circumcision, communion, baptism, fasting, kneeling for prayer). It is also evident from the number of scriptures that mention food and drink or hunger and thirst.
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”Matthew 4:4
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.John 6:35
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.Matthew 5:6
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.Matthew 16:5-12
Spiritual “food” comes in many forms. In fact, anything that is experienced by our bodies can have a direct influence on our spirit. It can be the TV shows or movies I watch, the music I listen to, the books I read, The people I surround myself with, and even my own self-talk. For example, when I watch excessive news coverage of current events I worry more. When I watch political analysts I become more opinionated and judgmental. When I hear about instances of division and violence in our country I feel fearful and powerless. When I consume media that offer casual sex, drinking, drugs, or other vices as “normal” ways to cope with life, my sense of morality becomes blurred.
Just as with physical food, a small amount of spiritual “junk food” isn’t going to make a significant difference when I am regularly consuming consuming healthy spiritual foods. These healthy spiritual foods include reading the Bible, praying, daily devotions, church involvement, volunteer work, listening to worship music, etc. Unfortunately, the more spiritual junk food I consume, the more I want to consume. As junk foods become a larger portion of my diet the balance tips, and the healthy spiritual foods become less appealing. When my spiritual consumption has become mostly unhealthy I begin to see the effect it is having on me. I may feel depressed, anxious, fearful, irritable, apathetic, or unsettled. Sometimes I may feel all of those things.
I realize it’s because I have been starving myself. I have not been consuming the “bread of life” that my spirit needs. Instead I have been filling myself with the empty calories or “yeast” of the world. It was enjoyable at first, but those empty spiritual calories didn’t fill me which is why I always needed more. Without the proper nutrition I become easily worn out. My spirit begins to hunger for something that nothing else can satisfy. When I notice the effect it is having on my spirit I finally recognize the necessity of the healthy spiritual foods in my life. As I return to a healthy diet I begin to feel emotionally restored until I am full again. But it’s always so easy to slip back into old habits. That is why I have to be regularly checking my spiritual fuel gauge. When I feel like I am running low on fuel (increasing negativity, hopelessness, worry, depression/anxiety, etc.) it signals to me that I have not been focused on the right things.
Several weeks ago my teenage son asked me why I always listen to Christian music. At the time I responded- it just makes me feel better. I still enjoy secular music, I always have and I grew up on alternative rock. But I started to see a difference in myself when I listened to contemporary worship music. My mood, my attitude, my mental outlook, my interactions with other people all became more positive when I regularly listened to it. I liked how it made me feel, somehow it balanced out the negativity in my day. I feel more patient, less stressed, more flexible, more tolerant, and less fearful. I feel more like the person I want to be when I am allowing God to regularly fill me. That in turn is reflected in my behavior.
The truth is that I can’t make a positive change in my life. I am flawed, sinful, and drawn toward self-destruction. God is good. He alone can make positive changes in my life. But I have to choose to give him the opportunity. I alone get to decide what I will use to feed my spirit. I am accountable for what I choose to consume and the effect it has on me.