MARCH 2, 2017
One Joy Lasts Forever
Article by Ben Reaoch
Pastor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
It can be a real challenge to get kids to eat their vegetables. I remember a time when one of our kids, at the age of about one, would throw peas right to the ground. Finally I firmly said, “No throwing your peas.” But as I bent down to the floor to clean up the mess, this child started dropping peas on my head!
That’s a pretty accurate picture of how we can foolishly reject God’s good provision for us. Our Father offers us good, nutritious food — food that will satisfy and nourish and make us healthy and strong — but we refuse it.
Our souls are hungry. We have deep emotional and spiritual and relational cravings that we’re often not even fully aware of. But instead of looking to the Bread of Life, we are so easily enticed by food that perishes.
We may often (even subconsciously) try to satisfy our deep heart hungers by overindulging other appetites. We try to satisfy ourselves with excessive food or drink. We seek immoral pleasure in another person or on a screen. We pamper ourselves with unnecessary comforts, like never-ending Netflix or mind-dulling social media and games.
In John 6, Jesus feeds the five thousand and then proclaims, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) Jesus also says to the crowd, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27).
As we begin to see the dysfunction and misguided desires within ourselves, we learn more clearly how satisfying Jesus really is. Consider these four self-diagnostic questions to discern your heart hungers, and whether you’re seeking the Bread of Life or merely food that perishes.
1. What Do I Crave?
Living without Jesus is like trying to survive on Cheetos. Those crunchy, cheesy chips might be good for a snack, and someone might be all right eating nothing but Cheetos for a few days. But soon enough, that person will end up malnourished. And I expect they will also hate the taste of Cheetos very soon.
What do you really want? What do you really yearn for? If you are running after anything other than Jesus for your soul’s ultimate satisfaction, then you’ll be left empty in the end — like trying to sustain yourself on junk food. The pleasures of this life surely are many, but only Jesus offers full, everlasting joy (Psalm 16:11).
2. Why Do I Come to Jesus?
The crowds in John 6 were not interested in Jesus for the right reasons. Jesus rebukes them, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).
These people didn’t see Jesus as the real treasure, the real food. Rather, they saw him as a means to their own ends — a way of getting whatever they already wanted. It’s like Jesus is nothing more than a waiter at a restaurant. They want to place their order and have him bring every request to them on a silver platter.
But Jesus isn’t our waiter. And he’s not a genie in a bottle. Rather, he’s “a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). We don’t come to him to tell him what we want. We come to him because he is all we need. We come to him because we find that even if we have everything else, our souls aren’t satisfied unless we have him.
3. Do I Need Praise?
Another meal that many of us hunger for is the praise of other people. That can be delicious. It can also be addictive. You get a little taste of it, and you want more and more every day.
In the previous chapter of John, Jesus exposes the grave danger of craving praise from others. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).
Do you detect in yourself a yearning for the praise of others? Do you find yourself sharing stories in which you’re the hero? Do you find yourself spinning stories in such a way that you become the hero? Beware of this perishing food! Our praise is from God, not from man (Romans 2:29).
4. What Makes Me Angry?
What makes you furious? What are some of the things that really tick you off? Do you have road rage? Are you often impatient with your kids? Do you get mad over spilled milk? Do you react because you’re idolizing efficiency and productivity or because you’re trying to do too many things?
Think about your anger — whether it is manifest in loud yelling or quiet grumbling and complaining. What is it that makes you feel that way, and how might that indicate what you’re craving, what you’re idolizing?
When you find everlasting joy in Jesus, God will grant you a peace that surpasses any earthly understanding (Philippians 4:7). Sure, you’ll still have lots of ups and downs, but you can cast your concerns and anxieties on him, and slowly but surely leave behind the life of grumbling anger (1 Peter 5:6–7).
Pursue Real Joy
Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes.” So much of the food we crave in life is perishing. At the heart of Christianity is the freedom not to work ourselves ragged, trying to get stuff that isn’t going to last. As missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” In the language of John 6, we might say it like this:
He is no fool who gives up the food that perishes in order to be eternally satisfied by the bread of life.
Let’s not clamor for the stuff of this world that is going to perish in the end. Rather, we seek to hold these things with an open hand as we pursue a nutritious, divine diet.
Delight yourself in the imperishable food, the eternal food, and God will indeed nourish your heart with what you truly need (Psalm 37:4).
Savor all that Jesus is for you, and he will fill you with glorious, inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8).
Ben Reaoch is the pastor of Three Rivers Grace Church in Pittsburgh and the author of Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate.
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