In a striking coincidence yesterday morning, I heard a dietician on the radio talking about "eating the rainbow" while Calvin was reading an article in his 3rd grade class about the very same idea. The notion that we should be eating a balanced, colorful and heavily plant-based diet sparked a good conversation at the dinner table as we enjoyed a colorful, balanced and entirely plant-based meal of cauliflower and chickpea curry over basmati rice. We talked about God's provision and creativity of a wide variety of beautiful and flavorful foods designed to meet the nutritional needs we have. We talked about how in accordance with the creation blessing, humans can use those foods to create combinations that bring out further beauties and complexities of flavor. We also talked about how sin has marred God's good design and how we can corrupt the natural foods God has created and harm our bodies as a consequence. All of this made me think about the parallel realities of our spiritual nourishment and health.
Over the past few weeks I have been writing about the staples of a healthy spiritual life: the spiritual disciplines. So far I have focused on those disciplines related to God's word, which the biblical authors refer to as both "pure milk" as well as "meat" or "solid food". It occurred to me that in my writing I had gravitated towards the disciplines that come most naturally to me, those that my spiritual taste buds most naturally crave. Similar to my own dietary habits, if left to myself, my plate would be heavily weighted with meats and cheeses and not represent the rainbow that is for my best. My practice of the disciplines is no different. I run readily towards the meat and milk of the word, but have to remind myself that the fruit of the Spirit is generated in a two-way relationship as I walk in the Spirit. And this means prayer.
As I think about this idea of a balanced diet as it relates to spiritual disciplines, it occurs to me that even in my prayer life there is the need for balance. Whether we think of an ACTS model (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) or the James model of praise and prayer, or the Psalms' model of Lament and Praise, Scripture presents a variety of ways to pray that are all essential parts of a spiritual diet. For me the Lord's Prayer has been the model I have learned from the most and been challenged by most greatly.
Matthew 6 gives us a model that Jesus gave his disciples to use in prayer. The words themselves are not the model, but rather the types of things included in the prayer. If we think of it as a skeleton we must put flesh on, it prevents it from being the very thing Jesus condemned in the scribes and Pharisees as vain repetition. The requests are: 1) name hallowed, 2) kingdom come, 3) will be done, 4) daily bread, 5) forgiveness, 6) lead not into temptation. Three of these are God-ward requests and three are human focused. I find it much easier to put flesh on the latter three than the first three. That is, I can easily come up with specific items to include under the categories of daily bread, forgiveness and deliverance from the evil one's tests and temptations. It is harder to articulate requests under the first three headings. Yet Jesus, in speaking a short while later about the priorities of disciples, said that rather than worrying about our food and clothes (request 4) we should seek first his kingdom (request 2) and righteousness (request 3) and all these things would be added to us. So we are missing essential components of our diet if we neglect to flesh out these first three requests.
This is why the Psalms are so necessary to us. The collection serves as a prayer manual for God's people, giving us language to pray well. It draws attention to the reality of God's kingdom, and of his anointed king who rules on David's throne (for more on that, listen to the sermon from April 8th). It teaches us what it means to praise God for his rule, to ask for his rule to be made more full, and to lament when we see it absent. As we pray in a accordance with the Psalms, a feedback loop is created. As we pray for His name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come and his will to be done, we start to see our world, nation, city and neighborhood differently. We start to see the lack of God's shalom in them. As a result, we pray more fervently and have more "flesh" to put on the skeleton. Then our eyes are opened further to the realities of God's kingdom and our need to be brought into conformity with it and so we are driven more to prayer. You get the idea.
This is what Tim Keller refers to as "Frontline Prayer" as distinguished from "maintenance prayer". Maintenance prayer is the bottom three requests that most of us equate with prayer. Frontline prayer brings us into God's strategy room and puts us at the tip of the spear of His kingdom. Both are necessary, but there is a reason the Frontline requests come first. In my life, I have never sustained good maintenance prayer without engaging in frontline prayer. Further, with frontline prayer as a priority, it changes how I pray my maintenance prayers. All of a sudden my daily bread and struggles and failures with sin are not merely individual matters of my fate and relationship with God, but have implications for God's reputation and plan in the world.
So I invite you to look at your spiritual plate and evaluate how colorful it is. What our moms told us all growing up is also what our Father would say: "Make sure you eat your veggies." It was good advice then regarding our earthly food and remains good advice now for our spiritual food.
Marcus Little is the Senior Pastor of Berean Baptist Church. This blog is a place where he can share his thoughts and reflections on how Scripture intersects with life, work, community, culture and the events of our times.