Scripture warns us to take heed over 60 times, and each of these instances would provide a profitable meditation for our soul. We are exhorted, when we think we are standing, to take heed lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12). The nature of man’s soul is such that we can be starving spiritually, and yet think ourselves healthy and robust merely because we do a whole bunch of spiritually oriented things. Modern Christianity is filled with many instances of this standing but actually falling paradox.
We have preachers that proudly declare they only preach “grace,” unlike those other evangelicals that so harshly and judgmentally preach repentance. They think they are standing, but they ought to take heed lest they fall into the trap of preaching grace without repentance. Such preaching is akin to starving a man that’s dying. We love to tout our unwavering belief in a Sovereign, Almighty, Omnipotent God; then crumble in a heap of anxiety and stress when a Democrat wins the presidency. We have an uncanny propensity to cling to cutesy catch-phrases and clichés: I need some real “confirmation” about some things, we really need to just “love on people,” I’m glad God accepts us just the way we are, and about ten bajillion others. Nothing against clichés, but take heed lest your clichés are actually a clever cover up to a fall. Spouting cute Christian phrases, singing a worship song, quoting a Bible verse look a lot like standing, but as often can be a convenient way to mask a starving soul.
This is nothing new to the Church. The Israelites did much the same thing, and the Psalmist describes it this way in Psalms 106:12-15, I like to call this passage the recipe for spiritual starvation:
Then believed they his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.
Watch the progression. First, the people of God behold His marvelous and miraculous works, and they believed . . . and by golly they believed it enough to sing a happy-clappy praise chorus. I’m the staunchest advocate of believing God’s Word, and singing His praise. In fact, the only avenue to spiritual robustness and health is to believe upon the Lord Jesus; in so doing, His Spirit within will stir the believing soul to cry out in loving praise to “Abba, Father.” However, talk is cheap, and both Jesus and Paul make it clear that belief is not mere lip service but flows from a heart awakened by God’s grace (Rom. 10:9 & Mat. 15:8).
Thus, James 2:19, not surprisingly, warns us against believing in such a way that is full of hot-air and void of loving obedience: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” The Israelites ought to have “taken heed,” for they were, evidently, putting forward a very nice spiritual façade. They were probably lifting their hands really high, and singing the tunes really loud, and saying all the right little Jewish clichés at the right little time. They thought they were standing, but were actually setting themselves up for the sort of fall which even all the king’s horses and men are unable to mend.
The first ingredient to spiritual starvation, then, is riding on the excitement of emotion and feeling. The second is, “they soon forgat His works.” If you are basing your faith upon the ebb and flow of the Worship Leader’s cool guitar riffs, and your pastor’s clever illustrations about puppies, then take heed, lest thinking you stand, you are actually falling. Spurgeon once said something along the lines of “care more for a grain of faith, than a ton of excitement.” Excitement is fine and dandy, but it is liable to forget when something more immediately exciting comes along. It is likely that our generation’s spiritual barrenness is due to the fact that our Christian culture has fooled itself into thinking that it needs to compete in the “hype-olympics.” “Come to our annual Youth Group Pizza Party, it will be the like sweetest and gnarliest party, like ever . . . oh, and uh, invite ur friends!!!” We promise God we will follow Him and next thing we know the latest boyfriend or girlfriend, concert, movie, playoff season, or gaming system arrives. We all too soon forget the work which God had been doing in our life.
The third ingredient is failing to wait for His counsel. In essence, we proclaim belief, sing a song with a tear in our eye, leave the meeting, get distracted by the sultry billboard, and fail to wait (or tarry) for the Promise of God’s grace in the hour of testing and plunge into the pleasures of this world. When you do not wait for the counsel of God you are setting yourself up for disaster. Whether it is temptation, a big decision, a theological question, we are quick to seek the counsel of our flesh, our friends, and our feelings. There is only One Counselor for the true believer, and his ears are deaf to any other counsel!
Fourth, the people of Israel lusted in the wilderness for their physical appetites to be gratified and used God as a means to the end of meeting their cravings. This exposes the depth of their error, they used God as a means to their own end, rather than relishing God as an end in and of Himself. A man ruled by his appetites, even if he has a ichtus on the bumper of his car, is a man that will not stand. He does not know the fullness of joy found in the presence of God alone, and thus he will quickly demand that God meet his temporal desires. He seeks first “all these things” and doesn’t care a fig for the primacy which “the Kingdom of God” ought to have in his life (Mat. 6:33). God will turn a man over to his own desires and allow him to plunge headlong into the passing and fleeting pleasures; those pleasures are no real pleasures, for they cannot slake the thirst of the soul. Only Heaven’s Living Water can do that!
Thus, finally, after all is said and done, God “gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” When you live by reliance upon an imagined standing, take heed lest you are on the verge of a fall. Our faith is not in our faith, it is in the Faithful One. Salvation is not found in good doctrine, it is found in the Captain of Salvation. Life is not found in your statement of belief nor in the seventh verse of “Just As I Am,” life is the Person and work of Christ.
If you find a leanness of soul within you, I submit that it can be directly traced to a belief based on excitement, emotion, intellect, or self-will; which is no belief at all. Unbelief rests on self’s efforts, and seeks self’s pleasure in self’s glory. True belief rests on Christ’s efforts, and seeks its pleasure in God’s glory. Be wary of resting your faith and confidence upon a really moving worship song, a tingle up your spine, or the enthusiasm of everyone else around. True faith will not soon forget the works of the Lord. True faith is born of love, and love is from God (1 John 4:7), and the loving heart does not forget the object of its love. Psalms 36:8 is the daily cry of the loving heart of faith: “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.” This is the polar opposite of spiritual leanness. Thus, rest your faith upon an altogether lovely, and altogether pleasurable God. In so doing, you will find that all you have needed, His hand hath provided!