Could I Interest You in an Appetizer?

You smile and accept the menu, your mind on catching up with the friends you’ve joined for dinner. The server hovers. “Can I get you started with an appetizer tonight?”

Since you’re with a group, you might settle on something to share and the server hurries off. He returns just as you’ve caught up on your friend’s latest news and begin to hear the rumbling of your stomach.

By the time you’ve polished off the appetizer and your meal arrives, your appetite has diminished. You groan as the server sets a huge feast before you. What possessed you to snack on hot, buttered bread in between bites of steamed mussels or spicy grilled shrimp? How will you ever do justice to your steak and baked potato or your Italian feast?

How did “appetizers” get their name, anyway? Mom was right that eating between meals spoiled your appetite!

If you’re still with me and you haven’t run to the fridge for a snack, you probably want to know what this has to do with our spiritual life, right?

Spiritual appetizers aren’t like restaurant appetizers. 

During the early days of the pandemic, the days often dragged. Like everyone, I missed my daily routine. My house and my entire neighborhood were quiet. (Hard to believe if your entire family was suddenly at home together 24 hours a day looking for a tranquil corner, but I didn’t have that problem.) As she stared at the occasional preoccupied passer-by during our walks, I knew even Angie the dog missed people and fellow canines.

I started to create a new routine centered around time with the Lord and virtual connections centered on spiritual things. A podcast during our morning walk. Noon prayer with one or more churches. A weekly online Bible study. My own worship service on Sunday, followed by others that I might want to visit as well. This became the new normal and was a helpful way to stay connected with God and with fellow believers.

My appetite and need for spiritual sustenance were strong.

Slowly, days have become fuller and noisier. I’ve ventured out a bit. Now the virus wasn’t the only news on TV, and I “had” to stay informed. I tackled some big projects around the house. I had to rush to get up and over to the dog sitter’s so I’d arrive at an appointment on time. The “old normal” tried to reassert itself.

A vague sense of disquiet marred the tranquility I’d cultivated earlier.

I skipped the opportunity to turn on the Christian radio station and allow some music to shape my thoughts.

“I should probably settle down and pray or do my Bible study. I’d feel better,” I would tell myself.

Sometimes, an insidious voice would whisper, “That’s silly. You were really overdoing it before.”

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”

Your face, LORD, I will seek.

Psalm 27:8 NIV

Strangely, when I managed to silence the deceptive voice and sample the appetizer, I wanted more. Spiritual appetizers helped me crave more spiritual food, not less.

And that’s a good thing!

When the Spirit’s voice tries to interest you in an appetizer, say yes!

 

Hard-hatted contentment

I was convinced I’d be Teacher of the Year in no time. Make that at no time. Eventually, I made my peace with that. I concentrated on doing a good job and learning to be content. I loved Blaise Pascal’s take on contentment in his Pensées:

[…] we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

Of course, the Apostle Paul learned the secret of contentment the hard way: beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. And I thought I had a rough time of it with impossible classes, papers to grade ad nauseam, and unreasonable colleagues!

In Living Beyond the Daily Grind I*, Chuck Swindoll addresses the “grind of discontentment.” He asks the reader to consider what Jesus’ life would be like if He were on earth today, and whether He’d be content or not.

If Jesus were to live on earth today, where do you think He would be employed? What kind of car would He drive? How much money would He earn? Do you think He would periodically fly first class? Would He ever feel the slight sting of discontentment? Why? Or why not?

No, this wasn’t God’s chosen era for Jesus to live on earth. But here we are, as His ambassadors now—His hands, feet, and voice. Swindoll’s questions are a great priority check.

Finding the ideal place for Jesus to live isn’t as easy as you’d think. In the United States, our weather maps focus on—you guessed it, the United States. I admit I was a bit surprised that French weathermen started with France and put North America last in the weather review. We are not the center of the universe in everybody’s eyes, so Jesus might not pick the United States! Wherever He wound up—Israel? Venezuela? China?—I think He’d choose a city because modern cities feature a cross-section of the population. In the New Testament, Jesus touched all strata of society, and I’m sure He’d do the same today.

If Jesus had a home base, it probably wouldn’t be a wealthy neighborhood. He’d be a working man in a lower income area, but not necessarily a slum. Although He could choose any noble trade, I’ll make Him a carpenter. Prior to beginning His ministry, I see Him working with a passion to bring joy to people through His craft. He wouldn’t build any old dining room table but the perfect dining room table with a well-loved family in mind. The enthusiasm would be ten times what Joanna Gaines exudes when she conceives a design idea with Clint Harp!

Maybe Jesus kept working as He taught. Just think of the possibilities a construction site would offer for parables and memorable images. In addition to the wise man building on a rock and the rich fool craving a bigger barn, He could talk about hard hats, bulldozers, window washers, and realtors.

A true minimalist, He wouldn’t own a car. He’d find flexibility in using public transportation and allowing others to drive Him around. After all, in the New Testament, He walked, rode in fishing boats, and borrowed a donkey when He needed it to make a prophetic point.

As someone who touched everybody’s lives, Jesus would occasionally fly first class, but not for comfort’s sake. He’d be after Zack up there, who was itching to see Jesus. Of course, this would draw the ire of the folks roughing it back in coach. Don’t their sacrifices entitle them to Jesus’ attention?

Would He be discontent? Never. The temptation might have come but would never be indulged. Jesus would have had such a clear sense of purpose for His life on earth that He could be content in all circumstances.

Jesus was driven, but in a different way. Am I? Are you?

___________________________

*Swindoll, Charles R. Living beyond the Daily Grind. World Pub., 1988

Pity Party

New teacher Holly Bush of The Jesus Car might have appreciated this poem, which I wrote in 1991 and revised recently.

PITY PARTY

What a day I’ve had!

“Who wants to come to a pity party?” you say.

Then give me something to be happy about.

Make me forget

The gloppy spitballs found on the board.

Give me courage to face the class from you-know-where.

Make me believe

I’m cut out to be a teacher

So I won’t walk straight out the front door

Instead of doing hall duty.

 

“This is the day that the Lord hath made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it,”

Proclaims the plaque on my desk.

It’s only Monday, Lord–

Four more days away from rejoicing.

Today I just want some sympathy,

Period.

 

Just yesterday the preacher asked,

“Where does it say

God wills our days

To be problem-free?”

Then he laid it on the line:

“God’s will is for us to become

More like Jesus Christ.”

 

Hmm.

Could I become like Him

Without icky spitballs,

Toothaches,

And delinquents-in-training–

Those minor annoyances

That fine tune me

And pale in the midst

Of life’s cosmic crises?

 

Jesus, You learned obedience

Through what You suffered.

Did You heal with a headache,

Then rock-pillow Your head at night,

Trying to forget mercenary whines,

Clueless questions,

Sibling rivalry

And Pharisee traps?

Little annoyances–

Pale prelude

To the cosmic work that lay before You.

 

No, Lord, I can’t say I’m eager to sign up

For the fellowship of Your suffering.

Would my bumps and bruises even qualify?

The least I can do right now

As I press on

Is leave this petty pity party.