I came across this wonderful article on Desiring God, The Lost Art of Feasting that I want to leverage to talk about a broader topic. David Mathis explains that even though fasting, the deprivation of food, is a good discipline, the Bible also points to the fact that feasts embody a celebration of God’s people enjoying him and each other that enforces our unity as covenant people. He writes,
Feasting is not first about the food. It is foremost about the Godward celebration of some specific occasion together. Good food and drink, in abundance, come in alongside our corporate focus to accentuate the appreciation and enjoyment of God and his kindness. The heart of feasting is not the food itself, but the heart of the feasters. A true feast is bigger than the food — infinitely bigger. The center is God and his greatness and grace toward us in Christ.
For Christians, feasting is not the same as mere indulgence. There is nothing particularly Christian about eating and drinking more than usual. What makes feasting a means of God’s grace for nourishing our souls is explicitly celebrating Christ together in faith. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Easter, a birthday or anniversary, when we feast as Christians, we celebrate the bounty and kindness of our Creator and Redeemer. Feasting in Christ is no mere physical event, but deeply spiritual.
I occasionally come across arguments from Christians that relegate fellowship to Bible study and deny any social type activity as the fabric of fellowship. So I greatly appreciated this article because I believe Mathis makes a pretty good case for why shared meals should be considered a vital aspect of fellowship. My congregation enjoys a monthly fellowship meal, which I believe embodies what Mathis is referring to. Not only that, I’ve lost count on the many times I’ve experienced encouragement in the Lord simply through eating with other Christians.
But then something happened that put a damper on an otherwise fantastic article. Rather than just leaving us with the beauty of shared meals and the way it enforces hearts to knit together in Christ, Mathis then provided a 4 step how-to list to follow so that we can realize this enjoyment. Wah-wah. As I read through the steps, that delight I experienced that resonated regarding the shared meals began to wane.
Now there is nothing wrong per se about providing practical steps. We sometimes do need a guide or instruction. But I have observed in contemporary evangelicalism, there is a propensity towards pragmatism that demands practical steps to carry out pretty much every aspect of our spiritual life. And this leads to the broader commentary I’d like to make: that our quest for instruction and the “how-to’s” can actually hinder our ability to enjoy God.
Question 1 of the Westminster Longer Catechism: What is the chief and highest end of man? The chief and highest end of man is to glorify God, and to fully enjoy him forever. When I contemplate the grand, sweeping narrative of the 66 books, is that not what we see based on the premise that he will be our God and we shall be his people? How exactly do we do this? We recognize who he is and what he has done on behalf of his creation. We learn this through his written word, which testifies to Christ the Son, the incarnate word who left his heavenly throne, lowered himself as a servant to become like us to save us. This according to the will of the Father who laid out his grand plan through his chosen covenant people and elaborate schemes that would find ultimate expression in the Son. We “taste and see that the Lord is good” by availing ourselves of his means of grace so that the Spirit enables our hearts to respond to the Lord’s goodness. We do this individually through prayer, Bible reading and reflection. And we do this in context of a Christian community that proactively engages in what it means to corporately be Christ’s ambassadors on earth.
And so even in something simple as time spent over a shared meal or conversations with one another, we can enjoy God through fellowship with one another. Considering that God interacts with his creation, there is enjoyment to be had through seeing God’s handiwork in everyday life.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” (Romans 1:20)
But the most important aspect is why? To enjoy God, to be reminded of who he is and what he has done. To live as ones who are the sheep of his pasture.
Of course it occurs to me that there are steps that must be taken. I understand that we just don’t go about randomly trying to figure things out. I get that even Scripture contains instruction to the church. I acknowledge that even when it comes to church governance and carrying out of church activities, there are orderly steps to consider. One of many reasons I so greatly appreciate Presbyterian liturgy is because of the thoughtfulness that has gone into structuring a service anchors our focus on Christ and his body. I realize that even Jesus gave instruction on how to pray. And I certainly understand why people need to know how to read the Bible.
But given numerous conversations with Christians over the years and observations I’ve made regarding positioning ourselves to enjoy these means of grace, there is a natural proclivity to practical instruction that can undermine or even snuff out God’s goodness that we are meant to experience. It’s what causes us to read the Bible in a way to get help in how to live a Christian life than simply reading it to bask in the life that God has given and revel in his revelation. It’s why Christian blog sites and sermons are saturated with instruction more than giving us a treatise on who this great God is. I mean, here are some recent headlines that I captured from some popular Christian sites;
“How to connect sermon applications to people’s jobs”
“Three ways to prepare a Thanksgiving feast”
“Five aims for family holiday gatherings”
“How to redeem Thanksgiving”
I’ve even seen a recent article on how to enjoy God’s creation. But the list goes on. It’s not enough that we can simply enjoy a sermon or a feast, but we need to know how to.
My point is simply this, we can become so preoccupied with trying to figure out how to enjoy God that we lose the art of actual enjoyment. It really is ok if we don’t have a 3 step process for how to enjoy fellowship, to have a formula for praying, or for following steps to listen to sermons. We can simply enjoy them and in doing so, enjoy God.