Some friends and I are doing this seven-month experiment where we fast from certain things each month for seven months. A couple weeks ago we started the food month, and we have each been limiting ourselves to certain foods with the express purpose of emptying ourselves of us to make more room for Jesus and the Kingdom in our life.
And what I found after the first week was that, though I had been both dreading it and expecting amazing spiritual awarenesses, it wasn’t as horrible as I thought and it wasn’t as amazing as I thought. It was just something I was doing. Because when I was hungry or craving something not on my list, I wasn’t choosing to fall to my knees in prayer or worship. I was either just being kind of snippy about it, or briefly thanking Jesus for the bread and water in front of me, or moving on with another activity to keep myself distracted from the craving, or just eating more bread, let’s be honest.
Apparently, I hate not getting what I want when I want it and I also do not, even when I intentionally place myself into these kinds of situations, willingly choose to go to Jesus to fill me up.
Now, we are told that Jesus is supposed to be our everything. But in real, day to day life, and we are lonely or depressed or hungry or sad or off or fasting (from anything), how do we really fill up on Jesus?
How does someone really take all of their human needs and get them satisfied by a non-visible-, non-food-, non-bodily-, non-talking- entity (who we call God)?
God doesn’t literally fill stomachs or literally hold us through the night or literally dry our tears. And even though I have been a follower of Jesus for over twenty-six years, I think that I thought there was some magic bullet…that I have actually been missing out on something that everybody else knew about.
Let me ask this…
How do you feel when you’re empty? What signals that for you?
For me, I notice that I’m tired even though I’ve slept plenty. I snap at my kids without justification. I don’t want to spend time with Jesus even though I can tell I need it.
Okay, what are some ways we try to fill up the emptiness that aren’t the healthiest, that maybe satisfy, but only temporarily?
Eating, shopping, sex, pets, our kids’ activities, an obsessive relationship, an addiction, chaos, perfectionism, workaholism, ministry-aholism, our home, relishing being a victim, people-pleasing, getting in shape, control, attempting to gain security, whatever the next thing is that you’re looking forward to (a move, a vacation, a new car).
Author Mary DeMuth writes in her book Beautiful Battle: “In speaking to the nation of Israel, God also highlights our own tendency toward filling the hole. “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13 NASB). In our own injury, we seek to fill that hole with our own water instead of Living Water. What’s the water? Other people, stuff, experiences, pleasure. Momentarily, our hole fills—only to leak out again. We believe that somehow, in our own effort, we can heal ourselves, fix ourselves, put our Humpty Dumpty selves back together. But we can’t. Ever.”
So, how can we fill ourselves up with Jesus?
Prayer. Spend time praying for your needs, praying for the needs of those in your life and around the world, praying for the things you’re thankful for, and for what you love about God. Also, admit to him that you’re a black hole of need (to quote my pastor) and ask him to fill you and meet whichever desire you’re struggling with.
Worship. This can either be in the comfort of your own home or car, or corporately at church.
Read Scripture. If you aren’t already, spend at least a few minutes every day if you can reading God’s word. Right now I’m reading a Psalm every morning and I’m reading through Luke. I read Luke 1 and 2 really slowly through the month of December leading up the Christmas, and now I’m reading through the rest of Christ’s life leading up to Easter.
Make a gratitude list. If we’re breathing, we have something to be thankful for. Write down a list and then thank God what he’s done for you and is doing for you.
Serve someone. There is nothing like getting out of your own head, even for a couple hours, to realign your perpective, to make you feel more grateful, and to get your mind off your own issues.
Talk with a trusted friend. Share what you’re going through and what you’re struggling with. Have them pray for you.
Now, if/when we’ve tried those things and we still feel empty, what can we do?
Deny yourself on purpose to build that muscle of emptying and filling.
Matthew 16:24-26 NIV/MSG
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Ask God to align your desires to match his.
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Ask him to help you love him more, to crave his word more, to long to spend time in his presence. These are prayers he wants to answer in your life.
Sit with the loneliness or the hunger or the sadness. It is not your enemy. Let it teach you.
Author Lauren Winner says, “Maybe I should try to stay in the loneliness, just for five minutes, just for ten minutes. Maybe the loneliness has something for me. Maybe I should see what that something is. Sit with the loneliness and ask what the loneliness has for you.”
Give the longing/craving to Jesus as a sacrifice.
Psalm 63 NIV/MSG
1 You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
2 So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
Remind yourself that you are filled with Jesus even if you don’t feel like you are.
Colossians 1:26-28 (MSG)
This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message.
Remind yourself that it’s in weakness when Christ works in us.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (MSG)
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
Remind yourself that he wants to fill us up. I think his heart is so tender toward us. I believe that it shows him honor and respect when we go to him first, before trying to fill up on our own, because it shows him that we truly trust him.
Finally, just move on. Just acknowledge that you feel what you feel and that’s okay. I’s not the end of the world if you don’t feel filled up. Whatever you’re feeling is, after all, just a feeling. It will pass.
I believe that God promises to fill us spiritually. But I also believe that he sometimes allows us to go without.
To quote my mentor, Charlotte, “We don’t always feel filled, but the Holy Spirit is the only One who can fill us completely….our receiving is not perfect (hormones, illness, past experiences)…but His filling is.”
And here, from Scripture, is what we have as promises and what we have to look forward to:
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…
He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
One day, we will be perfectly filled up with Jesus, but that one day won’t come until we see him face to face. In the meantime, we learn to find him in our longings and to let him transform us in those places.