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Soul Food & Living WaterSpiritual Nourishment and Practical Help for African-American Families
By Yolanda Powell & Williams J. Powell
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2003 Yolanda Powell and William J. Powell, PH.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSpiritual Nourishment Without Cash or Credit
William's eyes were moist as he fought back the tears. Unless he completed his dissertation in thirty days, his contract would not be renewed at the university where he had just been hired a year prior. Our well-laid plans to prosper had come crashing in on us like a truck speeding out of control. In that moment, we stood broken and paralyzed in one anothers reflection. Only the lifting of our eyes upward gave us any relief.
As a family, we had committed to support Williams pursuit of higher education. Our three boys and I had uprooted numerous times and sacrificed tremendously to garner what we called "the family doctorate." Even though William was earning the degree, each of us became private stockholders anticipating the dividends that would inevitably come out of the familys sacrificial investment.
But over time, we all had grown weary living on sparse stipends and lean loans that kept us pinned under the federal poverty line. Our eyes grew dim looking to the distant future when wed be able to afford more than the bare essentials. So when the offer came "out of the blue" for William to leave school a year early and take a teaching position as a junior professor, we all leaped at the opportunity! He would simply teach during the day, work on his dissertation at night, and earn those long-awaited funds. All of us rejoiced at our anticipated lot! It would be nice to have a biweekly income and be able to do the "normal" things that families do, like drive a decent car, purchase adequate health insurance, and save for summer vacations.
Now, having those things meant little to understanding our present trial. What had gone wrong? How could we have let this happen? Where was God our Savior? We had known about the deadline for Williams dissertation for a full year but refused to discipline our lives. Our focus was so distracted and our energies so diverted that we had hardly noticed that our current livelihood and long-anticipated dreams were swaying aimlessly in the wind. The barrenness of busyness had so invaded our lives that it took a proverbial Mack truck to awaken us to this reality: Our days are numbered!
None of us have as much time as we imagine to accomplish the special things God has promised us-both individually and as a family. The years go fast, children grow up, interest rates rise, deadlines arrive, and before we know it, little time remains to be as fruitful and productive as we had hoped. The urgent swallows up the essential, and we are left oblivious as to why our marriage is broken, how our children got into so much trouble, and whether our dreams will ever take flight. Compromising thoughts of "ho hum," "oh, well," "someday," and "maybe later" soon lead us astray-away from the awesome paths God has prescribed. Before we know it, we end up in crazy situations, doing unbelievable things that in no way glorify the Lord.
After William lost his job and we were unable to pay our bills for a length of time, we painstakingly had to face the fact that we were spiritually malnourished, biblically bankrupt, and internally deficient! During our years of financial lack, our family had remained faithful to God in prayer and the study of His Holy Word-enjoying extended together times around the simplicities of life. We were lean on the outside but rich on the inside. Christ was uncompromisingly the central focus of our home, and our total dependency was upon Him to provide our daily bread and meet our every need. But with a good bit of disposable income in our pockets and the joys of numerous luxuries at our fingertips, we became too busy and grand for God our Savior. We still went to church, said grace over meals, participated in ministry activities, and even shared the Gospel with others from time to time; but we failed to uphold Christ as "Lord of the home front," where He had always reigned supreme. Our reverence and adoration for His daily presence waned from day to day, and we failed to recognize our selfish preoccupations. The special communion we had shared with the Lord around the dinner table or during bedtime routines had nearly diminished; everyone was moving to a different beat. With the increased movement and activities of our schedules, we didnt have time to meditate and contemplate on the Word or seek the Fathers counsel on the intricacies and details of the day. We were Christians dedicated to a natural agenda instead of a living Lord, and we were in big trouble!
The 5-5 Family Plan of Spiritual Bounty
The Lord is completely aware of our spiritual deficit-and He patiently awaits our return to His bounty! As we cried out to the Lord, He spoke gently to William and me and led us to an oasis of spiritual nurture in His Holy Word. Isaiah 55 became a spiritual reservoir to our family as we pulled off the weight of worldly pursuits and sat down at the streams of God to regain our strength and direction.
In verses 1-3, the Lord spoke strong words to His people, the Israelites, attempting to encourage and challenge them as they languished in Babylonian exile. Speaking to Israel then (and to us today), Isaiah 55 is a timeless message of Gods care and concern for our spiritual nourishment. We see it as Gods 5-5 plan for families that have been exploited and depleted by the bondage of overindulgence and natural entanglements. Since five is considered the number of grace in Holy Writ, its clear that through these verses of restoration, God is heaping grace upon grace over those who willingly respond. Thats exactly what He did for our family. Grace met us at each line of text and revived our aching souls word by word. "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy?" (verses 1-2a).
While the Lords words spoken through the prophet are full of hope, the power of Isaiah 55 unveils the anguish of Gods own heart. Just as we were experiencing, His people had suffered the tragic consequences of their own sinfulness because they had turned away from Jehovah. So He pleads with them in earnestness to return. The Lords words are dripping with grave concern and loving-kindness: "Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live ..." (Verses 2b-3a).
Listening to divine direction is a vital skill when a family is undergoing spiritual renovation and restoration. The Lord must be able to speak to us, correct us, and guide us from leanness into spiritual bounty. Consider the condition of your own soul right now and that of your family. Are stressful issues, bad news, and difficult decisions all around you? Remember, the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is still beckoning us to come to Him.
So often we find ourselves tripping and running from one "spiritual marathon" to another, pulling our hair out on never-ending issues, or spending our hard-earned dollars on desires that do nothing but create more debt and despair! Consider our friends John and Sherrie, who run three businesses out of their home and are always juggling ringing phones, constant FedEx deliveries, dining room clutter, and mental fatigue. Can you relate? Or how about my neighbor Janice, who is always complaining about her roller-coaster schedule: "Girl, Im up at 5:30 running! I put kids on the bus by 6:30 and inch through morning traffic all the way to work. Yet, Im always running late for early meetings and staying late, for conference calls." Shes constantly murmuring about lifes many demands of errands to run, bills to pay, meals to cook, and clothes to wash. Then theres the church schedule of weekly Bible studies, youth groups, and choir rehearsals. It appears to be a never-ending roller coaster. "Child, Im so exhausted at the end of the day! I cant hardly look at a Bible, let alone read one! I know the Lord understands."
Do you hear the Master insisting that enough is enough? He will never sympathize with lavish itineraries of spiritual neglect. He beckons us to change our ways and come to Him! Surely He has a better way for all of us! The Lord our God offers us His peace and provision for change. The real good news is that this generous offering is extended to you today without a down payment or a credit application. Its a 5-5 plan that you cannot deny and is always available.
"Come, Buy and Eat!"
What Jesus has secured for you and your family is truly paid in full! You merely accept His invitation by faith and reach out to receive all that you need to really live! Are you parched, dry, and thirsty? Drink from the fountain of Living Water. Are you concerned about where your next meal is coming from and how you are going to "make groceries"? Come, buy and eat without money! Are you missing the wine of merriment and the milk of strength in your family life? "Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." Are you spending much and gaining little? Is your soul still empty after youve expended almost everything? The Lord admonishes you to change your ways and "eat what is good."
We know about Gods provision firsthand. While William was pursuing his doctorate in upstate New York, we lived on his $680 monthly stipend. I was working a couple of hours at a Christian radio station by night and staying home all day with our boys (who were all under age six at the time). The rent and car note consumed nearly all of our meager income each month, and food was a rare commodity. I shall never forget our first white Christmas. We were "broke, busted, and disgusted," as one preacher phrased it. With our family so far away and times so lean, the joy and merriment of the season seemed galaxies away, until two friends blew in with the north wind and blessed us with gift certificates for food and toys. It was the first time we had ever encountered our God as Jehovah Jireh, the God who sees and provides!
This provision caused us to grow by leaps and bounds as a family. We embraced God as our heavenly Father and realized that even when nobody else knows our natural needs, He does! And just as He performs those natural miracles of bringing meat and toys for Christmas, He will do the same in meeting our spiritual needs.
As a person who loves the Lord, you must put emphasis on your souls sustenance, even at the expense of your fleshly desires. Make a decision to delight yourself in what will truly satisfy. And what might that be? Only the Lord Himself! "Incline your ear, and come to Me," says the Lord. "Hear, and your soul shall live" (Isaiah 55:3). Life is not found in the substance of the things we possess. Abundant life may be found in one person. Its all very simple. "He who has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12). Jesus looks squarely at our bleak circumstances and grave needs and still summons gently, "Come to Me" (Matthew 11:28; John 7:37).
Taking Spiritual Inventory
There are many issues affecting the African-American family and community that keep us from "coming fully" to the Lord and really partaking of His spiritual bounty. Either were too busy trying to make ends meet or keeping our businesses afloat, or were burdened about the safety of our children or the security of our jobs. Somewhere in between, we may consider our spiritual destiny and wonder whether God is pleased with our mundane worship and our stale routine. However, our lives are so stretched across miles and minutes that we can never find the space and time to take a personal spiritual inventory. We move so fast and so much that we never have time to "stop and smell the flowers."
Just as its important to take inventory of our physical belongings for insurance records (in case of a robbery or fire), we also must take inventory of our own familys spiritual needs for those times when we must confront the Enemy that comes to "steal, and to kill, and to destroy" (John 10:10). When many of us hear this verse, our first thought is to think of a tragedy or natural disaster-physical death, car accident, forest fire, massive hurricane, etc. But it was a good friend and home-schooling mother who enlarged my understanding of this verse. "Do you know that the Enemy stole three months of my life last year?" she shared during some serious "sister-girl" time.
"Three months?" I questioned in a baffled tone. "How did he accomplish that?"
"I was depressed about my marriage and angry at my husband for having an extramarital affair. But instead of seeking counseling and healing, I pushed on with my daily routine," she said matter-of-factly.
"From March 1 to June 1, I dont remember going grocery shopping, changing any bed linen, or reading a single magazine. I certainly didnt teach my children anything or correct them on bad behavior or laugh at their jokes," she said regrettably.
"Ninety-two days went by me, and I dont recall one of them. They appeared like a gray dream. Time was stolen from me as I walked around in bitter pain," my friend reflected.
I was awed by the reality of her story. My thoughts were racing: Satan can steal literal days, kill personal dreams, and destroy family time! Hes a spiritual robber, a liar, and a murderer!
At this point, perhaps it would be helpful to take a quick inventory of the spiritual items that reflect a healthy Christian home. The first time I took spiritual inventory of my family, I wept in godly sorrow. We were lean and lacking or negligent and deficient in ten critical areas:
• Christ as HMIC (Head Master in charge)
• Individual Bible reading and quiet meditation
• Family prayer and devotion
• Corporate fasting with a unified purpose
• Shared meals with stimulating conversation
• Family gatherings and recreation
• Marital intimacy and periodic getaways
• Household orderliness and cleanliness
• Financial management and spending maintenance
• Sabbath rest and reflection
It was obvious that some sort of theft or negligence had invaded our home life. William was on the other side of town, trying desperately to adjust to a new career path as a professor. Yet the rigors and pressures of a new teaching schedule kept invading his spiritual focus, family time, and doctoral energy. As his helpmeet, I should have been able to assist my husband and help keep him on track, but I was too busy dealing with my own issues.
Personal ambition had blinded me to the importance of keeping both my natural and spiritual world in order. I was publishing and coauthoring my first book and soon became consumed by the process of creating a "winning product."
Excerpted from Soul Food & Living Water by Yolanda Powell & Williams J. Powell Copyright © 2003 by Yolanda Powell and William J. Powell, PH.D.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.