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Soul food and Living Water
Spiritual Nourishment and Practical Help for the Black Family
By Yolanda Powell, William J. Powell, Shana Murph
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2010 Yolanda Powell and William J. Powell, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
Spiritual 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 before. 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 another's reflection. Only the lifting of our eyes upward gave us any relief.
As a family, we had committed to support William's 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 family's 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 we'd be able to afford more than the bare essentials. So when the unexpected offer came 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 William's 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 didn't have time to meditate and contemplate on the Word or seek the Father's 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 God's care and concern for our spiritual nourishment. We see it as God's 5-5 plan for families who have been exploited and depleted by the bondage of overindulgence and natural entanglements. It's clear that through these verses of restoration, God is heaping grace upon grace over those who willingly respond. That's 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 Lord's words spoken through the prophet are full of hope, the power of Isaiah 55 unveils the anguish of God's 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 Lord's 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).
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? 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, I'm 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, I'm always running late for early meetings and staying late for conference calls." She's constantly murmuring about life's many demands of errands to run, bills to pay, meals to cook, and clothes to wash. Then there's the church schedule of weekly Bible studies, youth groups, and choir rehearsals. It appears to be an unending cycle. "Child, I'm so exhausted at the end of the day that I can't 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 at the expense of spiritual neglect. He beckons us to change our ways and come to Him Surely He has a better way for all of us.
Listening to divine direction is a vital skill when a family is undergoing spiritual renovation and restoration. The Lord must be allowed to bring us from leanness into spiritual bounty. Remember, the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is still beckoning us to come to Him.
Here's the 5-5 Family Plan that helped us revive and restore our spiritual relationship with Christ and one another:
* Designate Jesus Christ as the Family Leader—Openly consecrate Him as Lord of the home front to rule and reign supreme. Make sure that everyone knows He runs things.
* Make Devotions a Daily Family Meal—Joyfully set time with Christ as an essential source of nutrients by maintaining personal devotions (for every age level) with informal sharing moments or formal follow-up discussions. This is the time to also ask questions, teach life lessons, and nourish the soul.
* Exalt the Word as the Family Compass—Diligently record the Spirit-led directions gleaned from Scripture in a family notebook or journal and honor them as a guiding light for a personal map filled with treasured promises, corrections, admonitions, and instructions. Also remember to continuously rehearse the benefits and rewards for obeying God's Word and the consequences for disobedience. This keeps everyone on the same page and moving in the proper path—together!
* Don't Forget the Family Prayer—Faithfully pray together about everything from minor desires to major decisions—and allow everyone to speak with God directly, to develop a conversational voice of dialogue with the Lord; this practice helps to establish a personal dependency on Him. Here are the words to a reminder song that has blessed our family over the years, "Don't forget the family prayer. Jesus has promised to meet you there. When you gather in the evening ... Church. Don't forget the family prayer!"
* Implement a Family Praise Time—Joyfully praise God for every trial and triumph you've already overcome, even dreaming out loud for each member's awesome future. Using the words of Scripture, learn to bless the Lord aloud and skillfully. Then add in favorite songs, popular hymns, and even original lyrics of praise. The sound of praise places a strong protection around the family and brings forth the presence of God into our homes.
Do you see? The Lord our God offers His peace, provision, presence for any family who is willing to change and receive His divine aid and assistance. Truly He delights to do it! The real good news is that this generous offering is extended to you today without a down payment or a credit application. It's a 5-5 plan that you cannot deny and is always available through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
"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 you've expended almost everything? The Lord admonishes you to change your ways and "eat what is good."
We know about God's 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 grocery money was stretched tight. I shall never forget our first white Christmas. We were "broke, busted, and disgusted," as one preacher phrased it. With our extended 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 tangible 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 soul's 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. It's 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 we're too busy trying to make ends meet or keeping our businesses afloat, or we're 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 it's 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 family's 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, and so on. But it was a good friend and homeschooling 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 don't remember going grocery shopping, changing any bed linen, or reading a single magazine. I certainly didn't teach my children anything or correct them on bad behavior or laugh at their jokes," she said regretfully.
"Ninety-two days went by me, and I don't recall one of them. They appeared like a gray dream. Time was stolen from me as I walked around in bitter pain," my friend added.
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. He's a spiritual robber, a liar, and a murderer.
But, if I was honest, the same thing had happened to me and my family. 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 coauthoring and publishing my first book and soon became consumed by the process of creating a winning product. My coauthor, the first African-American licensed auctioneer in the state of Alabama, had been featured in Essence and Black Enterprise magazines and a small taste of worldly fame crossed my lips. I had gotten caught up in the world of publishing, and my spiritual compass had become foggy. But God was letting me know that the natural is the best indicator of the spiritual.
Also during that time intimacy became casual between my husband and me due to enormous fatigue, family prayer was completely nonexistent, and dinner was often prepared by short order or, as my mother calls it, "Everybody for themselves and God for us all!" My hectic book schedule left little time for life-giving relationships with my church family or friends. The barrenness of extreme busyness was devouring the meaningful aspects of my life.
Our house was always disheveled and out of order, bills were strewn about and paid late, and our spending was extravagant and out of control. There was little attention given to corporate fasting or family outings, and the television served as our live-in babysitter. We were in a spiritual mess!
Excerpted from Soul food and Living Water by Yolanda Powell, William J. Powell, Shana Murph. Copyright © 2010 Yolanda Powell and William J. Powell, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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