One of my friends wrote a post this week that got me thinking.  Right after it knocked me on my knees, of course.  I suggest you check it out, unless of course you don’t like conviction.

But it reminded me of another conversation I had with her and some other women at our Bible study dinner last week.  We were talking about Lent and the types of things we have previously chosen to fast from during those forty days.  I mostly just remember someone saying they once gave up meat.  (And not just on Fridays, I might add.)  But I promise, it was an interesting conversation.  I think I just got distracted by the prospect of giving up all meat for forty days.  I might develop full-blown anemia if I did that.  Anyway.

Because I play a good martyr, I used to give up sweets every year for Lent.  Let me tell you this was a big deal because, when I say sweets, I mean all sweets.  I’ve always been an overachiever, so I established a strict definition of the term.  And it was tough, especially in high school, because drill team competition season overlapped with this time.  And nothing screams sweets like a bunch of teenage girls traveling on a charter bus.

But every year that I gave up sweets, I would crave them all the time and look forward to the blessed day of Easter when I could eat them again. 

And Easter would come.  Sometimes my Granny would have sent me a fresh batch of her chocolate fudge.  Sometimes my mom would have made brownies or bought me a bag of mini Butterfingers.  I would take the first bite, and it would taste so good.  But that was it.  I couldn’t eat much more than that.  It kind of made me feel sick.

Whereas I used to be able to down half a batch of fudge in one sitting, one piece was almost more sugar than I could stand.  Somehow over that forty days – despite the cravings that told me otherwise – I had lost a great deal of my sweet tooth tendencies. 

And it would stay that way for at least a few days or a week.  But gradually, over the next ten months, I would always get it back.  How did I do it?  By starting to eat sweets more regularly again.  And then I’d find myself back at Ash Wednesday, striking another martyr’s pose.

It occurs to me that, just like my friend said, our spiritual appetites are closely tied to what we are and are not feeding our spirits. 

She made the point that, when we starve ourselves of spiritual nourishment, we eventually lose our appetite for it. 

But I think the reverse is true as well.  When we starve ourselves of the bad, we lose our appetite for the bad.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Now, my Granny’s fudge has ministered to my soul on more than one occasion, but nutritious it is not.  So I don’t consider it a horrible thing for my weight or my arteries that I would gradually lose my sweet tooth over those forty days and start to feel a little sick when I ate something with sugar in it. 

The thing that got me back on the wagon every year was always taking that first bite again.  Because somehow I’d convinced myself that this was just a temporary sacrifice.  It wasn’t really necessary to make a permanent change in this area of my life.  It wasn’t something that could do much harm.  I would be able to handle it in moderation.  And I would gradually develop more of an appetite as I continued to re-expose myself to it.   

Here’s where I’m going to make some of the people reading this post squirm and wish I wouldn’t go there, but I’m going to go there because I need to hear it just as much as the next person.

When we fast from or give up things that keep us spiritually unhealthy – whether they be certain sins, habits, relationships, or influences – we will eventually lose our appetite for them.  And we’re playing with fire if we think we can just take one little bite without reviving those cravings in our spirit again.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that we can give up spiritually unhealthy practices and relationships and never crave them again.  But, I think the principle stands that the longer we go without them, the less appetite we will have for them. 

Especially if we begin to feed that hunger with things good for our souls. 

I know that there have been seasons in my life where I’ve been without certain unhealthy things – sometimes things I didn’t even realize had a negative influence on me – and my initial re-exposure to them was one of distaste or alarm.  But I treated them casually and gradually allowed them back into my life.  And the influence was noticeable. 

A holy God takes holiness seriously. 

I’m not trying to preach a gospel of good works here, but I believe it’s imperative that we take holiness seriously.  That we take the devil’s schemes seriously.  That we take seriously the call to live as strangers and aliens in this world, in reverent fear of the God who has bought us at a high price (I Peter 1:17, I Corinthians 6:20). 

Sometimes that takes drastic measures.  And not just temporary ones.

There are some things that need to be eliminated from our spiritual diets for more than forty days.  They need to be gone for good.

… make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  (2 Peter 3:14)

… without holiness no one will see the Lord.   (Hebrews 12:14b)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  (Matthew 5:7)