What does self-feeding involve?

In my first post on this topic, I asked the question, “Who feeds the missionaries spiritually?” My simple answer to that question:  “We expect our missionaries to feed themselves!”   Then in my second post, I looked at what the Bible has to say about self-feeding. We saw that there was all kinds of Biblical examples and Biblical support for individual believers taking the initiative to nourish their soul outside of what happens in the church meetings.

Now I would like to define more clearly what I mean by self-feeding.   I think there are at least five critical elements:

1. Taking responsibility.

Self-feeding means we take personal responsibility for making sure we are regularly nourished on the Word.   If we feel spiritually under-nourished, we don’t assign primary blame to the church we are attending, but to ourselves.  Responsible people are self-disciplined. Paul reminds Titus that those who will lead and encourage others must be self-controlled, disciplined and “hold firm to the trustworthy word” (Titus 1:8-9).

Self-feeding doesn’t just happen when and if we have time. We must consistently say “no” to other interesting and even good activities to make sure that we spend time in the Word and in prayer on a regular basis. Our natural laziness and forgetfulness must not overcome our good intentions. We set our alarms to get up so we have time for the Word before our first meeting of the day. Days Alone with God are put on our calendar. I have a little alarm that goes off on my phone every morning at 8:00 to remind me to review my memory verses.1By the way, I highly recommend this little free app called “Remember Me”.

2. Establishing rhythms.

Self-feeding means we establish some life rhythms of regularly spending time in the Word.  I like the word “rhythms” more than “habits” because “habits” can have a very negative connotation, or sound legalistic.  But regardless of what we call them, we need some pattern of life that regularly brings us back to the Word and two-communication with our Lord.  In other words, we show up at mealtimes on a regular basis. We know we won’t die of starvation if we skip a meal now and then, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up with guilt if we miss a Quiet Time once in a while.

Maybe aiming for 5 solid spiritual meals a week is a more realistic goal for you than insisting on a Daily Quiet Time.   Besides my daily time in the Word, my weekly rhythm also includes an unhurried, extended time in the Word on Sunday mornings.  This works well for my schedule here in Ukraine since our worship service is in the afternoon.

3.  Planning ahead.

Spiritual self-feeding involves committing oneself to some kind of nutritious diet.  For our physical diet, we don’t plan to just eat candy bars, chips, and Coke.   If they become a regular part of your diet, it is likely due to a lack of structure or planning in your life. As your mother used to tell you, you need the five food groups as building blocks for a healthy diet.

Likewise, in the spiritual realm, we also need a menu plan that systematically takes us through “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). There needs to be some kind of structure to how we read the Bible and how we process what we are reading. The Life Journal includes a Bible reading plan that takes you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice each year. If that reading plan involves too much reading for your appetite, cut back on the amount but still don’t just spend all your time in the Gospels and the Psalms.  Even worse, don’t just crack open your Bible at random and read whatever chapter your eyes fall on. Ligonier Ministries has several excellent options for Bible reading plans on their website.

4.  Keeping track.

A healthy diet requires planning ahead.  It also demands taking stock of what has happened in the past. We step on to the bathroom scale to see if we are gaining or losing weight.  We go to the doctor for our annual check-up. The doctor sends us for blood tests to check our cholesterol level. We open the refrigerator to see what left-overs might be available for lunch. We write down a list of what needs to be replenished the next time we are at the grocery store. In the spiritual realm, we keep track by doing spiritual inventories every once in a while.   A few different examples can be found on the Helps for Your Day Alone with God.

But we also keep track by recording what God has been saying to us through our time in the Word. For years, my journaling was very haphazard and not very helpful.   Then I discovered the S.O.A.P. method of journaling, and found it to be a simple, yet very effective way of recording what God has been teaching me. I record my journal entries right into the notes section of my Logos Bible Software, and so the journal entries show up as little icons attached to the Bible text. (You can see some sample entries in previous blog posts here and here.)

It has been so encouraging to read those journal entries in subsequent years, as my Bible reading plan takes me through those same passages again.   I see how I have grown since my last journal entry on the passage.  I can see how God has been working in my life, continuing to equip me for every good work2see 2 Tim 3:16-17. By journaling what we are learning from the Word, we are making sure that we are good stewards of the spiritual food that God is providing to us on a daily basis. In so doing, we don’t take it for granted or undervalue what God is saying to us through His Word.

5. Giving feedback.

Effective self-feeding requires that we are in regular communication with the cook. We need to give feedback on the meals and what you would appreciate in the future.  If you are the cook as well as the consumer, this feedback happens automatically.  But in the spiritual realm, the cook is not us, but the Divine Author of the Scriptures.   This communication or feedback with the Cook is normally called prayer.   Cooks like to be thanked often and what specifically you appreciated about the last meal. Cooks also want to know what you would like on the menu in the future.   Now the Holy Spirit already knows what you need, but He still appreciates you telling Him of your heart needs.  Make sure you tell the Cook what you are planning to do now that you have been well-fed.

Have I missed any critical elements of self-feeding?   I am not a cook (but married to an excellent one!). So there may be some other analogies that I have overlooked. I would appreciate any additional insights.

Next post: How do you train others to self-feed?