Overfed and Fruitless
The struggle to dedicate daily quiet time with Jesus is a common issue among Christians. For most believers juggling jobs, families, and ministries, finding half an hour every morning to feast on the Word, a few minutes to read a Christian article, or a distraction-free commute to play an online sermon can feel like a daunting task. To help alleviate burn out among those in ministry, I frequently heard pastors stress the importance of getting spiritually fed before getting poured out. But I rarely, if ever, heard the inverse of this issue being mentioned, which led me to ponder; is there such a thing as being spiritually overfed?
The reason I considered this possible oxymoron was because despite juggling a fair number of obligations myself, I rarely, if ever, struggled to make time to meditate on the Word, read a devotion, or listen to a sermon. In fact, I craved it. I couldn’t scroll past a Desiring God article on my newsfeed without halting everything I was doing to immerse myself in it. When audio books became the new hype, I couldn’t download books by my favorite Christian authors fast enough. At times, I found it challenging to tear myself away just so I could attend to daily tasks.
Before you assume I’m looking for a pat on the back, let me explain. Alone time, reading, and studying comes naturally to me. I’ve always been an introverted bookworm with an insatiable desire to absorb new information. Since this form of Christ-loving came easily to me, I considered it my primary path to following Jesus. I thought if I read every article, downloaded every sermon, and spent hours in the Word that I would become a Christian maven. A spiritual Steve Jobs, if you will, and it’s easy to understand why. The world tells us that if we wholeheartedly hone a craft or skill through constant saturation, we will excel at it. I thought that if I kept reading about Christ, that I will become more like Him. If I continued to feed myself on His Word, spirituality will manifest. I even became prideful of how much more time I seemed to spend in devotion than other Christians I knew. But Christ isn’t a skill to hone or a 30-day challenge to conquer. I wasn’t just getting full, I was growing spiritually fat. Even worse, I wasn’t seeing any fruit.
Death to Self Doesn’t Come Naturally
If I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. —Philippians 2:17
What I failed to realize is that as important as it is to get fed, it’s equally as important to get poured out. The reason I wasn’t experiencing spiritual fruitfulness was because I was stuck in one aspect of the sanctification process. I was failing to allow the spiritual food I was consuming to be regurgitated in the form of love and sacrifice so that the rest of His sheep could eat. While I served in ministry at my convenience, it came second to my first priority; gaining spiritual knowledge. I resisted being poured out because it didn’t come naturally to me (Hint: dying to self rarely feels natural, but resisting it can lead to a death far more severe.). But the more I kept my spiritual food bottled up, the more bloated I became. Clinging to my comfort zone was making me spiritually stagnant. Too much intake and not enough output was rendering me useless to the Kingdom.
If picking up our crosses daily just meant spending more time in study and devotion, the Pharisees would have been the prototype of a Christ-exalting life. Have you ever read a moving testimony about a monk who spent all his life holed up in a monastery memorizing scripture? Most likely, no. Instead, we celebrate the stories of apostles, missionaries, and pastors who spent their lives as empty vessels, waiting for their next fill of the Holy Spirit so they could pour it right back out. We celebrate the story of Jesus who, for as much time as he spent getting filled through prayer (Matthew 14:23), poured himself out all the more.
Fruitfulness is a Cycle, Not a One-Step Process
I had grown accustomed to living out my Christian walk like it was a one-step process, but a truly fruitful life is a constant cycle of getting filled up, poured out, and then filled up again. If we are to truly be like Jesus, we must remember His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. While time in the Word and seeking spiritual knowledge is a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life, it’s simply the fuel that empowers us to lay down our lives for others like Christ did.
“When knowledge enters the head, it exalts me. When knowledge enters the heart, it humbles me.” – Edward Dennett
When we absorb God’s precepts as mere head knowledge, we’re glorifying our ability to become subject matter experts. When we allow His precepts to penetrate our hearts and pour us out, we glorify His ability to use us as living manifestations of His Word. Simply put, that is how spiritual fruit is produced.
If you’re stuck in a similar rut of getting fed without getting poured out or vice versa, revaluate and pray for strength to break the cycle. Settling for just one aspect of the process is settling for a life far less abundant than what Christ created us for.