Paul Prather

Find what feeds your spirit, then eat heartily and be joyful

Janet Claunch, of Somerset, reads her bible during a bible study/prayer meeting at Gloria Coffelt’s home on February 11, 2002.
Janet Claunch, of Somerset, reads her bible during a bible study/prayer meeting at Gloria Coffelt’s home on February 11, 2002. Lexington Herald-Leader

If we hope to grow spiritually, it’s important that we find a spiritual feeding place that consistently nourishes us.

That place may or may not be within the walls of your church.

I don’t mean to imply we should become spiritual narcissists or vagabonds.

Way too many people dart here to there, from congregation to congregation, from conference to conference, always looking for the hippest teacher or newest sanctuary or tightest music to make them feel good for a month or two.

Then they leave for the next congregation as soon as the goose bumps have worn off.

We’re actually placed on earth to serve more than to be served. Learning to endure repetition, boredom and even irritation is vital to becoming a spiritual grownup.

I believe in finding a home congregation and staying put. We faithfully fulfill our role there and support our fellow pilgrims, come what may. That requires character from us and builds character in us.

The rub is, we can’t serve anyone else unless we’re nourished ourselves. So while we’re serving others in a specific place, we also need to get fed there, or somewhere.

My own spiritual table is my church’s Wednesday night Bible study. I’ve mentioned this small group before. Several times.

But that’s because I love it so much. I look forward to Wednesday nights all week long.

Each week, for an hour, about a dozen of us sit on chairs in a circle. We pray briefly, then study scriptures together.

Our practice is to take an individual book of the Bible — presently, it’s Luke — and start with chapter one, verse one, then slowly work our way through to the book’s final lines.

Depending on the length of the book, and how absorbed we get in it, any particular book can take us weeks, months or a year to finish. We don’t care.

We don’t use a published teacher’s guide or study manual. We just read, verse by verse, sentence by sentence. This keeps us from skipping the parts we don’t like or don’t understand or that don’t match our politics.

As pastor, I serve as the facilitator.

Before each session, I spend some time reading about that week’s upcoming passage. I compare various commentaries. I may study a bit of history about the author. Where it seems needful, I look up the meanings of thorny Greek or Hebrew words the writer used.

But all this is mainly for background.

During the meeting, I read the passage aloud and point out parts I think might provide grist for discussion.

And then we talk. We bat ideas around the circle.

Why did the author choose to tell this particular anecdote? What details do we wish he’d added? How might this verse have been understood by his original audience? How do we understand it today? Why is it important — or irrelevant? To what extent do we believe it?

We argue, although good-naturedly. Wanda may find a particular verse soul-altering. Gary thinks it’s silly.

Everyone feels free to offer observations or to just listen. Sometimes people use phone apps to drag up historical notes or alternative translations I may have overlooked.

We joke. Occasionally we’re moved to tears.

Then we go on to the next chapter and the next week. And the next month. And the next year.

I love these sessions. They’re informal; I can wear cargo shorts and a T-shirt.

They keep me studying the Scripture, which I believe is the word of God, and which inspires and challenges me.

They let me hear the interpretations, and personal stories, of my parishioners, who also are my friends and family. These folks represent the theological and ideological spectrum, so I learn more than I impart.

I imagine some of you might find dreadful the idea of sitting around talking about the Bible. You’d rather have ice picks jammed in your eardrums.

That’s my larger point. Even in my own congregation, the majority of adults don’t attend the Wednesday study. It’s not their thing. That’s OK.

Different ones of you will have differing tastes. God provides a bounty of options.

Some people’s spirits soar to religious music blasting on their car stereo every time they get behind the wheel. For a few it’s Gregorian chants and for more it’s 21st-century Christian pop bands. Whatever stokes their bliss is fine.

Some people praise the Lord as they listen to certain far-flung preachers by podcast. Some people experience God by ladling out stew to the homeless at soup kitchens. Some people feel the divine presence by riding a horse through the woods in the early morning.

The specifics aren’t terribly important. But if you’re going to grow, you’ve got to find the food that feeds your own spirit, and then partake heartily and regularly.

Else you’ll shrivel up and blow away.

Plus, you’ll have robbed yourself of a great deal of joy.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at pratpd@yahoo.com.

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