5 Ways to Spot Spiritual Junk Food

Sour Patch Kids

I like “Sour Patch Kids.”

You could even say I’m passionate about those little, chewy gummies. The sweet and the sour hit me with a combination that I really enjoy. Sometimes, I even experience a sudden rush of blood to my face when I eat them. My wife knows  these are my choice movie snack while watching a good film. I know for her, it’s “Milk Duds.” I’m sure in the proper setting you have your preferred snacks and “go-to” junk food, as well.

Junk food is like momentary fun, disguised as food.

It’s the stuff that’s high in calorie, but has no real nutritional sustenance. It’s the kind of food that hits you hard, but leaves you empty. For a brief moment, you get elevated and your glucose level spikes to provide a burst of energy, then the wave settles and you’re left just as empty as when you first consumed [insert choice junk food here], and aside from the short-lived high you discover that there was really nothing in what you ate to help your body long term.

So let me ask you, have you ever experienced this while sitting in church?

The message is razor sharp, the emotional response from the speaker is overwhelming, and it’s hard not to be moved. And when you walk away from this experience, as enthralling as it may seem, in your attempt to apply what you’ve heard, there’s no real traction. In other words, it may have preached well or sounded good, but there was no way to apply what was said because ultimately, those words were empty. They had no real sustenance. Worst of all, nothing has changed, and you’re left with less time and motivation than before.

I’ve volunteered and worked in the church for well over a decade. Man, I grew up in church and unfortunately have heard far too many messages like this; messages that skirt the heart of an issue, and go directly for the response. It’s been called many things, sensationalism, emotionalism, hype, but it proves to be a trite experience and a destructive practice.

As believers, the balance we maintain in our sensitivity to God’s leading and weighing the words of others is critical. The application, false application, or non-application of the gospel can be life altering (or not so life altering, for that matter), so it’s important to listen with our hearts and minds, not just our emotions.

Emotions are a good thing. We should never ignore how we feel, but at times emotions can be misleading and self-deceiving. How we feel, may well be an overstatement of what our circumstances actually are. Emotions can help to affirm our direction in life, but they should never become the construct for our decision making. When this happens, it’s certain that our motivations in life are being based on how we feel, not on the Truth found in scripture.

In 2009, I ran the L.A. Marathon. I had to train right and eat right. I knew there was no way I could sustain a 26.2 mile race by feeding my body poorly or by training poorly. But with demands of my work schedule, I’m sorry to say that I did train poorly.

As I approached the final weeks before the race, my training regimen required that I go on some seriously long runs, and by seriously I’m talking 14, 16, and 18 mile ventures. For three, consecutive Saturdays, I woke up and went running…for several hours.

The weekdays leading up to the race were marked by shorter runs ranging from 6-10 miles. While I was supposed to be taking multiple short runs throughout the week, I fell into a habit where I was only taking one 6-8 mile run mid-week, followed by a long run that weekend. In the meanwhile, I ate lots of carbohydrates to pack on the energy. Actually, I ate any carbs I could get my hands on. I was an eating fool.

On the day of the race, I stepped up to the starting line with about 10,000 other people, the gun sounded, and off we went, running the streets of Los Angeles. My stride was brisk and I felt great. Then mile 20 happened. At mile 20, my legs gassed out. What I mean is they forgot their function. They might as well have been rubber bands. My legs started cramping up so badly, that for the next four miles, I was forced to walk the first quarter-of-a-mile, while attempting to run the latter portion of each.

I finished my race, but it was BRUTAL. I jelly-legged my way over the finish line and was spent. (I really did enjoy completing the marathon, it was the last 6 miles that I don't wish to re-live. EVER.)

Life plays out much like a marathon. Each mile marker is catalogued by a different season, some of which are longer than others. All the while, God chooses to do His work in us and through us. 

In maintaining healthy spiritual lives, we must consider carefully the consumption of just any interpretation or expression of God’s Word, knowing that it can shape our lives dramatically for the days and miles that lay ahead. What looks like a knowledge to sustain, could just be excitement disguised as doctrine. What sounded good Sunday morning may not bear the full Truth that will carry us through trials in that upcoming week. The words we hear can hit us hard, but when tested, they can also leave us empty.

Concerned? Let’s take a look at some ways to spot spiritual junk food.

5 Ways to Spot Spiritual Junk Food

1. Less about Hope, More on Hype.

So, we’re all pumped up, but now what? Inspiration for God’s word should be used to engage others in a lasting passion for His work and His hope for His people.

2. Not What You Can Give,but What You Can Get.

Misleading emphasis is placed on coming to Jesus solely for what He can do for you and not what serving Him really requires of us.

3. Forced Perspective on Life: Emphasize the Epic Moments vs. Downplay the Difficulties.

God delivers and He sustains us through grave difficulties. The moments are good, but a poorly balanced perspective can blindside you and shipwreck your faith.

4. All About the Moment, rather than the Momentum.

Excitement for what’s happening is wonderful. Ideally, energy like this can and should be harnessed to further the vision and growth of the local church.

5. Humanity is Celebrated. Christ is Deflated.

God is gracious in that He can and does use His people to reflect His glory. But we must remember, it’s His glory. We are simply a reflection of His perfection. Christ should be exalted in EVERY message. Why? Because it’s all about Jesus. The hinge point of gospel is Christ on the Cross. It’s not about us. It’s never been about us, still God has mercifully grafted into His plan.

So, how do we guard ourselves against spiritual junk food?

The best balance for our emotional and spiritual state-of-mind, is using Bible-based wisdom to weigh the words of others. We should be vigilant to filter the voices that speak into our lives with the greater Truth of God’s word, knowing that the leverage given to any such influence has power to set the direction for our course in life.

As powerful as persuasion is, there’s a sure-shot way to keep from being led astray, and that is simply to follow the instruction set forth in scripture. This may seem really basic, but cults have been started based upon beliefs that sound very spiritual, but bear no witness with the God of the Bible. Sensations been developed into doctrines, solely because someone thought they were being led by God’s Spirit, when in fact, their leading had no reference point in scripture.

In the example of Christ, we find He is our greatest leader. He embodies the fullness of brilliant communication and influence. He is the example, and our modeling of His actions and character, taken in the context of scripture, will lead us boldly towards His vision (Matthew 28:18-20) and God’s more specific plan for our lives.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul said to the Corinthian Church:

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
— Paul the Apostle

If you find yourself following those who follow Jesus – the authentic Jesus – who walked the streets of Jerusalem, died upon a cross, and rose to sit at the right hand of God; the same Christ who lives in our hearts and longs to live in the hearts of others, then you can know you’re in good company.

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Tweet this - "The best balance for our emotional and spiritual state-of-mind, is using Bible-based wisdom to weigh the words of others."