Every day my body alerts me to its need for food and drink. The dull ache I sense in my stomach, the low grumble, the dip in mental focus—all these tell me it is time to nourish my flesh.
Similarly, my spirit is in need of daily sustenance from holy storehouses. My soul longs for the Bread of Life and a filling of the Spirit. But I don’t do as well to recognize my heart’s prompting for sacred food and drink. These are the dull ache of longing, the low grumble of desire, the dip in focus upon the Lord . . . these are too easily brushed aside and ignored.
After reading of Martin Luther’s longing for the riches of the Word in John Piper’s The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, I have been much more alert of my soul’s hunger pangs. [This book was one of my selections for last month’s read-a-thon. Check out this post for my thoughts on Augustine.]
Luther was a man of the Scriptures, reading through the Bible twice annually for some 10 years straight (p. 93). And that was just his daily reading . . . he was also immersed in the Word for personal in-depth study, lecture preparations, and various writing projects. This standard is high; it is lofty.
History does not ignore the negative aspects of Luther’s personality. I am well aware of the controversies surrounding some of his speeches and attitudes, and I cannot support those that are in contrast to the Word. What I love about Luther, however, is that his heart was displayed fully for all to see. I am merely more comfortable with hiding and stuffing my own sort of ugly thoughts. When I think of the painful and erroneous teachings of Luther, my Lord reminds me, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7).
What we can appreciate about Luther is the honest transparency of his life. He was not hiding behind propriety.
His dedication to the Word was an all-consuming passion. He knew his depraved state; do I?
So often I shy away from the Word because it is a mirror providing a reflection that is none too complimentary. Luther did not run from that mirror, but stayed there, ready for conviction, ready to admit time and again his utter depravity apart from Christ.
Luther’s courage to seek God like this is a great inspiration to me! My study won’t come close to Luther’s but there are steps I can take to feast on the Word and be aware of my soul’s cravings for nourishment.
Piper summarizes Luther’s approach to the Word like this:
At the heart of Luther’s theology was a total dependence on the freedom of God’s ominipotent grace rescuing powerless man from the bondage of the will. Concerning free will Luther said, “Man has in his own power a freedom of the will to do or not to do external works, regulated by law and punishment. . . . On the other hand, man cannot by his own power purify his heart and bring forth godly gifts, such as true repentance or sins, a true, as over against an artificial, fear of God, true faith, sincere love, chastity. . . .” (p. 108)
It’s so easy to ignore spiritual hunger and blame the symptoms on current circumstances and surface difficulties. Luther probed beyond the surface and pinpointed the root of the problem: We are people broken and marred by sin in complete dependence upon the goodness of God to enlighten us to reality as outlined in the Word.
I want to be aware of my hunger and need like that! This verse from Ezra floats like a banner over this conviction to consume the Word for all its worth:
“For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
I want to be a modern-day Ezra, one who sets her heart to study the law of God, to practice it, and to teach it—and to do so with great joy.