A battle between tributes. A fight for survival.
No, I’m not talking about Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy cut and spliced into four action-packed blockbusters.
It’s a game we all play.
A game of cat and mouse. Moves and countermoves.
We play it whenever we feel empty, depleted, unfulfilled. We play it when a sense of hollowness overtakes our souls deep down inside. We play it when we can’t articulate it, even when we are hardly aware of it, but it’s there.
The void. The absence. The hunger.
And we have to fill it.
So we try all sorts of things. An edge-of-your-seat suspense film, an oversized brownie alamode, a Target shopping spree, a trip to the gym, a round at the batting cages. Whatever suits our fancy. Whatever works in the moment. Like a game of give and take, we pay tribute to our fancies in hopes of filling up the emptiness inside, or at the very least, distracting us from it for a while.
But this is a high-stakes game.
And the odds are never in our favor.
With each pull comes the tug. With each gain comes greater loss. Like a mirage on the horizon, a carrot dangling before the horse’s mouth, lasting fulfillment (contentment, hope, peace, security, significance, confidence, belonging, and on and on) eludes us when we attempt to fill our need for the eternal with the temporal, our need for the Creator with the created.
And it always will.
St. Augustine knew much about the hungry heart of man. He famously wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” And for those who have indulged, what glorious rest it is to be in the arms of Abba Father! What safety, what security, what reassurance can be found there!
So much better than what this world affords.
But Augustine’s rest requires something of us. It necessitates involvement. It anticipates participation. Every day our physical bodies need food to sustain us, sleep to replenish and restore. The soul, too, needs nourishment and repose. But filling the body and soul takes effort on our part. We must choose to eat, choose to sleep, choose to spend time with the One who made us for Himself.
Jesus understood this principle.
He knew how imperative, how crucial and fundamental time with Him was for the spiritual (and physical) survival of His disciples. It was so dear to Jesus’ heart, in fact, He passionately urged His followers to “remain in Me” ten times at the Last Supper.
These moments, this conversation would be their final intimate gathering before His arrest. Before His voluntary, untimely death on a Roman cross for humanity’s sin. No time for dillydallying on this night as they shared the Passover cup together.
So Jesus beseeched His companions. He implored them to heed His advice.
Hear His words for yourself:
“Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. …As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:4-5,9 NIV)
Jesus words reveal His earnestness.
The word picture itself of fruitless, withering branches detached from the vine makes quite a dramatic statement when considering its symbolic implications. Clearly, Jesus would rather we didn’t wither and die apart from Him.
He wants us to live.
To be gratified by Him.
To flourish in Him.
To bear much fruit through Him.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the wise psalmist declares (Psalm 34:8).
Because when we do, when we remember what is better, when we stop paying tribute to what cannot satisfy, only then can we truly enjoy a whole world full of beautiful and functional things He has created for us.
A world where odds are ever in our favor.
Come, all you who are thirsty, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.