Running on empty?

Reading: John 6.26-35
Years ago the comic strip "Bluey and Curley" had this picture of a scientist in a lab coat crawling along slowly on all fours in the hot desert sun, gasping out his plea, "H2O! H2O!" Now that he has reached habitation, people run to his aid. Seeing his obvious need, someone promptly comes in with a glass of clear water. Next frame - the water is refused - "That's just chlorinated water!" The final frame shows the scientist crawling off on his way - "H2O! H2O!"

That's a bit of a caricature of scientists, really! We find it hard to imagine a person so wrapped up in scientific purism that he fails to see or meet even his basic needs. Yet a story like that is told because it holds a grain of truth. It is said of Louis Pasteur that he had to be called from the laboratory to his own wedding!

Our theme today is "Running on Empty?" This has nothing to do with the restaurant advertisement between Home Hill and Ayr. It has everything to with the deep unease, uncertainty and emptiness we can feel as we face increasing violence - nationally and internationally - and as we reflect on the inability, even of churches, to offer clarity, leadership, grace and hope in a society facing the consequences of moral decline.

Are you running on empty? There may be many different reasons, but none of them need catch us out and lead us to despair. If circumstances challenge us to the core, let's think about three important questions - What is the passionate goal of our life? What is the deepest need of our life? What is the relationship between the two?

The Passionate Goal of our Life

It may seem a bit strange to be asking, What is the passionate goal of our life? We may not think about things that way at all. Perhaps many of us tend to drift along without conscious goals of any sort.

Yet if we stop long enough to take a look at ourselves, we may find a whole cluster of things that we regard as very basic to the people we really are. Among all those things, is there something that we really live for, something that is so central in importance that we can't imagine life without it, something that is our greatest delight, something that continually calls us to an escape from all that usually occupies us…? That's what I'm calling the passionate goal of our life.

Some people live for sport. Others live for their garden, or their grandchildren, or their hobby… Some are continually exploring the world of books and ideas. Others have a drive to create - poetry, paintings, pottery, music…

Some have a consuming passion to make money. It absorbs their every waking moment. At every opportunity and by whatever means they can imagine, they are at it again! Some of these have built themselves great financial empires.

Others need plenty of money because they have this deep urge to spent it! And if they don't have the money just yet, they put it on credit. They are very susceptible to the pressures of advertising. They find it difficult to budget and wait. Their life is surrounded by things.

Many of the areas we have mentioned are in themselves good and legitimate parts of our life. They are either a genuine part of our humanness, part of how we are designed. Or they are natural and necessary to our life in human society as it is presently organised.

Sometimes they slip over into central place, controlling, distorting or changing our values. That becomes a danger sign. The passionate goal has become a religious icon. Before we're finished, we'll be disillusioned and disappointed. We will realise we have been "running on empty".

Jesus has fed a crowd of over five thousand on a boy's lunch - "five barley loaves and two fish" (John 6.9). Next day people are out looking for him. He has spent the night out in the hills by himself, in prayer to the Father. But they want another miracle! And Jesus says to them, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you" (v.27).

Be very careful what you allow to become the passionate goal of your life! Don't run on empty!

Our deepest need

And what is the deepest need of our life? This may be quite different from our passionate goal. It may be unrecognised, unacknowledged, suppressed, denied…

We have many deep needs and many levels of need. Our crazy scientist had a very obvious physical need for water. Without it he would die.

The media presents us a graphic picture of desperate physical needs experienced by millions throughout the world. We say we are hungry or thirsty and scarcely know what hunger or thirst can really be. Food and shelter are very basic needs.

Physical and mental health are important too. Too often we don't appreciate them until they begin to break down. We ignore our health for years. Then suddenly it becomes the over-riding concern in all that we do, determining what courses of action are open or closed to us.

But we aren't just physical creatures. We have been made with a capacity to love and to be loved. It's rather serious when this capacity has been damaged by some of the circumstances of life, when someone has great difficulty in making and sustaining relationships. One of the very sad symptoms of our age is the high level of marriage break-down. People will enter into a series of physical relationships, but seem unable to live out a lifelong loving commitment.

As Jesus said to his hearers, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."

Our deepest need is not in fact physical or emotional, but spiritual. We need God! The opening chapter of the Bible portrays God creating human beings in his own likeness (Genesis 1.26). That means we have a capacity to enjoy and appreciate the creation. It also means that we have a need to know and relate to the Creator. We need God! Knowing God and responding to him in trust and love is the deepest need of our life! Don't run on empty!

Relating Goals and Needs

When we have thought about our passionate goal and our deepest need, how do they relate to one another? Do they relate at all? Is our passionate goal sometimes an escape from our deepest need?

Sometimes people say to me, "I'm not religious!" They mean that they don't practise any formal religion. But they are human beings - made in the likeness of the Creator, made with a need to know and relate to him. That need may be unacknowledged, suppressed, unexpressed… yet at so many points it is still there, not hidden so very deeply after all.

We can try to live independently of God and much of the ugliness of human life comes from just that. Life was never meant to be independent of God. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. Life was meant to continue with that close level of relationship. The choice to disobey and to lead a life independent of God brought grief to the pair and continues to bring grief to us.

Jesus came to meet this deep spiritual hunger. He came to heal our broken relationship with the Creator. He came so that we can have the full and satisfying life - a fulfilment at the deepest level which reaches out into every other area of our life and experience.

That's why he said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6.35).

Bread has to be broken and received into our body so that it can give us strength. The people of his day thought to break Jesus and throw him out. They didn't grasp that he was being broken for us all, so that forgiveness and life can come to us.

He is alive! Yes, they couldn't throw him out! Dead but now alive, he can meet our deepest needs. We don't have to run on empty!

Consider carefully the passionate goals of our lives. Think about our deepest needs. Look at the cross… That's more than a religious symbol to erect on churches, to wear around the neck, to adorn tombstones… It's a reminder of the gift of life - Jesus' life given for us. It's empty because Jesus is alive - alive to fill our emptiness, to live and love through us!

Don't run on empty! Receive Jesus as your Saviour and Lord. You'll still go to the shop and buy your bread and milk. But at the core of your being you will never be hungry or thirsty again!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Guest Service, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 27 July 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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