In last weekend’s sermon, Pastor Aries Zulkarnain encouraged the church to follow Jesus’ “daily diet” in order to develop a healthy spiritual appetite.
During the season of Lent, many Christians practise spiritual disciplines, recognising the impact of Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection on their lives. On the weekend of 11 and 12 March, executive pastor of City Harvest Church Aries Zulkarnain preached about the importance of such spiritual disciplines in building up a healthy spiritual appetite.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit on the Tree of Life. “But how was that sin committed? The first sin committed by mankind was by eating!” (Gen! 3:1-7) Pastor Aries exclaimed, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Whether it is emotional hunger, psychological hunger, spiritual hunger or a hunger for meaning and purpose in life, hunger can only be satisfied through consumption. Like Eve, every person has cravings, desires and aspirations, which are part of God’s design. The problem is the type of food one chooses to consume in order to satisfy his hunger.
“The kind of food that you eat to fulfill your cravings, desires and aspiration matters greatly because it can affect your appetite,” the pastor explained.
HOW DOES ONE LOSE HIS SPIRITUAL APPETITE?
“The moment Adam and Eve ate that fruit, it ruined their appetite towards God,” Pastor Aries continued. Quoting theologian John Piper, the pastor explained that a person’s appetite determines the direction of his life—if he prefers healthy food, he would gravitate towards a salad bar or choose a healthier meal in a restaurant.
To illustrate his point, he told the church how, on a trip to preach at a church in Malang, Indonesia, his hosts brought him to enjoy the best food in the city, everything from soto to roast pork noodles. A native Indonesian, Pastor Aries enjoyed all the different dishes immensely.
Upon returning to Singapore, he discovered that he had lost appetite for the healthier home-cooked meals prepared by his wife. “The dishes at home, which are healthier, fresher and better for me, no longer appealed to me,” he admitted, adding that it was the MSG in the Indonesian cuisine that had spoilt his appetite for healthy food.
In the Old Testament, the children of Israel faced the same problem. They craved the food they had had in Egypt and complained to Moses about eating manna every day (Num 11:5-6). “Their appetite for heavenly food had been ruined by their enjoyment of carnal food,” the pastor added.
For those who no longer have an appetite for spiritual food, Jesus is never enough. They would go to church and find service unsatisfying. They would constantly be looking for that additional dose of “MSG” in Jesus and in church.
“You need to be entertained to feel that it is a great sermon,” Pastor Aries described. “It’s not enough to experience the love of God, but you want the love of God plus His blessings. Because if there is no blessing to add to the love of God, you will say that Jesus is not attractive enough.”
This happens when Christians have been consuming the wrong type of “food”. They struggle because while they want to draw near to God, they find no motivation to pray, read the Bible or even attend church service.
“This world is usually made up of three ingredients: money, sex, glory—MSG,” the pastor quipped. Therefore, unless following Jesus brings more money, pleasure and glory, one has not motivation to do so. “Everything we do, we’re doing it for ourselves. In today’s terms, social media, Netflix-binging, and hedonism—if you have been consuming these to satisfy your inner hunger, I want you to know these are not real food, they are junk food! Not only will they ruin your appetite, but they will also make you sick.”
Healthy cravings turn into addictions. The desire for good things becomes uncontrollable and turns into greed. Aspirations that are supposed to bring one to a better place become unrestrained ambition that eventually enslaves them.
GETTING BACK THE HEALTHY SPIRITUAL APPETITE
Pastor Aries introduced the church to the “food” that Jesus consumed— “the kind that nourishes our soul in order for us to live a life of vibrant Christianity.” John 4:34 records Jesus’ “food” as doing the will of the Father who sent Him.
Pastor Aries compared this to a three-course meal. The first course is self-denial. The height of Jesus’ self-denial was displayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. In His weakness and humanity, He was still able to exercise self-denial and choose the Cross.
Acknowledging that this was an extremely difficult decision, Pastor Aries noted that it was a culmination of 33 years of practising self-denial. Jesus carried his “little crosses—the little sacrifices He made daily, which strengthened Him mentally and spiritually until the day God said, ‘It’s time for You to go to the cross,'” the pastor described.
While it is highly impossible that God would call Christians to the cross in modern times, Pastor Aries reminded the church that there will come a day when they will have to make an ultimate sacrifice for the good of others or to stand up for Jesus. If one is not prepared for it, he will be caught by surprise and cave under pressure.
“But if you obey God, He will always bring you to the next level,” he said, urging the church to make self-denial part of their daily diet, and choose to sacrifice over pleasure, right over wrong. These little decisions will help them to prepare for the day they have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The second course is to do all things unto God. Jesus was very clear that God gave the mission to go to the Cross, and His motivation came solely from His love for His Father. In John 8:39, Jesus said that He chose to do things that please God.
If the motivation behind a person’s action is self-seeking or to gain popularity, he will have no strength to stand up against pressures and opposition. Jesus, however, lived on God’s approval and was therefore not easily perturbed by the opinions of others.
Another example was the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 36:9-11, God instructed him to preach messages that were so deep, the congregation would not be able to understand. Pastor Aries noted that if any preacher were to do this, the people would start leaving the church.
Yet when Isaiah asked God how long should he do it for, God’s reply was to do so until the city had no more inhabitants. At this point, Pastor Aries remarked that it was an almost impossible task. Many times, the motivation of full-time preachers is seeing people blessed by their sermons—clapping, laughter and praises fuel them to serve.
However, if a preacher depends on such human fuel, he will not last the distance. The same crowd that cheers for him can easily turn its back and go against him.
After understanding the magnitude of the task, Isaiah was still willing to volunteer for the task. “Because, to Isaiah, obedience to the Lord is more fulfilling than the reward of worldly success,” the pastor explained.
He went on to emphasise the importance of training oneself to come to the point where one’s spirituality is fuelled by pleasing God rather than the rewards and thrills of popularity.
The third and last course is to be engaged to fulfil the work of the gospel. To illustrate his point, Pastor Aries shared a testimony of CHC member Serene Ho, whose spiritual life was revived after she started going on mission trips.
Serene has been a Christian for 15 years but her spiritual life had become lukewarm. She was fearful of being judged for her shallow Christian life and would avoid moments where she had to participate in spiritual activities.
However, on a mission trip with CHC’s missions ministry, Missio Dei Harvest, she was assigned to do the closing prayer at a session. When the moment came, she decided to surrender everything into God’s hands. To her surprise, she received feedback that the prayer was powerful and full of the Father’s love. She knew that it could only be God.
That encounter taught her to depend on the Holy Spirit. She admitted that she had never experienced Father God’s love for herself and was intrigued by the comment that her prayer was full of it. She decided to go on another mission trip and there, she received healing in her heart and her perception of God’s love was changed.
From then on, she has gone on many more mission trips and as she obeys God in each trip, she had started to see His hand and purpose on her life. She said, “Looking back, I’m thankful that God has not given up on me, even when I became lukewarm.” Today, she is excited about the things of God again.
At the end of the service, Pastor Aries encouraged the church to change their spiritual diet, to stop indulging themselves with carnal content, but to feed on Jesus’ food that will nourish their soul and spirit.