Cause I Eat Me Spinach

Remember Popeye the sailor? He was an odd looking fellow with a tall thin girlfriend and a sidekick obsessed with cheeseburgers. His nemesis was a bearded bully named Brutus who was stronger and more powerful than Popeye. That is until our nautical hero gulped down a can of spinach and gained super strength to defeat Brutus and right the wrongs he had done.

The idea was to get kids to consume a vegetable which was, and still is, universally disliked. I’m wondering if Popeye’s dependence on a leafy green vegetable didn’t contribute to another universal behavior among kids of that generation who are now adults; the need for instant gratification.

We literally expect to be able to open a can of spinach and have the strength we need to face the challenges that life throws against us.   The words of Christ in Luke 11 verse 9, would appeal to This “Popeye” generation, (which includes me!)   “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Really? All we must do is ask. We simply knock and God will open his door and give us what we seek. Wouldn’t a generation, who can purchase a Big Mac, fries and a drink without getting out of their car, want to be part of a religion that promises instant gratification just by asking? This is exactly what most of us wish to hear except we might update the verse to finish with “and please hurry.”

It seems we no longer have the patience to wait for things. Nor do we want to endure the discipline required. Instead we desire to have the door opened and be transformed without any further effort on our part; instant gratification ina can of spinach. But let’s not blame it on Popeye. The desire to be changed on the spot by the Holy Spirit was present at Pentecost. In the Book of Acts Peter spoke to a vast crowd in a foreign tongue which he did not have to spend years learning. Since the crowd also did not have to learn another language, they were suddenly and miraculously transformed by the Holy Spirit. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”

There is no question that such transformational moments occur. I’ve seen it in others and have experience it myself ‘You must be born again.’ Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3. That experience is like a new birth and is immediate and undeniable. However, I have known people, who accepted Jesus long ago, have served Him faithfully and with genuine love. They claim not to have experience a rebirth or a transformation. The Holy Spirit has guided them since childhood.

I believe we receive the Holy Spirit before we are born. At baptism we acknowledge its presence in us or our children and seek to be guided by its wisdom. We are led and guided by the Holy Spirit even though we may resist, deny and oppose its presence in us. So, when we are born again it feels like and external force which changes us internally. In truth it is an emerging spirit which has won the battle for our hearts. As children, believers do not experience the dramatic impact because doubt, fear and sin are not as firmly entrenched. By adulthood and certainly middle age, we have hardened our hearts and suppressed the Holy Spirit in our own prison of self-righteousness and skepticism. When we are changed, we receive a feeling of instant gratification. Let’s call this; the spinach effect.

This effect is genuine and real. The Holy Spirit has emerged and is now in control of our lives. However, it did not just suddenly happen but is the result of a long spiritual journey. We are infused with a vitality and vigor that gives us strength for the immediate conflict before us. What has changed is knowing the source of our strength: Spinach!

OK it’s not a proper metaphor for the Holy Spirit, but just as Popeye knew he needed spinach for strength, we’ve learn that we need the Holy Spirit to face adversity. The downside of the spinach effect is the belief that the appearance of the Holy Spirit was spontaneous, that suddenly we were endowed with strength and power. This may be true for a cartoon character, but the Holy Spirit has been at work in us before we were born.

An athlete does not suddenly possess strength, power, agility and speed. Though he or she may have these physical attributes, they must be developed.   The same is true for a teacher, nurse, farmer or mechanics. These skills are constantly improved till we can rely on them to live our lives. Even when someone reaches the peak of their skills and profession, they have to maintain those talents through discipline and persistence.

Maintaining our faith is no different. Though recognizing God’s presence may have been a blinding revelation for many of us, we need to discipline ourselves to strengthen that authority and commit ourselves, like an athlete, to a higher level of achievement and skill. Too often we try to suppress, ignore, deny and even destroy it. But we cannot stop it from working in our lives.

So, when Jesus says, “…Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”, he is not giving us anything we didn’t already have. He was simple opening a door so that the gift we already possessed could be used to strengthen our faith and guide us toward God’s Kingdom.

This means studying the Word of God, attending church, sharing fellowship, and doing good works. Once the Holy Spirit has emerged as the guiding light in our lives, we should maintain the discipline which will allow us to do God’s work and help others push open the door behind which salvation stands. It is through our persistence that God will guide us toward peace and fulfillment. None of these are requirement for salvation. God’s Grace is given through Christ and not earned by our efforts. While the fruit of salvation is eternal life, the fruit is also a life of purpose and service here on earth. A purpose fulfilled by our commitment and discipline to follow the Holy Spirit. We can only discover that purpose through a deep and disciplined commitment to God and His church, not a can of spinach.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6)

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