Milk…It does a body good.
I have believed that phrase whole-heartedly my entire life. But I learned that as you get older, the benefits of milk aren’t so obvious. The New York Times posted an article asking the question, “does milk do a body good?” And it turns out…it doesn’t seem so. I long prided myself on my milk drinking. I may not always eat properly, but I would easily drink a glass of milk (and often more) once a day. Then Cassie came up to me one day and said drinking milk might actually be CAUSING me some problems. I have to admit, as smart as Cassie is, I thought she got this one all wrong. My entire life, doctors have been telling me to drink milk. Even as an adult. But in 2011, the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research did a study of over 200,000 women and could find no correlation between milk drinking and lower rates of bone fracture. Another study of over 100,000 men and women could find no correlation between drinking milk as a teenager and incidents of bone fractures. And one study published in the British Medical Journal showed men and women who drank high quantities of milk had a higher death rate and women actually had MORE bone fractures than those who didn’t drink as much milk. While they couldn’t prove milk actually caused those deaths, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t seem to be doing much for us.
The story, of course, is different for infants and children.
Especially for babies. Babies need milk – specifically mother’s milk. It strengthens the immune system, decreases disease, and helps to protect children from developing allergies. Later in life, these babies have fewer cavities, are less likely to be obese, tend to have fewer problems related to blood pressure, and tend to be more mature and assertive. The evidence is so strong for all the different benefits of baby milk that there are even milk banks where mothers can donate so other mothers who have problems making their own still have a source for their babies. Virtually everyone agrees that milk is essential for young developing infants.
And just as we need milk to grow physically, we need spiritual milk to grow spiritually.
Milk in the Old Testament largely referred to God’s promise of a land overflowing in abundance, but in the New Testament, milk is seen as spiritual sustenance. It’s the building block for a strong spiritual life. Just like milk is a necessity for babies who grow up to be adults, spiritual milk is needed to help our faith life develop into something strong and robust. Our passage this morning is just one that refers to spiritual milk but one that sheds light on what this “milk” will do for us.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. – 1 Peter 1:13-16 and 2:1-2
Crave pure spiritual milk.
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Spiritual milk is essential for our faith and Peter writes here that we should crave it! We should crave those things that feed our faith and help to keep away all of those things that would rob us of salvation – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Peter hopes that because we have tasted this spiritual milk that it will be enough to keep us craving more. What he means by having “tasted” spiritual milk is that there was something in us that turned us toward Christ and away from all the other temptations of the world. There was some part of our life that Jesus’ message of hope and salvation connected with, and Peter hoped that was enough to fuel us wanting more to keep craving that spiritual milk that is so essential to grounding us.
And this is where John Wesley’s ideas about the means of grace come in.
Wesley believed that God provided us with many ways to find this spiritual milk and to keep connected to Christ. He believed even when we felt distant from God, the means of grace would help bring us back. He called these “works of piety.” Works of piety are those personal practices that help us grow closer to God. Things like prayer, reading the Bible, going to worship, taking communion, taking part in Bible study, sharing our faith and fasting; these are the practices that Wesley felt would help connect us to our faith. Regularly doing these things, regularly praying or reading the Bible or fasting or going to worship creates in us a foundation for a life grounded on faith. It’s like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You don’t even think about these things any more as part of a list of things you need to do. You’ve been doing them for so long that they are simply a part of what you do every day. But doing them makes you a healthier person and much more enjoyable to be around. And not doing it makes us feel off the entire day. The truth is, doing these works of piety will have the same effect.
In our seemingly time-crunched world, it doesn’t feel like we have time for it.
We don’t have time for Bible study. We don’t have time for worship. We don’t have time for prayer. But is it we don’t HAVE time or we don’t MAKE time? Like with taking a shower and brushing your teeth, you could skip these things if you were seriously short on time. In the long run, we’d be able to do more if we stopped wasting time on hygiene. Think about it. The average shower lasts 8.2 minutes. Assuming you take one every day, you could save yourself nearly 3,000 minutes a year. That’s more than 2 full days of time! But we would never do that, right? We feel taking a shower is important. Or at least keeps us from getting a divorce. So apply that logic to what Wesley calls works of piety. Almost all of these things – prayer, worship, Bible study, communion, sharing your faith – take less than or about the same amount of time as taking a shower every day. If we value our relationship with God, then why wouldn’t we schedule that into our day?
Stephen Covey had some great advice about this.
As you know, he’s the author of the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and he writes, “The key is to keep the main thing the main thing.” You’ve probably heard that before. The key is to keep the main thing the main thing. We know this intellectually, but we don’t always do a great job of executing it. He says, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” We’re so busy with whatever is in front of us that we don’t look at things long term. So how do we get around that? Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. If you believe God is important then carve out time for God. It’s as simple as that. It’s just a matter of priorities.
This is the spiritual milk that will help us grow in our faith.
The common, ordinary, everyday types of things that take very little time or money to do – prayer, Bible study, worship, communion. At times they might seem boring. At times they might even seem meaningless. At times we may not feel the working of the Holy Spirit within us. But it is. The Spirit is at work even if we don’t “feel” it all the time. But it is important to keep doing these ordinary means of grace so that our faith will continue to grow even if we don’t “feel” it. When babies drink milk, they don’t say to themselves, “Hey look! My leg just grew a quarter of an inch!” But slowly, over time, as they keep taking the nourishment they need they grow. Sure and steady they grow. And the same is true of our faith. So take time out to drink your spiritual milk. It does a body good. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.