A dear friend of mine, born in Indonesia of Dutch parents, was caught with her mother in years of concentration camp during her childhood. She missed out on a whole period of life, not only in education and childhood toys and games but in basic nutrition.

A particularly horrifying practice in this particular Japanese camp had to do with the “food” served in bowls to the prisoners. What was offered day by day was a mixture. There was a certain amount of grain, meal, or rice, so that if anyone asked it could be said that enough basic food was being given to prevent starvation. But, as I said, this “food” was a mixture. Castor oil was mixed with all the bowls of mush; the food would therefore he expelled from the body before much nourishment could be absorbed into the system. One by one people died because the castor oil made it impossible for the food to accomplish what it would have accomplished had it been given in its original state.

How was it that this girl, her mother, and some others lived to tell the tale? There was a variety of work to be done, and some people worked in the gardens or in the kitchens, weeding lettuce or peeling vegetables for the non-prisoner’s meals. The little girl’s mother (and others) were able to put bits of food into their mouths and to hide a few leaves of lettuce or scraps of things to share later in the day. At the end of the time they were malnourished and depleted in every way, skin and bones devoid of energy, but they were still aliye and able slowly to gain a measure of health when proper food was provided. The lost years, however, could never be given back in this life, and the physical and psychological scars will never be entirely erased.

“Did you have a good day of prayer?” I asked a young theological student who had taken part in our special day of fasting and prayer. “No, I can’t say that I did. Really, you know, I find it difficult to define the difference between prayer and meditation. I can’t find the reality of trust for prayer.” He hesitated and then went on to say, “After you read Tillich and some other writers, somehow the doubts keep coming back, and you just wonder about things.”

Prayer—mixed with the wrong connotation of meditation. A personal God with whom one made in his image can communicate—mixed with a God afar off, unreachable. A created universe created by the Creator—mixed with a universe that evolved by chance through eons. A literal Adam and Eve who really made a choice and fell—mixed with a myth that takes its place with other myths. Phrases from God’s Word that are true, mixed with the castor oil of unbelief and compromise. A murky, oily mélange of God’s truth and Satan’s lies spooned into open mouths by Satan, who wanted to purge all the truth out of Eve’s system in the first place.

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Who is being fed such spiritual mush in which the good food cannot be separated from castor oil that drives the food right out of the system? Many theological students are. And it is not just the theological students who find they are robbed of strength and trust. These students become the writers, the speakers, the pastors, and the teachers, and the debilitating mixture is then spooned out through books and sermons to people of all ages.

God speaks in Jeremiah: “The pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore shall they not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered” (Jer. 10:21). He goes on to say firmly: “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people: ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, said the LORD.” He goes on to say that these scattered people are to be gathered up out of all countries and brought again to the fold, “and I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:1–4).

“Oh, yes,” you may say, “this is speaking of Israel in a future time.” Right, but the Lord also has sheep who are meant to be fed day by day, week by week, in Christian churches now. Shepherds are supposed to feed their flocks with food that nourishes them spiritually, with the unadulterated truth of the Bible, the Word of God. Doubts are not to be mixed in. There is not to be a castor-oil mixture that takes away all the food and leaves nothing but gnawing fear and sick hunger. Those who are fed what God means pastors, shepherds, to feed them will not be fearful or dismayed or lacking.

What has happened? How does it all start? Jeremiah is given something to explain to Israel, and to us: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). It is a double thing. God’s people have turned away from him; the personal, infinite Creator has been denied, forsaken. Then the teaching stemming forth is like a vessel that is broken and cannot hold the water. The water of the Spirit cannot be poured out of a broken pitcher. And so, empty of water, the cracked pitcher pours emptiness into cracked cups!

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God calls out to professors and students, pastors and people, to everyone of us who is in grave danger of being thrown into this “concentration camp.” God calls out: “Proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:12, 15).

The true food that will give us spiritual health and strength and cause us to grow and have spiritual energy and power is described by the words “knowledge and understanding.” God has made it undeniably clear that the teaching and preaching of pastors is to bring knowledge. There is to be “content,” the full content of the whole Word of God. This is to give comforting and satisfying knowledge that will push away fear and dismay. There is to be “understanding.” Questions are to be answered as well as possible. Things are to be put in several ways by patient teachers so that Sunday-school children, college students, seminarians, and congregations can really understand.

How sobering it is to realize that Jesus speaks to all his “Peters” down through the centuries when he says, “Lovest thou me? Feed my lambs. Lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.”

It is a serious responsibility to feed the flock, both the little lambs and the older sheep, with nourishing lasting food, the whole-grain, full-bodied wheat God prepared in his Word. The strength to fulfill this responsibility is available if we heed this word: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10).

Whatever we need to have forgiven, whatever we need to begin to do, whatever we need to go on doing where the going seems hard, let us keep on! God’s promise to help applies. Be fed. Feed others. Turn from the adulterated “mush,” and remember that it has left a weakness that is worse in some than in others. “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief”: this can be the beginning prayer time after time.


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