When I was a kid, if I heard it once I heard it thousands of times: Clean Up Your Plate if You Want Dessert! In fact, the refrain still bounces around inside my skull on occasion; especially when faced with a new and delicious-looking dessert. How many times have I lusted after that white cake with chocolate icing? Lots, trust me!
The things in need of “being cleaned up” before dessert were usually vegetables! Cauliflower and Brussel sprouts and, worst of all, Bok Choi, always ended up being eaten last in my pantheon of gastronomic delights! Perhaps I push this food metaphor a tad too far, but will you grant me that Heaven is the “dessert” of a life lived in connection with the Lord? So that means the “veggies” are the more mundane things of the Christian journey through this world: Bible study, the spiritual disciplines, caring for the widows and orphans, etc etc.
Seriously, if we always and only went right to dessert without chomping on a single veggie, then we would never have heard the phrase: Clean Up Your Plate If You Want Dessert! We are creatures of habit, and one of the human habits we all can fall prey to, is when we want the joy, happiness, satisfaction, full-stomach feeling, but we do not want to defer that gratification with having to eat veggies! The Merton Prayer’s dessert is that God “is ever with me” and “will never leave me to face my perils alone.” And the veggies: I see the day-to-day actions which show my “desire to please God in everything that I do” as my plate full of opportunities which need to be ingested into my soul.
All of the above, slightly fluffy and non-deep to be sure, to say this: Christ-followers far too often give lip-service only to showing sacrificial and unconditional love (agape) for others. God has put people in our lives, some of whom we may at times wish were elsewhere, and we are called to show agape to every single one of these people, every single day, in every single encounter! Listen to the Apostle John: “This is how we know what love (agape) is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” I John 3:16 (NIV).
And then we hear in James 2:16 the following: “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (NLT). So, we can tell the world all day long how much Jesus means to us, but if our actions do not comport with his words then our words fall empty to the ground with no impact on the listeners. And that is precisely why Clean Up Your Plate If You Want Dessert makes such good sense gastronomically and spiritually!
The dessert is always much sweeter when we have delayed gratification while working through the veggies. And here, mercifully, is the final food metaphor: as we live out our faith in actions we are constantly reminded that these veggies are really good for us. “Pray without ceasing,” “encourage one another,” “forgive one another,” and “love one another” are just a few of the “veggies” the New Testament serves up for us as we anticipate how sweet the dessert will be.
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5 thoughts on “Clean Up Your Plate If You Want Dessert”
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Did your mother really serve you bok choi in Lexington, Kentucky in the 1950s??? I don’t think my mother could have bought it anywhere in Chicago!
Wow, thanks for your note. Your comments on my blogs mean so much to me Tim!
I really like the key facets (veggies) of Christ-like living that you mention that we need to include in our daily lives if we want to enjoy the dessert of eternal life in heaven.
Your comparisons are perfect, Steven. Your guidance is so clear. (However, I like bok choi.)