Strengthened by the Supper (1): An Introduction to the Lord’s Supper

I have a really bad habit of not drinking enough water, and quite frankly, it creates problems for me. I think I have more aches and pains because I don’t drink enough water. I like to run, and if I’m dehydrated, guess how I feel when I run. On hot days, in particular, I sometimes have a very difficult time running, in part, because I’m not well hydrated. You’d think I would learn my lesson, but I still struggle with the discipline of drinking enough water.

Think about food for a moment. I like thinking about food. I like talking about food. I like eating food. Did you know that junk food can really mess with you? Eating junk food can contribute to problems like curbed learning and memory, anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, and lack of self-control in other areas of life. So, you don’t want to eat the wrong stuff. I struggle with that. Additionally, not eating can cause problems like shakiness, irritability, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and even more serious problems like slurred speech, confusion, depression, significant weight loss, and even seizures. How do you feel when you haven’t eaten in a while? Probably not very good. The moral of that story is to eat and to eat the right stuff.

For most of my life, I’ve had a narrow perspective on how God feeds and strengthens me, more precisely, feeds and strengthens my faith. Historically, I haven’t really understood how God sustains me spiritually. I know I need to grow spiritually and want to. I know my faith is weak and that God can fortify it. However, when it comes to understanding how exactly God grows my faith, well, I haven’t historically thought and believed deeply enough, wide enough, big enough; I’ve simply thought and believed too small about God’s means of grace. I still struggle. And in my experience, many Christians struggle with me.

Christians feel spiritually dehydrated, hungry, and weak in their pilgrim journey, but some Christians are unaware of the power and nourishment God gives through His means to quench their thirst, satisfy their hunger, and make them strong. None of us grasps as much as we ought to grasp. That said, if we don’t grow in our belief that God’s means of grace are sufficient to nourish and strengthen us, we’ll be much more prone to deception, to grabbing spiritual soda and junk food expecting them to quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. Do we realize that a sugar rush or spiritual high is not actually spiritual growth? Spiritual sugar rushes or highs can actually cause a loss of comfort, strength, and growth because there’s a crash afterward, a “come-back-down-to-earth” experience that reminds us, “Oh, I’m still a sinner, and life’s still a struggle.” Our sustenance is not necessarily on the mountain; it is in the valley where life happens. To possess true soul comfort and true soul strength, we receive them by faith from the means God provides to nourish us and strengthen our faith. Do we understand these essential means?  

If not consciously, subconsciously, many Christians wonder, “How do I grow spiritually? How can I build up my faith? What must I do to grow closer to God.” This question often sends them on a quest to find the answer. They often don’t realize the answer is simpler than it seems. They often fail to realize how much their journey to get closer to God is one of self-reliant striving, a self-dependent struggle, and this burdens them, at least subconsciously. Sadly, we are too often tempted to walk past God’s true soul drink and true soul food at Christ’s table while we go searching for a spiritual convenient store that serves us soda and donuts for the spiritual high we crave. We miss the feast in search of junk food.  

What if we focused more on receiving the drink and food God gives us and on receiving it with expectation and thankfulness? I suggest we ought to concern ourselves less with consuming different kinds of spiritual foods like the new Christian book or podcast or worship album or small group study or the hit TV show (that happens to break the second commandment and distort the gospel) and concern ourselves more with the means God has promised to use to strengthen us. If we misjudge the gracious and sufficient means God has promised to use to strengthen our faith, we will inevitably turn to insufficient means that lack true nourishment, and we will be left spiritually malnourished without much comfort, assurance, and strength, and perhaps we’ll even wonder why.

In this new series on the Lord’s Supper, we’re going to focus on one primary means of grace that God gives to nourish, strengthen, and comfort us. I think most Christians understand that God’s Word nourishes, strengthens, and comforts them. Though some mistakenly elevate personal devotions above public preaching in corporate worship as the primary way to drink and eat God’s Word, it seems most Christians place an emphasis on God’s Word. However, sadly, many Christians expect very little from the sacraments, and I suspect that’s because of their view of the sacraments or their theology of the sacraments. They simply don’t understand the sacraments and therefore miss out on the personal and corporate benefits of the sacraments.

If our theology of the sacraments is poor, unbiblical, and not anchored to historic Christian theology, then we will underestimate the necessity of the sacraments in our sanctification journey and will not draw the nourishment, strength, and comfort from them that God intends for us to enjoy. A robust theology of the sacraments is desperately needed today as the church faces large challenges like anxiety, depression, division, shallowness, spiritual apathy and immaturity, loneliness, addiction to technology, persecution, and more. We need the grace that God gives through the sacraments to flourish, but we often have a too narrow view of the sacraments, and our expectations are simply too low. Our faith is weak. We need more grace.  

The good news is that God gives much grace to us in and through the sacraments, and the deeper we understand the gospel and the gospel made visible in the sacraments, the more we will benefit from receiving the gospel in the sacraments.

As Scripture teaches and the Reformed confessions and catechisms affirm, there are only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We’ll save a discussion on baptism for another time. This series will focus on one means of God’s lavish grace – the Lord’s Supper. Though baptism is an essential part of our sanctification journey, the Lord’s Supper ought to be a steady, if not weekly, part of our sanctification journey. As Westminster Larger Catechism 177 explains, baptism is administered once, “whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in elements of bread and wind, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him.” [1] Don’t miss that. God uses the Lord’s Supper to nourish your soul. He grows your faith through it. Don’t miss the significance, the profundity, the comfort of Heidelberg 66:

Since then faith alone makes us share in Christ and all His benefits, where does this faith come from? From the Holy Spirit who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel and strengthens it by the use of the sacraments.

I think this answers the question many Christians ask: How can I grow spiritually? We grow spiritually when the Holy Spirit sovereignly works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel. We need the preaching of the gospel more than we need our next drink of water or meal. But preaching is not the only means God uses. God strengthens our faith by the use of the sacraments. We need the sacraments too if we’re going to endure to the end (Matt. 24:13).

I hope you join me in this exciting journey, and I hope along the way you come to more fully appreciate the grace God gives you through a simple yet powerful and effectual Supper.

[1] The Confessions of Our Faith, Fortress Edition, ed. Rev. Brian W. Kinney (Fortress Book Service & Publishers, 2007), 114.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

About the author

Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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