We have a lime cordial bottle in our kitchen cupboard that displays the usual words ‘dilute to taste’ and there is an interesting difference of opinion as to what that might mean, depending on whether it is my wife or me adding the water. I’m sure that my wife’s natural frugality is enhanced, reasonably enough, by the fact that she is usually the one who does the shopping. On the other hand, I have no doubt that she believes my apparently natural lack of frugality stems from a general tendency to have abnormal boundaries with anything where flavour is concerned. I have tried blaming my ‘weak taste buds’ but this subterfuge does not really work.
Personal taste has its place. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, famously said ‘I like my tea as I like my religion – hot’. I am not a tea drinker but if I were, I’m sure that weak and cool would not suit me either; at least not when the cup first arrived on my desk… afterwards it risks becoming forgotten and tepid midst the waves of concentration. But there is a real point behind this relatively trivial fussiness and it has to do with passion.
Heat, strength and quantity are matters of taste but they can also indicate passion. And there is more to passion than simply opting for hot, strong and more. The discerning palate may distinguish subtleties of flavour that are lost on those who want as much as possible, as hot as possible and as quickly as possible; just as subtleties of musical dynamics can be lost on those who always want their music loud.
I am generally cautious about those who want their Christianity diluted but I am increasingly aware that we need to train our taste buds to discern the fullness of the flavours that God is serving up for us in the wonders of His gospel feast. I look back to the first Passover described in Exodus 12 and discover that the ‘lamb for a household’ principle was conditioned by ‘each man’s need’. I also see that there was a second principle, ‘you shall eat it in haste’. Preachers who draw much out of the ‘each man’s needs’ in order to encourage a greater commitment to a passionate feasting on Jesus as the Lamb of God, would probably stop short of exhorting us to turn it into a speedy meal followed by a rapid exit, no matter how keen they may rightly be to have us go out and change the world.
We need to have a ‘both… and…’ strategy here. It is good to have a large and strong appetite for the things of God. It is also good to take time to savour what is being provided for us. I hope I never lose my William Booth passion. I definitely do not want my Christianity to degenerate into something cool and diluted. That would be a Laodicean recipe for disaster; a pretence at being sophisticated whilst rendering oneself unpalatable to the Almighty. Maybe Charles Wesley was onto something when he wrote ‘I want an even strong desire, I want a calmly fervent zeal’.
So, in some ways I am not the best person to be writing this particular blog, based as it is on illustrations of food and drink. I have always tended to eat in haste with minimal discernment but I am keen to improve. In Hebrews 5 the writer emphasises the need to graduate from milk to meat but in so doing speaks of ‘those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern…’ The writer then sets this discernment in the realm of good and evil. Now we know that both evil and good come in a whole range of flavours. To have greater discernment that opens up for us a wider range of good, God-given flavours could be a real blessing.
Let us develop an appetite for, and a delight in, all that God has on offer for us.