From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Four, Day Three
Without bread no one in ancient Palestine would have survived for long. So it seems entirely reasonable for Jesus, in what has become known as the Lord's Prayer, to instruct his disciples to pray for their daily bread. Yet the Lord also challenged his followers not to work for food that spoils, announcing himself as the only food that would enable them to live forever.
In fact, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means "house of bread." After feeding five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, he shocked his listeners by declaring: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). This week, as you seek to understand what it means that Jesus is the Bread of Life, ask him to show you exactly what it means to feed on him.
"I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which people may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." John 6:48 - 51
Praying the Name
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Luke 24:30 - 32
Reflect On: Luke 24:13 - 35.
Praise God: For revealing himself to us as bread that is broken.
Offer Thanks: For Christ's faithfulness to you.
Confess: Your lack of gratitude.
Ask God: To open your eyes to his goodness.
Remember the story about how Christ appeared to two of his disciples when they were walking to Emmaus, a town outside Jerusalem? It was a gloomy conversation, all about the tragedy that had unfolded three days earlier. Astonished by the stranger's seeming ignorance of the crucifixion of Jesus, the two travelers revealed their own ignorance by describing the death of the man who was walking right next to them. Then the stranger began instructing them. How could they be so slow to understand? Jesus laid it out from start to finish, reminding them of all the Scriptures that applied to him from Moses straight through to Malachi.
When they arrived at their destination, the two travelers urged the stranger to stay with them. Again the roles were reversed. As the three sat down for their evening meal, the stranger began acting as the host, taking bread into his hands, giving thanks, breaking it, and then handing it to his guests. Suddenly, in the midst of thanksgiving and bread breaking, the two travelers knew exactly whom they were dining with — the same man who had fed the five thousand, who had called himself "the bread of life," who had died on a cross three days ago!
I wonder how many times we are like the two disheartened travelers. We act as if Jesus is a million miles away, though he's standing right beside us. Like the disciples on the road, we feel abandoned and bewildered, far from the God who promises to be with us always.
A friend of mine recently told me how discouraged she had been about her seven-year-old son. David was often impulsive and irritable and seemed clueless about how to get along with other kids. A loner at school, he could be a terror at home. She knew her son had a neurological disorder that contributed to his bad behavior. She had done everything she knew to help him, and she had prayed nonstop that God would heal him. Why hadn't he? Where was he? She was so hungry for a sense of Christ's presence, for tangible evidence that he cared about David and about her.
Suddenly her thoughts turned to the summer that was winding to a close. Despite David's difficulties, the last couple of months had been fun. She thanked God for the good times they'd had together as she recalled them one by one. Now that she thought about it, she realized David had been a lot calmer lately. There had been fewer bad episodes, fewer tantrums. Thank God for that! Maybe the new medicine was finally working. David had been eating and sleeping better too, come to think of it. And she was grateful for the neighborhood kids who had befriended him. David had spent nearly every day of the last month playing with them. The more my friend expressed her thankfulness to God, the more she found to be thankful for. Why hadn't she seen it before?
It's like that with most of us. We long for tangible evidence of God's love, but we fail to see it, in part because we have not learned to be thankful. It's not just that God likes to be thanked. It's that we need to thank him. Expressing our gratitude is like holding a little celebration in God's honor. It's a way of feeding on his goodness, reminding ourselves what he's done for us. Thankfulness opens our eyes to God's faithfulness, which in turn nourishes our faith. No wonder the word "Eucharist," a common name for the Christian commemoration of the Last Supper, comes from a Greek word meaning "thanksgiving."
Skipping gratitude is like skipping the meal God has prepared for us. Without it, we merely move on to the next need, feeling hungry and empty without the faith to believe that God will sustain us. Not long ago, a friend confided in me that he no longer believed in God. To him all religions seemed like fairy tales concocted to make people feel better. I felt sad for him, realizing how tragic it is to watch a sunset, to listen to waves breaking against a shore, or to hold a child on your lap without having someone to thank.
If you are feeling hungry for God, spend some time right now thanking him for everything good in your life. It doesn't matter if your list is short. Just start thanking him for the good you can see. Then try to make gratefulness a habit. If you do, you will be surprised at how quickly your list will grow and how steady your sense of God's abiding presence will become.
Praying the Name
Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. John 6:10 - 13
Reflect On: John 6:1 - 15, 25 - 66.
Praise God: Who is able to take care of all your needs, both physical and spiritual.
Offer Thanks: For all the ways God has fed you.
Confess: Any tendency to settle for less than what Jesus offers.
Ask God: To renew your spiritual hunger.
I love the familiar story of how Jesus fed five thousand hungry people with only five loaves and two fish. A huge crowd had followed him to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee eager for miracles. But now they were tired and hungry, spread out on the grass like a great multicolored blanket. Except for a boy with five small loaves of bread and two small fish, no one had anything to eat. Taking the boy's bread in his hands, Jesus did what every Jewish father would have done at the beginning of a family meal. He gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and then began handing it out. And no one went away hungry. In fact there was so much food that his disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers. John's Gospel says the bread was made out of barley. It was poor man's bread, not the fine wheat bread of the rich. But it filled them up and made them glad. Astonished by the miracle, some in the crowd began to make the connection. This was like the manna that Moses and the Israelites fed on in the desert. God was giving them a sign.
Surely this must be the longed-for Messiah! The rumors spread swiftly through the crowd.
Knowing what was in their hearts, that they wanted to make him king, Jesus withdrew into the mountains. But why? Why not soak up the admiration, the wide-eyed wonder of it all? Because Jesus wanted to do far more than feed bodies that were soon to perish. He wanted to nourish souls that could live forever. But the people only wanted more cheap bread. When his followers finally caught up with him, Jesus told them point blank: "Stop working for food that spoils."
"Work for the forever food that I will give you."
"The work you need to do is to believe in me."
"I am the bread of life."
"When you fall down dead, I will make you stand up alive again on the last day."
It was too much for them. The crowd couldn't stomach it. That day, many of his followers fell away from him because they weren't hungry enough for the bread he offered — "This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:51, 53).
What about you? How hungry are you?
It's so easy to stuff ourselves with the world's cheap bread — with money, success, comfort, and pleasure — that we take the edge off our spiritual hunger. We fail to realize the dangers of living in an affluent, consumer-driven society in which we can be consumed by the things we desire. So many of us are like sponges, soaking up the world's good things with no space left for God.
If your spiritual appetite seems dull right now, ask Jesus for the grace to base your life not on the cheap bread of this world but on the bread he offers. Ask him to show you how to feed on him — on his life, his sacrifice, his Word, his promises. Then, to underline your prayer, consider fasting for a day. When you start to feel hungry, start praying. Tell Jesus, the Bread of Life, that you are hungry for more of him. Then remind him of his promise — that when you do the work of believing, he will do the work of feeding you.
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Two of Ann Spangler's most-loved books have been released in paperback: Praying the Names of God and Praying the Names of Jesus.
These books help us understand the biblical context in which these names and titles were revealed, and help us gain a more intimate knowledge of the Father and of the Son.
Read More Praying the Names of God, with Ann Spangler