The Bread of Life

bread food fresh hands

Jesus, after feeding the 5,000, went across the lake (or should we say “walked” across the lake) to get to the other side. We all know the story. His disciples were exhausted. They went to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee to get away from people. Instead, they were met by thousands of desperate, hungry people. Jesus miraculously fed them, filling their cups for the day. While he retreated to pray, he sent his disciples ahead of him by boat at night. When a storm arose, they thought they would drown. They saw Jesus walking on water and he stopped to calm the storm.

When they got to the other side again, a crowd was waiting for them, hungry and desperate for food. Instead of food, Jesus gave them a speech about him being the bread of life. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:50-51 ESV). Sounds, um, interesting, but what does this have to do with getting a square meal? When the people became upset, Jesus doubled down: “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (vs. 58). Not only did he say it, but he said all this in a synagogue!

Jesus told them that there were some who would not believe that he has the words of eternal life. He then said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the father” (vs. 65). John records that after this, many of his disciples turned and no longer walked with him. Jesus asked his remaining 12 apostles if they wanted to leave too. Peter asked where they would go, since he had the words of eternal life. Jesus really is the only way. We may think there are other ways to heaven, but we are only fooling ourselves. We need to keep feasting on the bread of life!

Mount Up With Wings Like Eagles

black and white eagle

Isaiah wrote during a very dark time in Israel’s history. As an 8th Century prophet, he witnessed the Assyrian invasion of the North in 722 B.C. These were troubling times for Israel, with a host of deaths, wars, and immorality. It seemed like the fires that were burning all over Israel had fuel dumped on each one, exasperating an already terrible problem of idolatry and oppression.

But God’s message in Isaiah 40 was one of comfort for the few who remained faithful. Isaiah begins his message to Jerusalem: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV).

God’s message is clear: those who need comforted will receive comfort and hose who are weary will be strengthened. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (vs. 31). God saw the exhaustion on the people who were sorrowful from all the destruction. They were waiting for God to intervene and do something. No doubt, many people lost family members to war.

God is the same God he was yesterday. If we are weary, God will comfort and give strength.

The “Black Eye” Widow

brown wooden gavel on brown wooden table

Jesus gives us a parable in Luke 18 of the persistent widow. In this story, a widow comes to a judge and is pleading for help. The judge did not fear God nor did he respect man. But the widow didn’t give up. Day after day, she came to him, saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while the judge would not entertain her request.

After a while, though, he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (Luke 18:4, 5 ESV). The word choice here is interesting. She keeps “bothering” the judge. The word used here means to wear one out by overworking them. Then he says he doesn’t want her to “beat me down” by her continual coming. The word here literally means to give someone a black eye. It was an idiom used for someone who was relentless.

The incredible thing is that Jesus is using this widow as an example of how TO pray! “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (vs. 7). Jesus is telling his followers to be like the “Black Eye Widow,” to keep coming to God over and over again. We shouldn’t be afraid to be bold and persistent in our prayers!

Where Two or Three Are Gathered

women praying beside green trees

Matthew 18 can be a tricky chapter. Jesus begins by saying that the greatest in the kingdom must become like little children. Then he says that it would be better for someone who causes any of the little ones to suffer to have a large millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Then Jesus goes into a discourse on the necessity for mercy. He tells the parable of the lost sheep, followed by a story about the brother who sins against his other brother. He says if that brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. If he listens, you have won your brother over. But if he refuses, you should take one or two others along with you. If he still refuses, the brother is to be brought before the church.

Then Jesus tells them, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19, 20 ESV). This verse has been used out of context to “prove” that it’s only necessary for two or three people to be present to worship God. But that is far from the point of the passage. The point is that there is power in the witness of two or more people. Whether we are disciplining, worshiping, or praying, there is power when two or three gather.

This is important for those of us who pray for others. James says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Christians need to work together, not isolated from one another. When we work together God is present and powerful!

Meditating On His Word

silhouette of man at daytime

Meditation is not a word we use enough as Christians. Given its frequency in the scriptures, it’s surprising that we don’t encourage each other to take time to mediate. We may associate meditation with a practice that was common among ancient monks. They literally meditated day and night, and were exceptionally disciplined in the practice. But what about today? The more we are distracted by constant information, devices, and the noise of life, the more we are losing the connection with God through mediation.

Mediation, prayer, and reading scriptures (the Law), were all intertwined. There were several words used in Hebrew that translate to mediation in English. These words range in meaning from musings (“reflection”) to whispering in the heart to moaning, uttering, or speaking out loud. Mediation does not take on only one inward, silent form.

The Psalms are full of references to mediation. For example, Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Similarly, in Psalm 19, David says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Over and over again, people meditate on God and His word, even keeping watch in the middle of the night. There is something to be said about meditating on God’s word. It completely shifts our paradigm. It moves us from takers to seekers. It causes us to reflect daily on the goodness of God. When our attitude changes, we are far more prone to helping others. Selfishness fades in the discipline of meditation.

Don’t Pray Like Hypocrites

people festival sitting freedom

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. He said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their award” (Matthew 6:5 ESV). Instead, Jesus encouraged them to pray in their room, in private. He assured them, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vs. 6).

This is in a bigger context of also giving and fasting without seeking recognition. People often want to have some kind of recognition for their kind deeds. But Jesus’ point is that God listens to people whose hearts are right. It doesn’t matter whether people applaud us for doing kind things or for praying. Consistency in prayer and giving is far superior to being an “influencer.”

This is an important message for today when we live in the age of social media influencers. These people genuinely do great works but at the end of the day, they are being rewarded for their work by means of publicity and financial compensation. Jesus was telling his followers to pray for the sake of praying, not for recognition. Then he taught them to pray the Lord’s prayer without “heaping empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words” (vs. 7).

We should pray like the Lord–consistently, in private, and to the point. God will certainly reward our prayers!

Great Is the Lord!

the great sphinx

Steve Harvey has a classic “rags to riches” story. He is the epitome of overcoming every obstacle in life and climbing his way to success. Mr. Harvey talks a lot about his faith and the people who helped him along the way. In one motivational speech that he gave, Mr. Harvey said “there is no elevator to the top; you have to take the stairs, climbing step-by-step.” It’s excruciatingly painful. And he would know. He spent the better part of three years homeless, living in his car. He would shave, shower, and brush his teeth at public pools. He says that the greatest key to success is gratitude–giving God thanks every day for the blessings we have in life.

And that’s exactly what makes the saints successful. We need to take it step-by-step, giving thanks to God for everything he’s given us. Psalm 145 is a song of praise. David writes, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3 ESV). He continues, “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!” (vs. 10).

These people, giving thanks and blessing God, “make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom” (vs. 12). God returns blessings because he cares for his children. This is our prayer of praise. We should begin each day with gratitude, proclaiming the greatness of God!