Bread of Life (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 6, 2016)

I had a friend in high school who was extraordinarily smart; she earned top grades and went on to receive a full scholarship at a great university. I tried sharing my faith with her once, and I still remember the argument that she used to shoot down my attempt at witnessing. She said that Christians are no better than cannibals, because through communion, we symbolically eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood.

 

I didn’t know how to respond to her rebuttal, and that conversation flop has been on my heart for all these years. I knew deep down that Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, but I didn’t have the words to explain it to her. Well, I recently heard a fresh perspective about communion that helped me better understand how to interpret this important symbolism.

 

It’s important to note that my friend’s question was not unique; some of the people listening to Jesus’ teaching had the same confusion! John 6:47-58 tells the story about Jesus describing himself as the bread of life, and that those who eat of that bread will live forever. In verse 52, John records the arguments that arose among the Jews in attendance about eating a man’s flesh. What kind of weirdo rabbi was this Jesus person, talking about eating his body and drinking his blood?!?

 

Let’s start with this question: What is the purpose of eating food? Food is fuel for our bodies, and when we eat, our digestive system consumes the nutrients we need. Consider this: when we “consume” Jesus through faith – his teachings, his miracles, his prophetic fulfillment – we ingest that truth, and it becomes part of us. Our faith then fuels us, spiritually.

 

Jesus used the illustration of Old Testament sacrifice to explain the new covenant that he was establishing through his own sacrifice on the cross. Of course he wasn’t advocating cannibalism; he was using himself as a symbol of faith for us to recognize our need. We need the nutrition from food, just as we need spiritual nutrition. We need our sins to be cleansed, like the Old Testament story of the Passover lamb.

 

Bible scholars much more knowledgeable than me will surely have more to say on the matter, but what it boils down to for me is this: Eat the bread of life! Consume God’s word, and in turn, let the Holy Spirit nourish your spiritual life as you grow in faith.

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Miracle Mercy (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 1, 2013)

It’s no wonder why the holiday season is such a difficult time for those who grieve. Part of it probably relates to the weather: it’s often dreary, cold and dark, and seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. Perhaps a bigger issue, though, is that we’re “supposed” to spend time with loved ones around the holidays, so when they aren’t there, the loss is palpable.

I don’t need a TARDIS or DeLorean to transport me back to that night of racing down the highway nearly five years ago, trying to get to the hospital. The too-familiar fear and restlessness are just under the surface, and when the memories hit me unexpectedly, I catch myself at times staring at nothing, while scenes from that night flash through my mind’s eye like a horror movie that won’t end. He’s supposed to be here, sneaking bites of cornbread dressing before our big family dinner and then arm-wrestling me for the last slice of coconut meringue pie.

But he isn’t. And life goes on. It’s times like this when giving thanks is a deliberate choice, because wallowing in self-pity is a pointless endeavor. When you don’t particularly feel grateful for your lot in life, you have to take initiative to find things for which to be thankful. It’s easy to get bogged down in how we feel and forget that God is still on his throne; he’s still the Lord of the universe. And he still cares for you and me more than we can ever comprehend.

In Psalm 107:2a, the author says to “let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” (NIV). The poem goes on to describe many of the ways that God intervened in the lives of his people, rescuing and providing for them, even when they rebelled against him. Four different times, the poem says, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (NIV). In another translation, that same passage reads: “So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves” (MSG).

Miracle mercy, indeed! Friends, I don’t know what you are going through this holiday season. I hope that you are bubbling over with joy, but in case you are struggling (like I sometimes do), I urge you to make a purposeful effort to thank God for his miracle mercy in your life. Don’t focus only on the hard times; turn your attention to God’s goodness and let his peace soothe your heart.