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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Prayer prompts for the week of Feb. 28

(Sunday) The Refiner’s fire (Malachi 3) is not particularly fun. Change, especially spiritual growth, can be difficult. Stick it out. It’s worth it.

 

(Monday) Need motivation to stay the course? Imagine that moment when God looks directly at you and says, “Well done!” Your service isn’t overlooked.

 

(Tuesday) We are saved by grace alone (Eph. 2:8), but how we live our lives is a reflection of our faith. Let’s not be “wicked & lazy” (Mat. 25:26).

 

(Wednesday) Unlike the Old Testament with its burnt sacrifices, our new covenant through Jesus compels us to live holy, sacrificial lives (Rom. 12:1).

 

(Thursday) Throughout Exodus and elsewhere, the Lord demonstrated his power through fire. Spend a few moments expressing your awe through praise.

 

(Friday) Psalm 44:5, Jeremiah 10:6, Acts 4:10 – the very name of Jesus is powerful! Call on him in your time of need and trust him in faith.

 

(Saturday) Why is change so difficult? The enemy isn’t going to let you go without a fight. Allow God to help release you from sin’s stranglehold.

Listen Up! (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 8, 2015)

This week’s teaching pastor at CBI (Cedar Bible Institute, a youth discipleship class) posed this question to the teens: Have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something? The context was about the story of Daniel, in which he and his exiled buddies stood up to domineering leadership, first in regard to what they ate and drank, but later in much more dire situations that landed them in life-threatening scenarios on multiple occasions.

 

The lesson prompted an interesting discussion at home later that day, so I thought I would pitch the same question to you. Have you ever felt like God was leading you to do something in particular?

 

It could be as simple as feeling compelled to sit by someone new at lunch and striking up a friendly conversation. It could require a little more courage to act on a nudge on your heart to offer the cup of fruit that you just bought in the lunchline to that kid who brings a cheese sandwich and nothing else to eat every day. It could mean offering to pray for someone right there on the spot, because you sense the Holy Spirit prompting you to do so. It might even mean sharing your faith and inviting someone to pray and invite Jesus to be their personal Savior.

 

One of the things I love most about C.S. Lewis’ teachings is how he acknowledges our God-given common sense. I mean, if it’s raining or snowing outside, do you really need to pray and ask the Lord whether you should wear heels or rubber-soled shoes that day? Common sense says that if you don’t want to break an ankle, then go with the sensible shoes. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit functions like an air traffic controller in our lives, dictating our every move. And yet, there are times when his voice is as clear to our hearts as a megaphone to our ears.
Daniel and his friends understood the need to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit, and not only did that diligence to hear God’s voice keep them out of a heap of trouble, it also allowed them the opportunity to witness to one of the greatest leaders in ancient history. King Nebuchadnezzar even penned part of the book of Daniel as his personal testimony!

 

God may not ever call you to defy a den of lions or withstand a fiery furnace, but there may be situations like the cafeteria examples above, where you have a chance to make a kingdom-sized impact within your own social circle. Will you listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and then be willing to act on it?

Say it like you mean it (Prayer Devotional for the week of June 15, 2014)

The forced apology: it’s one of those classic, I-can’t-believe-I’ve-turned-into-my-mother scenarios that most parents have tried. Two kids are bickering, and a parent intervenes, telling the troublemaker to apologize. Cross-armed and scrunched nose, the kid yells, “I’m SORRY!” with no inkling of remorse.

We can make them say it, but we can’t make them mean it. We can even make the other one comply with an obligatory, “I forgive you,” but we can’t make them mean it, either. Remorse and forgiveness are choices that we have to make for ourselves. Let’s look at a couple of what-not-to-do stories from the Old Testament about asking for and receiving forgiveness:

Pharaoh had a knack for saying one thing and doing another. Check out the story in Exodus for the full scoop, but suffice it to say that he was pretty indecisive. He would tell Moses that he and his people could leave Egypt, but as soon as they left he’d send soldiers chasing after them to bring them back. He begged Moses to ask God’s forgiveness so that the plagues would stop, then he would reject God and refuse to let Moses go [again]. Moses was faithful to intercede for Pharaoh, but Pharaoh kept digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole of deceit, which ultimately cost him everything he held dear.

Back up a few chapters to the end of Genesis and consider the story of Joseph. This was a guy whose jealous brothers threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, then faked his death. Years [and many more trials] later, Joseph was faced with a choice during a devastating famine: deny his brothers food and let them die for what they did to him, or forgive and save them. He chose to let go of the grudge, but even after the family was reunited and reconciled, Joseph’s brothers still doubted whether he really meant it. They suspected that as soon as their father died, Joseph might renege on his offer. See how he responded in Genesis 50:19 (NIV): “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?’” Joseph knew that God is the judge; his job was just to forgive.

So, we are faced with a choice: Do we give God lip-service and tell him we’re sorry, when we don’t really mean it? Or, will we fess up to our shortcomings and accept his forgiveness?

Originally posted April 17, 2011