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.

At What Cost? (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 15, 2015)

I am happy with where I am now, professionally. I absolutely love teaching college students and exploring my research ideas. My schedule is such that most mornings, I’m able to take my younger kids to school, and I even have time to run errands in the middle of the day now & then. I didn’t land my dream job overnight, though; my current success came at a large personal cost. In total, I spent about 10 years of my life in college, and I’m still paying off loans from grad school. I didn’t watch TV for about four years, because I needed every moment of free time in the evenings to study and write. I tried not to miss any big events, but some play time with my kids was also sacrificed during those years when I needed to work late or study.

All that is to say: there’s a cost to be paid in pursuit of our life-goals. Honestly, the same could be said for our spiritual lives. We’ve been working on a new song for the worship team recently, and one of the lines says, “Take it all, take it all, my life in your hands.” Every time I sing those words, I’m reminded of what it costs to follow Jesus. It’s not about having an emotional experience at church or camp; it’s about letting Jesus have total control of every aspect of your life.

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus had a very frank conversation with a large crowd of wannabe disciples. They wanted to come along for the ride, but he needed them to understand that following him would be costly. Verse 26 often gets misinterpreted as Jesus advocating that we should hate our parents and siblings, but that’s not what he’s saying. I believe what he’s trying to communicate is that we are to have so much dedication to him that our relationships with everyone else – and our view of ourselves – pale in comparison.

The question is: What are you willing to sacrifice? What amount of free time, financial resources, mental energy, and elbow grease are you willing to put on the line to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is truly rewarding, but like the earlier analogy of my job, it takes effort and commitment to bring it to fruition. Proverbs 20:25 (NLT) warns, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.” If you are going to sing a song like “My Heart is Yours” or “I Surrender All,” then you need to mean it.

Hitting Rock Bottom (Prayer Devotional for the week of October 11, 2015)

I was talking with a friend recently who confided in me some struggles that she’s had with her adult son. She mentioned that he had hit rock bottom – again – and had started going to church “to find God.” I heard in her voice a mama’s heart that was aching for her wayward son, and her words stuck with me.

 

Have you ever been working on a repair project and dropped a tiny screw onto the carpet or in the grass? They can be pert near impossible to locate. Worse yet, if you wear contacts, then you have probably experienced the frustration of crawling around on your hands and knees, half-blind, trying to find the thin, shimmery sliver on the floor. I wore contacts for 20+ years, so I’ve been in that lowly position more times than I care to recollect … kind of like my friend’s son.

 

Three of the gospel accounts (Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5) record the scene when Jesus called Matthew (also named Levi) to be his disciple, and Matthew held a banquet in his home in Jesus’ honor. Some religious leaders were in attendance, and they were offended that low-lives like tax collectors were invited to dine with them. Jesus’ response is the same in all three recordings: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (NLT). Matthew, however, included an additional comment that Jesus made, and it is recorded in v. 13: “Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’’”

 

I think it’s beautiful that the disciple who happened to be the center of the story was also the one who recorded a statement about mercy and what Jesus expects of us as his followers. Matthew had not hit rock bottom in a material sense; in fact, he probably made a very good living as a tax collector and had a comfortable life. However, Luke’s account says that Matthew left everything behind when he got up from his tax collector booth and followed Jesus. Once he found what he was looking for, he didn’t turn back.

 

Whether you’ve hit rock bottom in a physical/emotional sense or whether you have finally put on your spiritual contact lenses and seen Jesus for who he truly is, I encourage you to be like Matthew and not look back. Leave your past, your sin, your old life behind and follow Jesus.