â€œBread for myself is a material question.
Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.â€
Recently, a friend visited our family one evening and stayed a long time. I baked cookies during his visit and felt triumphant over that considering Iâ€™d been sick for one week and had not bought groceries in nearly two. Dinner earlier had been a patchwork of leftovers and strange items that lurked in the pantry. As our friend left at nearly ten oâ€™clock, he mentioned he was stopping to eat on the way home.
What? He had missed dinner and sat in my house for three hours politely munching a couple of cookies? Iâ€™d never thought to ask if heâ€™d eaten since we had finished long before he arrived. I apologized, mortified. To think that I would let someone walk away from my house unfed was more than I could take. Had I known, I would have exhausted all options to provide for him. I could have ordered a pizza, jumped in the car to fetch takeout or banged on my neighborâ€™s door. But it was too late. I withered in embarrassment and vowed to make it up to him. I even lay awake replaying the incident that night.
So it was with interest I read early the next morning a parable Christ taught his disciples. The circumstances were strikingly similar to what Iâ€™d just experienced. â€œSuppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, â€˜Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.â€™ Then the one inside answers, â€˜Donâ€™t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I canâ€™t get up and give you anything.â€™ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the manâ€™s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needsâ€ (Luke 11:5-8).
Lord, what are you saying? This was more than coincidental. It was, as Margaret Feinberg would put it, a sacred echo â€“ God making his point with reverberations of circumstance, story and finally the remembrance of a word from a recent reading about intercession being the most perfect form of prayer. I started to weep with the realization of what he wanted me to see. It came as I began to bring the needs of some of my people to God. They were big needs, profound needs and seemingly hopeless needs.
For two that I knew, advancing age and failing health could not be turned back. Iâ€™d been watching them with both admiration and sorrow as they continued to put one foot in front of the other, trying not to become burdensome to those around them. How lonely â€¦
Another family close to me suffered the devastations and deprivations brought into it by a motherâ€™s drug abuse. The impact was being felt three generations deep, the ripple effect far and wide and the ruin for the children promised to last long into their future.
A pastor I prayed for reeled from the imminent breakup of his strife-ridden church. His lifetime of ministry suddenly seemed of no consequence and the body of Christ completely untrustworthy.
These were things for which I could offer no help, things that were beyond the reaches of financial gifts or heartfelt sympathy or a timely hug. I pictured my depleted pantry in the next room and thought of how helpless Iâ€™d felt the night before when I learned my guest was hungry and I had not fed him. I have no bread.
No bread. Isnâ€™t that a common theme in Scripture? Josephâ€™s brothers ended up begging bread from the one theyâ€™d sold to Egyptian slavers in a jealous fit of rage. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness without bread until God supplied it from heaven. In the town of Nob, David and his men were hungry as they fled King Saul and were sustained by consecrated bread the priest Ahimelech offered them. Elijah hid in the desert as Ahab sought to kill him and ate bread and meat ravens brought him.
Jesus sprinkled his conversations with words about bread. He also broke bread with every kind of person of that time and place. Dining in the Hebraic culture symbolized an intimacy and friendship. It was that the Pharisees recoiled from as they watched him eat with tax collectors and sinners. How could someone truly from God fellowship with the unclean?
On more than one occasion Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life and even told his followers, â€œI am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the worldâ€ (John 6:51). Coupled with his invitation to them to drink his blood, the effect was a hard teaching that offended and caused many to turn back and no longer follow him. We will not be so beggarly as to do this thing. We will not defy laws to become one with the Messiah.
The issue of bread troubled the earth when Jesus walked here and it troubles the earth now. Perhaps it is why he spoke of it and used it to make profound points. There is no doubt he wanted his people to have bread, both literally and spiritually.
Luke records one of probably many instances when Jesus concerned himself with physically hungry people. He and his disciples sought solitude in Bethsaida after an intense time of ministry, but crowds followed them there. â€œLate in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, â€˜Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.â€™ He replied, â€˜You give them something to eatâ€™â€ (Luke 9:12,13). We all know what happened. Jesus took five loaves and two fishes, broke them, gave thanks and proceeded to feed 5,000 men (and maybe three times that number in women and children) â€¦ with baskets full of leftovers.
In another instance, Jesus was bent on seeing spiritual need satisfied. In the wake of his resurrection he walked and talked and ate with a sorrowful Simon Peter, the one whoâ€™d denied even knowing Christ in the hours before the crucifixion. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him â€“ probing, piercing and finally restoring his failed disciple. Three times he gave Peter the care of his people saying, â€œFeed my lambs â€¦ take care of my sheep â€¦ feed my sheepâ€ (John 21:15-17).
Looking over all these instances, itâ€™s difficult to say what tasks have been more monumental â€“ Moses calling on God for manna for two million wanderers, Joseph saving the produce of Egypt and making it outlast seven years of famine, David taking holy bread from the table of God whom he feared, Elijah running into the wilderness and waiting for ravens to feed him, the disciples gathering the multitude and assuring them that somehow Jesus would give them bread or Peter thinking of how heâ€™d failed Christ and was now expected to carry on his ministry â€¦
â€¦ or me bringing my hopeless people before Godâ€™s throne â€¦
â€¦ or you bringing yours.
In any case, they had no bread. I have no bread. You have no bread. When there is not enough, it doesnâ€™t matter if there is one to feed or millions. A beggar is a beggar. Strangely, it seems thatâ€™s exactly as God would have it. He allows us the desperation of one unsolvable trial or a million so that we will come seeking him.
He would have us knocking on his door in the middle of the night and refusing to take â€œnoâ€ for an answer. God desires from us the same persistence that drove men to dig through the roof of a house to Jesus in order to get their paralyzed friend healed, the same persistence that allowed Abraham to boldly press him for as many as could be rescued from Sodom, the same persistence that drove Moses into his presence for 40 years seeking all kinds of bread for his people. In light of these accounts, I see that I give up much too quickly.
Yet, I also see that prevailing prayer turns paupers into princes and priests â€“ of families and nations and the church.
This is my failure that I confess. I do not press God as Abraham did. I do not cling to Christ through the night like Jacob. I do not pound on the door of heaven and beg God to feed my friends. But this is the way he has ordained. This is the way one procures bread for a friend.
Later, there will be the necessity of then carrying that bread to the friend, of participating in the act of feeding, whether it is physical or emotional or spiritual. The disciples still had to distribute all those fish and loaves. Peter still had to go out and preach â€“ to feed Christâ€™s sheep. But first they had to get the bread. They knew what to ask for and who to ask. They knew to not stop asking.
Never stop asking. Donâ€™t let me stop asking.
Now Lord â€¦ about Japan. We have no bread.