How Many Loaves?

BrotchenJust looking at this picture makes my mouth water for the Brötchen I gobbled down during my high school days in Germany. I’ve never found them anywhere else—certainly not as good. Crunchy crust (but not too), tender inside…and always best first thing in the morning, fresh out of the baker’s oven.

Bread figures prominently in the Bible; numerous stories in both Old and New Testaments center around people who want bread, and how God miraculously provides it. Maybe that’s why Jesus is called “the Bread of Life.”

The Gospel of Mark (chapters 6 and 8) records two such bread-related miracles. In both, crowds of people—multiple thousands—have come to Jesus for healing and to hear him teach. Jesus’ disciples keep looking at their watches and finally suggest gently that it’s getting late and shouldn’t we send the people home for dinner? But Jesus has a different idea.

How many loaves do you have?

What?! The question is ludicrous! But Jesus keeps a straight face, just a hint of a knowing smile touching the corners of his lips. And the disciples—trying hard not to show their disbelief—offer the count: five loaves and two fish on the first occasion; seven loaves and a few small fish the second time.

You’ve probably heard the stories. Jesus asks the crowds to sit, says a prayer of thanks, and starts breaking the lunch into pieces. Basket after basket is filled, passed around, and brought back for more. And still Jesus sits, quietly breaking the bread. Seconds are passed around, then thirds. Soon the full baskets are passed and no one can eat another bite. Twelve full baskets remain; seven on the second occasion.

We read these stories and our immediate thought is, “Wow! Jesus did an amazing miracle! The disciples must have been stunned by that display!” Maybe. But did they learn anything? Not much—just a few verses later, Jesus has to ask, “Do you not yet understand?” The answer is clear: No.

But there’s something different we need to read in these passages, too: a difference of perspective. Notice the disciples’ thoughts: we obviously can’t feed these people; they should leave so they can find dinner. They look at the need, the lack. It’s what you might call “a poverty mentality.”

Jesus, on the other hand, had a Kingdom perspective; a power mentality. He didn’t look at the need, but at the resources: the bread, his own compassion, and God’s power. And with gratitude, he put those resources together to feed the crowds.

It’s so easy for me to look at what I don’t have: my weaknesses, the strengths and experience a would-be employer wants that I lack, a dwindling bank account. And my response is like the disciples: I go off on my own to try to find what I need.

But what if I had Jesus’ perspective? What if I looked at the little I have—my seven loaves—and gave them to Jesus to pray for, bless, and multiply. What might he do with them?

How many loaves do you have?

Spiritual Rhythms: Fasting

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:29

Fasting is a little-practiced discipline—certainly by me. Recently my wife and I had dinner with some long-time friends who shared their story, which has strong parallels to our own: loss of jobs, wondering where next week’s groceries will come from, wondering what God is up to. But part of their story was also about fasting, and how God clearly answered prayers in the context of those fasts.

Today’s post is written by Katherine Kehler and first appeared at the blog, Thoughts About God

Prayer became more of a discipline in my life after I yielded the control of life to Jesus Christ and began to walk in the Spirit. (Until then, I called to God in emergencies and before meals, but talking to God had not become a way of life.) Then the Bible became alive to me and I began to pray specifically, trusting in and testing God’s promises. Many, many prayers were answered.

I also began to fast. Sometimes for three days, sometimes once a week, sometimes for 10 days or two weeks. Sometimes it would be a complete fast – only water. Sometimes I would have juice. At times I would give up eating certain foods, or watching television or even wearing makeup.

When our son was in his early 20s, we discovered he was addicted to alcohol. For a while he alienated himself from us and from the rest of the family. We never saw him drunk – not once – but others had and we loved him too much to let him destroy himself.

I love coffee and our children often joked that I was addicted. So I reasoned, “If they are right, my prayers for our son are phony.” So I decided, with God’s help, I would stop drinking coffee until he quit drinking alcohol. And that is what I did. Giving up something I really enjoyed so that perhaps God would deliver our son.

God answered. As a family, we decided to have an intervention. We all told him that we loved him, but knew he was in deep trouble and wanted him to go to a treatment center to get help. Before the intervention, my husband made the arrangements for his flight and stay at the treatment center. His boss not only gave him a leave of absence, but helped pay for his treatment. There was only one thing left – he had to agree to go.

Thankfully, he did agree to go and after six weeks at the center he came home and to our knowledge has never had another drink. He was delivered from the addiction to alcohol and today has become a great husband and father.

Sometimes we have to fast and pray to have our prayers answered. If God impresses you to do so, let me encourage you to obey Him.

I’m going to take some time in the next couple weeks to fast—not as a “magic pill” or a bribe to induce God to answer our prayers, but in the hopes that he will do something transformative in me. I encourage you to do the same.

Spiritual Rhythms: The Word, Part II—Soaking it In

Hot tubA couple weeks ago I said different ways of reading the Bible could be compared to taking a walk, driving a car, or flying across the country. Just as different modes of travel will give different perspectives on the land, so each way of reading the Bible offers unique insights.

Today I want to talk about one way, but I’m going to change the metaphor—from taking a walk to soaking in a hot tub. Some might call this meditation; but because that word can scare some people away, I prefer to use the hot tub image: we soak in the Word (the Bible) so that we can soak the Word in.

Soaking in the Word means sitting quietly with a short passage for a long time. Maybe it’s a dozen verses; maybe only one or two. Read it. Read it again. Read it aloud. Read it in different translations.

Then sit quietly. Does one word or thought penetrate your mind? Look again at the text and find that word or phrase. Turn it over in your mind. Chew on it, as it were.

Read the passage again, slowly. What’s happening in your heart? …your mind? …your soul? Do the words encourage you? Do they bring refreshment or peace in the midst of chaos? Or is there a challenge in them—a behavior to change, a sin to confess, a relationship to mend? Talk with God about what you are sensing. Ask for forgiveness, courage, or strength; or say thank you for the encouragement. Praise Him for reaching into your soul.

Finally, sit quietly with God. Sometimes I imagine Jesus sitting on the couch with me, or across the table, just being quiet and enjoying each other’s company. Other times I imagine myself curling up in Abba’s—the Father’s—lap and resting my head on His shoulder. Enjoy God’s presence.


Further thoughts: I’ve been spending some time soaking in Colossians 3 over the past few weeks. It is a rich, challenging, and encouraging passage. Let’s look at the first few verses.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-3, English Standard Version)

If then: Sometimes if means, maybe you have, maybe you haven’t; and sometimes it means, since or because. That’s the sense here—Because you have been raised with Christ…. There is a confidence here, a certainty about our relationship.

So what? So, seek…[and] set your minds on things that are above, not … on the earth. It’s a matter of perspective. Am I seeking only what’s on earth—job, security, home…? What does it look like to seek what’s above—the things of God? What does He want me to seek?

Take some time today to soak in this passage. See what God does in you.

Spiritual Rhythms: Sabbath

Be still—cease striving—and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

really stop signDoing, I have found, is much easier than ceasing. We never ask, “what are you ceasing today?” It’s always, “what are you doing?” Our identities are wrapped up in the question, “what do you do for a living?” Ceasing, stopping, and resting all feel like lazy cheating.

Psalm 46 begins by expressing confidence in God in the midst of earth-shattering, mountain-moving circumstances. It goes on to speak of raging nations and tottering kingdoms. In the midst of the tumult and tempest we are told to be still—for that is precisely the time we most want to take action: to run, to flee, to fight.

These words in the psalm seem almost too gentle, though, as if a mother is gently cooing to her crying baby, “Shhh. Settle down. Everything will be all right.” But lest we underestimate the importance of ceasing, we need only look back at the Ten Commandments to understand God’s priority:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Exodus 20:8

The Hebrew word sabbath carries the sense of cease striving, put down, lay aside. What does it look like to sabbath—to cease—in a culture that values work over rest, labor over lazing, doing over not doing? I like how Pastor Eugene Peterson described the Sabbath day for he and his wife: They did nothing they had to do; it was a day of play and pray.

At the risk of overlooking the importance of a Sabbath day each week, I want to focus simply on the ceasing aspect.

Play and pray. Good advice. Not only weekly, but daily we need to stop, put aside our work, take a break, and just rest. Read a comic. Sing a song. Take a walk. Pray. Get a drink of water.

It’s a wise principle: don’t rest from work, but rather work from rest. That is, the best work flows out of a rested person; rested mentally, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It’s why weekends and vacations are important. It’s also why we need breaks in the middle of the day.

Another time we’ll look at a weekly sabbath. For now, take a break.

 

Spiritual Rhythms: Prayer

"Grace" by Eric Enstrom

“Grace” by Eric Enstrom

Two images from my childhood are seared into my mind. One is this painting-like photograph that hung over our dining room table for as long as I can remember. Little did I know then that the picture is ubiquitous, hanging in homes, churches, and even offices throughout the world. (Read its story here.)

The other image is similar, but even more life-like: it is my father, seen through the cracked-open door in his study at home, sitting at his large oak desk, bowed in prayer; or in the easy chair in the same room, Bible open on his lap; or kneeling in prayer at that chair, hands clasped under his head like the old man in the photograph.

Anyone who has grown up around church has some concept of prayer. Most Americans, in fact, undoubtedly have some concept, even if it comes more from stereotypes and Hollywood caricatures than from the devout practices of faith. Actually praying, however, is a different matter.

“Praying is simply talking with God.” Or is it? There is truth in the statement, but it is woefully inadequate and short-sighted: it reduces prayer to task and information; it shifts the focus and the power of prayer away from the relationship that God wants to have with us and puts the focus on us, on me, on the one “doing the praying.”

The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]. (James 5:16b, Amplified Bible, 1987)

But how do we pray? We begin with a heart that desires a relationship with God. Adam and Eve used to walk with God in the evening, but when they sinned, they hid…until God said, “where are you?” Those first words of grace in the Bible invited them back into the relationship that had been broken by their disobedience. And they are the words God speaks to invite us into a prayer relationship with him.

There is a place for words in prayer. There is even a place for asking—for healing (Mark 10:51), for life (2 Kings 20:1-11), even for success and prosperity (1 Chronicles 4:10). But the asking flows out of relationship. When King Hezekiah prayed for his life to be spared, he prayed, “I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart” (2 Kings 20:3, emphasis mine).

The hard work of prayer begins with relationship, focuses on relationship, and builds relationship.

Prayer, as Jesus taught his disciples, begins with recognizing the One in whose presence we stand (“Our Father in heaven”) and his character (“may your name always be kept holy”). In prayer we submit ourselves to his will (“your kingdom come, your will be done”); that’s the really hard part, because those words rarely line up with our heart.

And only when our eyes and mind and heart are truly aligned with God’s are we set free to say, “give us this day….”

There is no magic formula for prayer, but Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, this was his response:

Our Father—Daddy, Papa—in heaven, you are holy; let us keep your name holy. You reign in heaven; reign here on earth, too, even now. Do what you want to do, what is best; I willingly submit to your will. Give us today [no sooner, no later] what we need for today [no more, no less]. Forgive us our debts, our sins, our disobedience; even as we forgive those who owe us, have wronged us, have hurt us. Don’t lead us into temptation [Jesus already went there for us], but deliver us from evil and the evil one. Amen. [Which simply means, “I agree”—it isn’t just a period at the end of a sentence, it is a word of submission to God’s will. Use it well!]