Congress is back in session. How much faith do you have in their performance? Only seven percent of Americans say they have confidence in the institution. Confidence is also at historic lows in TV news (18 percent), newspapers (22 percent), public schools (26 percent), the Supreme Court (30 percent), and organized religion (45 percent).
Two days after the 14th anniversary of 9/11, one psychoanalyst said, “Beneath everything there’s a profound malaise about life and uncertainty about the future, because now we’ve opened up a new dimension that reverses the natural sequence of how things have always been.”
Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen: “The great danger of the turmoil of the time in which we live is losing our souls. Losing our souls means losing touch with our center, our true call in life, our mission, our spiritual task. Losing our soul means becoming so distracted by and preoccupied with all that is happening around us that we end up fragmented, confused, and erratic.”
Our lives are busier and more stressed than ever. We worry about terrorism, the economy, the elections, the very future of our nation. In the midst of such pressure, how do we keep our souls? By drawing closer to only One who gives life the meaning we seek. We were made for intimacy with God. From the Garden of Eden to today, the Lord intends us for relationship with himself. When we draw away from God, we draw away from the Power that gives us purpose and joy.
Why we need intimacy with Jesus
So consider Jesus’ statement: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). “Shall not” and “shall never” use double negatives in the Greek, literally “no shall not ever.” Our Lord repeats the statement twice more: verse 48, 51.
Jesus is clearly speaking of spiritual hunger and thirst, not physical needs. He himself sought water at the Samaritan well (John 4) and cried out in thirst from the cross. In our text he offers the spiritual sustenance our souls so desperately need.
This is not the only time Jesus made such a promise:
- With the Samaritan woman at the well, “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life'” (John 4:13-14).
- In Jerusalem, “On the last day of the feast [of Booths], the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (John 7:37-39).
These statements were clear claims to be Messiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1). Earlier the prophet said that when Messiah comes, “they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them” (Isaiah 49:10).
And they speak to the deepest needs of the human soul: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2). Pascal noted that there is a “God-shaped emptiness” in each soul. St. Augustine testified, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” We were made for intimacy with our Father. He is the Power on which we were designed to depend, the food and water our souls need.
So, how can we experience the “bread of life” each day?
Begin the day by connecting with your Lord. You charge your phone before using it; you put fuel in your car before driving it. Spend time reading God’s word, knowing that the Bible is “God preaching.” Take time to praise and thank him for his goodness to you. Confess any sins his Spirit brings to mind. Pray through your day, committing your plans to his providence.
Stay connected through the day. Pray about challenges and opportunities as they arise. Ask for his direction with decisions, his strength with temptations, his forgiveness and restoration with failures. Practice the presence of Jesus. Stay close to your Lord. Scripture calls us to “seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psalm 105:4). Take the Source of your soul with you. Practice the presence of Jesus.
Expect opposition from your enemy
But there’s a catch: our souls have an enemy. British minister Samuel Chadwick observed that “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.” Since Satan so hates prayer, we can expect him to do all he can to keep us from continued intimacy with our Father. In my experience, he employs four primary strategies.
Satan tries to convince me that I don’t need more of God than I have. The enemy wants prayer to be a morning chore, not continued communion with the King of the universe.
A wise elderly Bible teacher at my last church told one of our staff members: “Our problem is that we have all of Jesus we want. Not all of Jesus we need, but all we want.” It’s easy to fall into a transactional relationship with God. Begin the day with a “quiet time” so he will bless your day. Pray when you need something. Do what he wants so he’ll do what you want.
But our Father wants nothing less than to mold us into the character of his Son (Romans 8:29). He does that best when we are in his very presence. Right now we’re talking about God; in prayer we talk to him. Right now I’m teaching his word; when we study Scripture for ourselves, the One who wrote the Bible teaches us. If you think you have all of Jesus you need, you of all people are most wrong.
Two: Internal Distractions.
As I set aside time to pray, tasks suddenly come to mind. People and problems begin to crowd my thoughts. I have learned to keep a pad and pen nearby, so I can write down these distractions and focus on my Father.
Three: External Interruptions.
When I begin to pray, it’s amazing how often the phone rings or people knock at the door. That’s why we need to arrange for uninterrupted time with our Father—an early morning walk, a closet with no technology, a day in solitude.
Four: The Pressure of Busyness.
Charles Hummel’s classic booklet, Tyranny of the Urgent, notes that the urgent and the important are seldom the same. What seems urgent seldom is. And we must refuse the urgent if we would do the important.
It is the same with prayer. The busier we are, the more we need God’s strength. I can pick up a book by myself, but I need help to move a bookcase. The more you have to do, the more you need time with the One who can empower you to do it.
Martin Luther translated the entire Bible into German, wrote hymns we still sing today, and sparked the Protestant Reformation. He once said, “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Jesus is “the bread of life.” However, bread must be eaten to be effective. Reading about it, discussing it, even believing in it—these are no substitute for experiencing it. Your soul needs spiritual bread as much as your body needs physical bread.
A newly-hired lumberjack cut down more trees on his first day than anyone else in the camp. The next day, he fell behind the others. By the third day, his production was so low the foreman asked for an explanation. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I’m working as hard as ever.” With a flash of insight, the foreman asked, “When last did you sharpen your axe?” “Sharpen my axe?” the lumberjack replied. “I don’t have time to sharpen my axe.”
How sharp is yours?
NOTE: For a shorter version of this message, see the Cultural Commentary entitled Meet ‘the secret Christians of Brooklyn’.