God, Bread, and Prayer
“Remember God more often then you breathe” ~ St. Gregory of Nazianzus
I. A host of 4,000 followed Christ to the desert.
They were hungry. They had walked through the wilderness for three days and had nothing to eat. Seeing their hunger, God had compassion. He took seven loafs, blessed and distributed them. Before their eyes, the loafs multiplied and fed every man and woman in the crowd.
They were hungry. They followed Christ. He gave them bread.
II. Let’s talk about bread.
When we say the “Our Father” we ask God to give us “our daily bread.” This image of bread is found throughout the Scriptures.
When the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years on their way to Jerusalem, God fed them with manna. “He rained down manna upon them to eat…the bread of angels” (Psalm 78:24) and “It was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey” (Ex 16:31). When Elijah was starved an angel came and fed him with cakes of bread. I was humored, the other day, when I did a search of proverbs on bread. The Russians say, “Without a bit of bread even a palace is sad, with it a pine-tree is paradise.” But the Swiss go straight to the point, “Avoid people who don’t like bread.”
One day, while I was in seminary, I came across a bakery with a sign out saying, “Free samples.” Of course, being a hungry and cheap student, I couldn’t resist. So I stepped inside. The smell was enough. I was addicted, and after a few samples walked out, $20 poorer, with bags full of rich bread. The sign was a trick and I was naïve enough to think I could walk into a bakery, smell the yeast and flour, and not spend money. There is nothing quite like fresh bread.
III. We cannot underestimate the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He tells us: “I am the bread of life.”
The manna that fed the Israelites, the cake that fed Elijah, the bread that Jesus fed the multitude, as well as the bread that our mother, or spouse, or local bakery bakes, is merely a foreshadowing of the Bread that is Jesus Christ.
“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). “This is the bread,” He tells us, “which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (Jn. 6:50).
The life in Christ, which we enter into as Christians, is a life of eating bread – the bread that is Jesus Christ.
Of course, first and foremost, this is culminated in the Holy Eucharist. When we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, St. Paul teaches, we become one with God in a way both intimate and life changing. But it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to just come to church and take the sacrament. It isn’t enough to do the ritual, no matter how divine that ritual is.
We must feed on the Bread of Jesus Christ daily in our hearts. We feed on Him in prayer.
IV. Christ told Peter to: "Launch out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke
That commandment applies to us too, in our prayer life.
As a young dad, I find myself wondering how to raise my kids. What priorities will I teach them? Sports, dance classes, grades, top colleges, successful careers…I hear a lot of talk about these. But I don’t hear many parents saying, “my greatest dream for my child is that he learns to love prayer…that he spends his whole life striving to dive deeper into that prayer.” Yet, isn’t that my primary duty as a parent?
In our own lives, in the bustle of a career or in retirement, are we concerned about our prayer life? Does the call to pray drive our lifestyles? Do we start with prayer at the top of the list, and build our schedules around it? Or do we arrange our ‘To Do List’ and then try to squeeze in a little prayer when convenient? Do I sound like a fanatic? Should we even be concerned about prayer?
Imagine a loaf of your favorite bread, hot and fresh. Christ promises us a loaf more savory and satisfying then any loaf on earth. Yet, we Christians taste a couple crumbs, lick our lips, and walk away. Christ offers us the whole loaf and every bite is richer then the bite before.
V. What is prayer?
You might say, “Prayer is a conversation.” It is that, but it is also so much more.
Prayer is where we meet God in the sanctuary of our heart. Prayer is the act of breathing in God and, as we breathe, letting his breath fill our thoughts, dreams, concerns, and the core of who we are.
In a letter to a disciple, St. Theophan wrote, "Prayer is the test of everything; prayer is also the source of everything; prayer is the driving force of everything; prayer is also the director of everything. If prayer is right, everything is right. For prayer will not allow anything to go wrong."
If we can learn to pray, then we will have everything.
But there’s a problem. We don’t understand prayer. We think prayer is about asking for things: ‘give me this’ or ‘give me that,’ and ‘Good Lord don’t take this away.’ We should pray this way, so long as we desire God’s will first and foremost. But this sort of prayer is merely the crust of the loaf. The purpose of prayer is to connect, in adoration and surrender, to God.
The Psalter instructs: “Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still” (4:4), “Be still and know that I am God” (46:10).
We can think of prayer like the act of eating a loaf of bread.
VI. Savor the taste.
In the Benedictine tradition, the monks pray their psalms very slowly.
When I first heard a monk praying this way I found myself falling to sleep. But as I’ve committed to praying in this manner myself, I’ve found it has changed my life. We need to cherish every word that we pray. Each prayer that we make should be intimate and personal. It isn’t easy and we have to be humble. It is okay to be a beginner because we all are beginners. I once lead a study group on Anthony Bloom’s book, “Beginning to Pray,” and was humored when a friend said, “I didn’t read the book. I’m not a beginner because I’ve been praying my whole life.” The whole point of the title is to remind us that we are indeed beginners. If nothing else, the struggle to pray can teach us humility. But it is in the trying that we learn. This is our work.
VII. All of us have time to pray.
While washing dishes, while driving to work, or going out to get the mail, we can pray slowly and earnestly, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Jesus Christ is the heavenly bread, sweeter and more wholesome then the freshest loaf from the finest bakery. Taste and see that He is good.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.