A few weeks ago my pastor preached from John 6 where Jesus warns the people, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” This just after the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men with only five loaves and two fish; the people then seeking after Jesus not because they saw signs, Jesus reveals in verse 26, but because they ate their fill of the loaves.
In other words, they wanted Him because He filled their stomachs. They wanted Him for what He could do for them. It was self gratification they sought, their best life now. In response (and in stark contrast), Jesus commands the self denying work of faith and belief in Him who God has sent. As my pastor said, Jesus is far more interested in the soul than the belly.
It’s a little tempting for me to read of this incident and sort of pat myself on the back because, well, unlike those stubborn Jews, I do believe in Jesus.
Or do I?
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus says not to labor for food that perishes when food is one of our most basic needs? What then do we labor for? I have to confess to you, I don’t labor for food per se (hello? I’m a stay at home mom and thus unemployed) but I do labor for many things that will perish in light of eternity, temporal things, things unimportant when one considers heaven and hell, life and death.
It’s not laboring in terms of earning a wage, but I think of the labor that is reflected in the things I pray for. Often what I ask for is indeed my best life now–ease, comfort, relief, success, accomplishment. I do not always thank God for my trials but instead beg for escape! I pray for blessing and favor, forgetting that often they come through difficulty and struggle. Even when interceding for my children, too often I ask in terms of this world–for good friends and good grades for example.
I think too of the things I want and the things I worry about (and how often those two are interrelated). How much labor is spent on wanting, wishing, and worrying! The other morning when I awoke, I did so with a heavy weight of self pity. I was comparing myself to another, always a sure recipe for discontent, and as a result I was pouty and frustrated and sure that the Lord had somehow shortchanged me.
Poor, pititful me.
I was wishing for that which perishes. I compared my circumstances with someone else’s, decided hers was the better of the two, and let the bitterness wash over me.
How tempting to think this life is all about me, me, me! The gospel? Surely it’s about having everything I could ever want: Food for my belly! Relief! Comfort! Accomplishment! What is it you want, Lisa? Name it and claim it!
We so want it to be about us. It’s not. We want to think that Jesus is thinking of us above all. Instead, Jesus says for us to take up our cross, to lose our life, to die. Think of it. The cross, the instrument of torture and death. Not just any death, but a cruel, unimaginably horrible death. That’s the picture of following Jesus. Count the cost, He commands even as He invites us to follow. Forget the food that perishes. Die to it. Believe in Him, the One the Father sent.
Aren’t there blessings? Yes indeed. He Himself is the Bread of Life and He Himself fills our every need and our every desire. But knowing this satisfaction–the satisfaction we only find in Him–comes when we say with Paul: I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ…