Daily Bread. We can jump-start our spiritual formation by being transformed, daily, from spiritually hungry to spiritually nourished. A piece of bread can be our simple reminder that Jesus, the Bread of Life, faithfully supplies what we need for this basic transformation. The potency of the following spiritual ‘practice’ is real, remarkable and restorative for our souls.
Natural Hunger. I awaken each morning and typically address my hunger with some form of bread. This tradition stems from my childhood days. My paternal grandfather, Anthony Andres, was a baker. We called him Jajo and he was a Polish immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania and founded the Andres Bakery in 1921. Best known for rye, pumpernickel and French bread, the bakery was family operated for 53 years. I especially enjoyed toasting his dark rye and I continue to compare any rye I try with Jajo’s.
Unsatisfied. Jajo’s life was consumed by the long hours and demanding labor of bakery work. He passed away when I was eight years old and I hardly knew the man. Two of his sons continued the baking tradition but my father chose a different vocation. Dad did not like bakery work and found the on-going family tensions within the bakery very distasteful – the human relationships were, at times, sifted like flour. Dad directed me, during my teen years, to not work the bakery as a summer job. That small family business struggled to compete with the large, commercial bakeries and eventually the Andres ovens and lights were turned off forever. I regret never really knowing Jajo and never learning the artisan skills which were passed on to others – these are hungers which remain unsatisfied.
Spiritual Hunger. I had a poorly developed awareness of my spiritual hunger during the early years of following Jesus. Initially I felt the need simply to be saved from my foolish sins and to gain some sense of eternal security. Later I began to realize my appetite for an expanding variety of God’s goodness and blessings. At times I am confused with the complexities of the many hungers, desires and needs within my soul – some superficial, some surprisingly deep, many intermingled with sinful, self-centered desires. The work of sorting out the good the bad and the ugly and the process of becoming more like Christ seems slow and haphazard.
Initially the more I read about soul restoration and transformation, the more complex it seemed to become. The Holy Spirit is working to purify and enlarge my heart (Psm. 119:32), He is tending to my wounds and peeling off layers of the ‘onion skin’ which cloak and choke the righteous desires God gives me. Within the heart, He is strengthening, maturing and integrating my various human capacities (see 2/4/17 post), working to create in me an undivided heart (Psm. 86:11) - the work which Curt Thompson, M.D. calls “differentiation” (Anatomy of The Soul, Tyndale, 2010). I want transformation, need on-going healing, yearn for growth and maturation. I need God’s desires to become my desires and these right desires to drive my will. But it is so easy to ignore God’s invitations for restoration and allow myself to stagnate, leading to de-formation. When I do choose to sit at the table God has prepared for me, I wonder where to begin? Which needed transformation should I ask for, first and foremost? At times I am bewildered and overwhelmed with it all. But I am learning to …
Behold the Bread of Life. Reading John’s gospel I became transfixed on Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). Jesus’ personally chosen title, this tasty metaphor, this intriguing reality of His identity resonates within me in a new way. Like an awe-struck child I find in this ‘I am’ saying a previously unperceived concreteness. As I chew on His words I find clarity about both my need and His provision. My deepest need is for spiritual food. I hunger most for God – to know Him, experience Him, follow Him, become like His Son, Jesus. And Jesus joyfully supplies Himself as the bread of life which feeds my deepest need. I am now aware that the transformation I most need, every day, is the transformation from being spiritually hungry to spiritually nourished. Is this the most essential transformation, the one which precedes and prepares us for the other needed transformations?
Paul's Beholding. Apostle Paul revealed a discipline which opens our hearts to transformation. He chose an archaic sounding verb – behold – which draws special attention to a potent spiritual practice we call ‘beholding is becoming.’ He explained it this way:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV)
‘Beholding’ means to observe closely, to contemplate, to gaze upon and deeply consider; to examine, absorb and appreciate the significance of what is seen; to allow what is seen to penetrate and disrupt and motivate and influence us.
We become more like Christ by beholding His revealed glory. ‘Glory’ (doxa) refers to “the revelation of the character and the presence of God in the person and work of Jesus. [Glory] is shown in His deeds, in His disciples, and above all in Jesus.” (New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed.)
To the extent we see Jesus and see glimpses of His glory, we will be transformed, changed, further sanctified. We can expect to be transformed in ways which make us more like the One we are contemplating – Jesus. This can happen when we behold His glory in… 1) the written Word, 2) when we gaze at Christ within our hearts, and 3) when we glimpse Christ, outwardly, in others. Here’s some help:
1) “When we look at Christ as seen in the stories of his life, he looks back at us. His glance may challenge us as it did the rich young ruler, or judge us as it did the hard-hearted opponents of Sabbath healings… Saul’s sight of Christ on the Damascus Road destroyed a persecutor and created an apostle. Beholding Christ allows his image to implant, grow, develop and mature within.” (Kim Coleman Healy, From Beholding To Becoming, Brazos Press, 2004)
2) “…as we develop an inward gaze on Jesus Christ, give our attention to him, relax in his presence, and rejoice in his company, we will increasingly resemble the One upon whom we focus.” (Joel Warne, Soul Craving, Standard Publishing, 2007)
3) “When we see God in another person, whether in their actions, words or quiet spirit, a pure freshness touches our hearts. Sanctification and transformation come from beholding – not from striving! I jumped through every religious hoop I could find but it wasn’t until I began to behold that my heart was transformed.” (Mike Bickle, Passion For Jesus, Creation House, 1993)
Daily Bread, Daily Transformation. When I am attentive to it, I am reminded of Jesus the Bread of Life as I look upon a loaf of rye, pumpernickel or some other bread. Each morning I attempt to awaken to my deep spiritual hunger, allowing Jesus’ words and the yeast of God’s presence (the Holy Spirit) to rise and satisfy me, transforming my soul from spiritually hungry to spiritually nourished.
Practice. Let a loaf of bread be a reminder to you of God’s daily provision. Ask to receive glimpses of His glory in the Word, behold Him in your heart, contemplate His beauty in the life of others and in nature. Allow Him to transform you from spiritually hungry to spiritually nourished. He is the living bread which has come down from heaven and He’s already broken Himself open for you.