Thursday, April 28, 2011

Daily Bread


This is the second post in a series on desire and following Jesus.

If you struggle with knowing when to say when, don’t expect your desires to be any help.  That’s not their job.  Desire is all about “more.”  That’s how we end up regretting the second piece of pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

Don’t blame your desires when you find yourself wanting something that you know is bad for you. Their job is just to want more.  Assessing health or quality or helpfulness is above their pay grade.  If you’ve ever had a hangover I need say no more.

Nothing reveals the nature of desire more clearly than standing at the refrigerator, door open, scanning the contents for something to eat.  You don’t know what you want.  You just want something.  After devouring several things you realize you didn’t want any of it.  You’re not satisfied.  You want more.

The Greek philosopher Plato argued that Reason is the natural master of desire.  Reason reins in desire by instructing the will to clamp down when the proper limits are met.  At least, that’s what happens in the perfectly ordered soul.

Luther’s response is simple.  There are no perfectly ordered souls.  In fact, we’re all upside down.  We want what we want.  Desire compels the will to action.  After we’ve done whatever we’ve done, reason comes up with a rationalization to get us off the hook. 

Only following Christ will turn us right side up.  Not because he gives us new techniques for controlling our desires or because he supercharges our wills or even because he extinguishes our errant passions.
Jesus teaches us how to get “more” right.

In The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus has plenty to say about desire.  Warning us about the destructive power of desire, Jesus tells us that it’s better to gouge out our eye or to hack off our hand than to let them become the instruments of sinful desire (Matt. 5:29-30).

Once he’s gotten our attention, he turns to a simple but powerful teaching about desire that can be easy to miss.  He teaches us how to pray what we now routinely call the Lord’s Prayer.

In the midst of that prayer we’ve all said this: Give us this day our daily bread.  (Matt. 6:11)

It’s important to understand that Jesus is teaching not only a prayer but a prayer that provides the pattern for living a life as one of his disciples. 

There’s no space here to explain the entire Lord’s Prayer as a pattern of living or to make the case that I’m right about this.  I ask that you just give me the benefit of the doubt about it and turn to this one line: Give us this day our daily.

We pray, “Give us.”  We’re asking God to provide.  Simultaneously, we’re assuming the posture of the recipient of a gift. 

Jesus is teaching us that we’ll get desire right only as we begin to believe that God is not holding out on us.  We don’t have to grab and to grasp for ourselves or go wanting.  In fact, as we’ll see in a future post, we stumble into endless wanting precisely by assuming a grasping posture.

Staying in “this day” is easier said than done.  We are prone to racing ahead in our imaginations.  Even when we have enough today, we find ourselves worrying about having enough tomorrow or next week or next year.

Jesus is not suggesting that we live for today and toss aside planning and preparation.  However, he is telling us clearly to live in today.  To race ahead in imaginary time is to turn the “more” engine into overdrive and to be dissatisfied with what God has provided this very day.

Jesus amplifies his point a little further on in his sermon.  “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Matt. 6:34)

Finally, Jesus tells us to ask for our “daily bread.”  Learn to be genuinely content with what we have today instead of focusing on the “more” that others have or that we might get for ourselves tomorrow.

It’s not a news flash that we can want things that we don’t need.  But Jesus’ point goes deeper than this.  God’s daily bread is often far more than we need or even imagined.  But our posture toward it can deprive us of the joy and peace that God intended for us when he gave it.

Sometimes we insist on a different kind of bread, or even more bread, or something in addition to the bread.  Grumbling and discontent crowd out the joy and tranquility that are God’s desire for us.

But this leads us on to another set of topics for future posts.  Desire can go terribly wrong.  We’ll look at this in the next post and discuss how Christ restores us to health even when our desires have gotten pretty sick.

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