Asking for Bread – and Quail
I want to suggest a couple of questions you might ask yourself today and give you a moment to think about your answers, only to yourself. Think about this past week. What is one thing you asked God for this week? You are only going to tell yourself, so be honest. I’m not talking about the small stuff, because we know God is not going to change the traffic lights if you are running late. I mean something really important that you want God to do for you.
Did you ask for a better job, or a newer car? Was it for your own health or for someone else’s? Was it for enough money to pay the bills or was it for guidance in making a donation to someone in need that touched you? Was it for safety for you and for all those you hold dear? Was it for a good night’s sleep? Importantly was it a prayer of intercession or of petition and supplication?
The words petition and supplication are defined as “a formal request addressed to a higher power.” This prayer changes things. It is based on Philippians 4:6: “Have no anxiety about anything but in everything, let your requests be known to God.”
Intercessory prayer is a request of God for someone else, not yourself. Think of how we do our Prayers of the People at each service here at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. A wonderful model of intercessory prayer is found in Daniel 9. It has all the elements of true intercessory prayer. It is in response to God’s Word, and identified unselfishly with God’s people. His prayer is strengthened by confession and dependent on God’s mercy. It has as its goal God’s glory. Like Daniel, Christians are to come to God on behalf of others in a repentant attitude, recognizing their own unworthiness and with a sense of self-denial. Daniel does not say, “I have a right to demand this out of You, God, because I am one of your special, chosen intercessors.” He says, “I’m a sinner,” and, in effect, “I do not have a right to demand anything.” True intercessory prayer seeks not only to know God’s will and see it fulfilled, but to see it fulfilled whether or not it benefits us and regardless of what it costs us. True intercessory prayer seeks God’s glory, not our own.
So as you think about what you prayed for this week, think to yourself what you saw as God’s answer. Did you get an answer? Do you think the answer might be “no,” or even, “wait awhile and we’ll see?” Might it be hard to actually see the answer? When the answer is “no” or silence as it was to Jesus when he asked that this cup might pass, then we must accept that as God’s answer. We might remember the country song about “Thank God for unanswered prayers.”
Finally, what did you do with the answer, or what you might have seen as a “no” answer? Did you repeat your prayer? Did you talk to someone whom you thought could help? Or as often happens, did you move on with life and see other needs, maybe someone else’s, that needed your prayers more urgently? Did you get mad or discouraged like Jonah in our lesson today? Mad at yourself or at God?
Our reading from Jonah this morning reminds us that too often our prayers take on the form of complaints to God. Scripture has plenty of examples of this, the Book of Job contains one example after another.
But the recurring theme is that God’s wisdom is so far beyond that of humans that we simply stand in awe of our Creator. God listens and answers our prayers in God’s own time, not in our own. If we trust in God, we will listen carefully for His answers, and we will search our own hearts for the answers He may have already planted there.
Another good example from scripture of God’s answer to prayers is the manna which the people of Israel ate in the wilderness. It was a gift of the “bread of heaven,” a direct response to their prayers for food. We Christians acknowledge Jesus as the bread of life, the bread of heaven, as we celebrate and re-live his last meal with his disciples. Jesus is our ultimate intercessor. We can pray to Jesus and be heard by our brother, our fellow traveler in the joys and sorrows of life. Jesus is our link to the everlasting life, where pain and suffering and tears are wiped away.
We have many wonderful and carefully thought out prayers in our Book of Common Prayer, but I find myself more and more using these prayers as general guides, and often adding what comes to me at the moment that fits in with what I am really praying for. I am also more conscious of just what I am praying for and increasingly it is intercession for others. As for myself, I really like the prayer of serenity that we know works so well for those in 12 step programs:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
In John:6, Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
So when we ask for bread, or anything of God, what we ask for is almost always of this world, our own manna.
But the gift we receive through Jesus Christ is forever, a life with him forever. Is that not the greatest gift; the best answer to prayer?
Should we not always remember that greatest gift when we ask for God to grant our prayers here on earth? I think that might be another clue to seeing the truth in Jesus’s statement that “the last will be first and the first will be last.”