WORSHIP AND HUNGER FOR THE BREAD OF HEAVEN

bread-of-life11 This year I gave up bread for Lent. Hang on, I will eventually bring this back around to consider our worship and worship singing.

As a lifelong Southern Baptist we often joked that for Baptists we thought Lent was residue from a cloth napkin that showed up on your dark trousers, or something that got stuck in your belly button that was hard to get out, and of course the joke was a play on the common sound of the words, “Lent” and “lint.” Jokes aside, I believe there is value in following the rhythms of the Christian year; if not as a church family, at least as a nuclear family and/or as an individual believer. It is good as a spiritual discipline that places us in concert with Christians around the globe who recognize the seasons that call our attention to events in the life of Jesus. This is certainly not to say we do not ponder these events in Jesus’ life and ministry at other times during the year, but similar to the sensitivity someone gains when visiting a physical location where reportedly acts of Jesus took place, so can be the impact when we set aside seasons like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost for worshipful reflection on events associated with these seasons. As Robert Webber says, “the Christian year orders our personal spiritual life into the saving events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; it is not a mere ritual.”[1]

For several years I have been engaging in the practice of giving something up for Lent. Through readings and helpful instruction I have embraced the practice and found it to serve as a time of deep spiritual examination. Psalms resonate in my spirit through this season, especially Psalm 139, which begins “O Lord, You have searched me and known me!” Some may ask what this time of reflection has to do with giving up something during this season. The practice serves as a fast, and like any fast becomes a means of reminding us of our humanity, our dependence upon God, and urges our identification with Jesus. In self-examination under the all-knowing scrutiny of the Spirit’s revelation we become freshly mindful of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. Confronted with our “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” humanity, we are reminded that salvation is an ongoing spiritual reality in our lives, “I was saved, I am being saved, and I shall be saved.” (Doesn’t get much more Baptist than that). It is in that “I am being saved” phase in the present that I am also prompted to consider the hymnwriter’s lyrics, “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” My prayer joins Robert Robinson’s last phrase afresh, “Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it! Seal it for Thy courts above.”

So each year during the Lenten season I have found some spiritual association with the thing that I have set aside for these weeks. That is to say the Lord seems to draw my attention to spiritual truth through the pangs of yearning associated with whatever it is I have given up. This year I decided I would abstain from bread for Lent. With the exception of Sundays, when the fast is broken, I determined to resist bread all other days of the week. Early in Lent I attended a handbell festival (not on Sunday) in a church that was hosting a hospitality meal following a memorial service for a family. The hallways were filled with the luscious aroma of bread baking in the church kitchen. Everyone who walked through spoke about how good it smelled. I love bread, and found myself nearly drooling at this smell, but I was also moved by the connection this made for me of the goodness of the Lord. I think it not egoistic that for me it spoke of His presence in this season. As the season has progressed I have continued to take acute notice of how often bread is placed before me. Logan’s, O’Charley’s, Outback, and Longhorn all have warm bread served to the table first thing after drinks have come. In each instance I find my mind repeating, “Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life.”

While Lent and worship are intrinsically connected, I recognize not all evangelicals are attuned to that kind of spirituality and practice. For those who facilitate gathered worship, however, I believe subjecting of ourselves to disciplined seasons of silence, prayer and fasting, and time in the Word, are crucial not only to our own spiritual health, but to the congregations we lead and serve. Themes and truths that the Spirit brings to our attention in God’s Word and in our surroundings through such times of self-examination, humbled submission, and renewed commitment yield good fruit for the work of ministry related to worship.

In a season of giving up bread I have been called anew to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” I sense an urgency and unction to aid churches in rediscovering their prayer song cried out to the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life. Some will find the cry through Fred Hammonds’ Bread of Life, others through John P. Kee’s Bread of Life, and others in the old Gospel testimony song, Fill My Cup as seen on Gaithers’ homecoming videos and sung thousands of times in services of revival and renewal calling out “Bread of Heaven, feed me ‘til I want no more. Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.” Perhaps the most sung, given its hymn lyrics composition in 1772, later joined to the great CWM RHONDDA tune composed around 1907, following the Welsh Revivals is Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, and the line by which it is well known, “Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, feed me ‘til I want no more. Feed me ‘til I want no more.” In John 6:35 Jesus told the crowd, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Just as He assured the woman at the well in John 4, He is all we need! As we journey to the cross in this season, may we help our congregations to make the connections of the Bread of Heaven, the Body of Christ broken for you, and thankful hearts engaged in offering praise in response at His Table.

[1] Robert Webber Webber on Worship: Volume 1

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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