The sun beats down on my neck. It’s blisteringly hot. Droplets of sweat bead up on my forehead, roll to the tip of my nose, and down my back. I’d look for a tree or bush to crouch beside, just to get a reprieve from this heat, but there’s no way I can get through this crowd. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of people here. A reasonable man would go home, but I’m not leaving. I have to see this guy. He’s the topic of every conversation I’ve been in over the last few days and he’s coming here! I’ve asked people around me what we’re supposed to be doing or seeing, but no one seems to know. We’re just…waiting. Eventually I hear a stirring in the front of the crowd as people begin to point and shout, “Look! A boat is coming!” My heart jumps so quickly it nearly leaves me breathless. I turn to look, hoping to catch a glimpse, and then I see him…sitting solitarily in his little boat, slowly drifting closer. I don’t know what I expected but the sight of him sitting all alone on this small fisherman’s boat touches me in a profound way. He sees all of us standing here, anxiously waiting for him. He’s a celebrity. Where’s the red carpet? Where’s the pomp and circumstance? There is none. It’s just him, and I can sense his humility.
His boat barely touches the rocky shoreline before he’s overwhelmed by the crowd. People rush to meet him, to touch him. They carry their sick children to him in their arms. They say he’s a healer. He seems to notice, to really see, every person he passes. Some receive an embrace, or a kiss. He reaches his hands out to the ones who are sick. One by one, riots of joy burst out in the crowd. The sick are being healed! Who is this guy?? I feel amazed, but at the same time I feel timid. I’d heard he was a healer, but now I’m seeing it with my own eyes. I stay towards the back of the crowd, but I keep watching. He slowly moves through the throngs of people for hours with no rest and seemingly in no hurry at all, and I can sense his compassion for people.
The sweat that has dampened my clothes now chills my body as the sun begins to set. I feel like I’ve been transported to some other world today. Things like this just don’t happen…especially in my little town, or to people like me. But the knot that’s been steadily growing in my stomach is bringing me back down to earth: hunger. I’m not the only one. What have been echoes of joy and celebration are quickly turning to griping and complaints. Most have gone all day without any food. I look up and see Jesus talking with a small group who seem to be his friends. Jesus turns and calls out to the crowd asking us to sit down. My stomach gurgles and groans as I fold my legs beneath me on the ground and I strain to see what is taking place in front of me. I see Jesus with a basket of food, a small basket. It doesn’t bother me much. If anyone deserves to eat, it’s him. But instead of taking his basket and eating, he raises his basket into the sky, speaks what seems to be a prayer, and then hands the food to his friends. They begin walking through the crowd, breaking bread from the large loaves and handing it to each person they pass. Now I begin to feel angry; so the ones closest to Jesus are going to get to eat, and I’m stuck walking home on an empty stomach. Then something else grabs my attention: these friends of Jesus, they’re still handing out bread. I watch in amazement as they slowly make their way through the thousands of people. I can’t believe it, can this really be happening? I’ve seen the joyous cries of people all day that were being healed, but somehow this seems even crazier! Before long, two of his friends are standing right in front of me- one offering me bread, and the other, fish. I look up, still struggling to believe this is happening and with tears in my eyes, take the food and thank the men. As they walk past me I hold the food in front of me and notice that the knot in my stomach is gone. It’s as if I have just eaten a huge meal. I haven’t touched the food, but I feel completely full. I put down the food, bury my face in my hands, and weep with the sense of his love for me. –
If you’re wondering, no, I’m not working on a novel or, for those that recognize the story above, I’m not attempting to rewrite a sacred story from scripture. This was written from my time in prayer today while reading the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 in Matthew 14. If this sounds odd, allow me to explain-
If you’re like me, it’s easy to go through our days in auto-pilot. For many, we slip out of bed and into our daily grind without giving it much thought. It’s just what we do, and for some, it’s all we know to do. The same can be said for our spiritual lives, especially in our approach to time spent with God in prayer or reading scripture. This was my experience for years, and to be honest, the way I prayed and read my bible (the only way I’d been taught to) had begun to feel more like a dry desert than an oasis of God’s presence. As I shared these frustrating experiences in my faith with some very trusted friends, all further along in their journeys than I, they began to introduce me into world of time-tested, and life-giving, ways of prayer and meditating on scripture, known as spiritual exercises. One of these “new” (it’s actually quite old…17th century to be precise) ways of praying is called Imaginative Prayer. It was from practicing this exercise today that I wrote the above.
In imaginative prayer, we aren’t looking for deep theological truths from the passage or even putting it into the context of “bible study.” Instead, we are letting ourselves be immersed in the story itself. To make this exercise, first we look at a story from scripture (parables and stories of the works of Jesus are great places to start) and read it slowly. As you read through it, see if a particular character stands out to you. It could be one of the disciples, a Pharisee, a by-stander, someone being healed or touched by Jesus and so on. Now, with this character in your mind, read the story again. What do you notice? Pay attention to the sights, sounds, the temperature in the air. What do you smell? What are you wearing? Where are you standing? Now ,with the setting in your mind, read the story again, slowly. Close your eyes and see the scene unfold. Let your imagination take flight. How do you feel as you hear Jesus speaking or see him performing a miracle? How do you respond as he moves closer to you? Do you draw closer to him, or want to withdraw? Do you engage him or stand at a distance? After you’ve spent some time in the scene, open your eyes and write down what you experienced. Once you’re through writing, begin to speak to God and ask Him if there’s anything He wants to show you. Ask Him what He’s inviting you to see, both about you, and about Himself.
I hope this can be a life-giving pathway into prayer and intimacy with Jesus for you, as it has been for me.
If you want to read more about this form of prayer check out: