Read John 6:24-35.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal. (John 6:25-27)

Jesus performs a miracle in feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. Yet when the people look for him and track him down the next day, he corrects them, as though to say, “you’re doing it wrong. You are too focused on the physical. You see only the bread. You should shift your focus and see the spiritual truth behind the bread. It is this that you should be seeking, not the other.”

When you go to a worship service to hear an uplifting message and to sing songs and to be filled with good feelings, are you not seeking earthly bread? You should wean yourself from the desire for that bread and seek instead to love God in the company of saints and angels.

When you pray, and you look for some sense that God is present, and you desire some feeling or knowledge or experience, are you not seeking earthly bread? You should wean yourself from the desire for that bread and seek instead the emptiness that leaves room for God himself.

When you serve, and you enjoy a sense that you are doing a good thing, and you look for gratitude from those you serve, are you not seeking earthly bread? Do not work for the food that perishes—it will leave you hungry again soon. Don’t just give of yourself—give yourself.

When you are dry, and you cannot pray, and you give up trying, is that not proof that you are seeking earthly bread? The bread that is eternal is still and small and quiet. You must give up your desire for whatever it is that you desire and instead desire God in peace.

(Peace and desire? How can they coexist? And yet they must: they coexist in faith, and hope, and love.)

The bread of heaven is delicate. Its savor is drowned out by rich meat and loud spices.

The bread of heaven is fleeting. You cannot store it up in a jar. Grasp it and it will slip through your fingers.

The bread of heaven is elusive. It comes to you by unseen, unknown means. You cannot cultivate it. You gather it each morning.

When you are free of possessiveness, then you possess all.

When you are free of self-respect, you will have God’s respect.

When you are free of selfish desires, then you will be filled with God’s desires.

Jesus’ gift of bread and fish is good. It is necessary to feed the crowd. It is right that they should enjoy it. But they should not become attached to the bread—they should follow Jesus for his teaching, for his example, for the seal of the Father upon him.

Desire the bread of heaven, for it is the Word of God.

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and