This prayer gives hope in the midst of trials but held up against a picture of the world’s neediness it might not seem to make sense. After all, starvation and exposure still kill countless people daily.
People die from disease, injury, or natural disaster. Marriages break up and mental illness is prolific. God seems silent in our hour of need, but is he?
How Jesus Met Bodily Needs
Jesus would often feed and heal people before giving his message of forgiveness. “The feeding of the 5,000 precedes Jesus’ discourse on being the living Bread.” Stephen J. Cole wrote that “there were about 20,000 people out in a remote place” and many of them were sick or injured.
Jesus knew “they were following Him because they ate their fill of the bread,” which was their immediate, real physical need. While he fed their earthly hunger, the crowd was pleased to follow Jesus.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness” (Micah 6:8). Poverty and disability are real problems that God wants his people to meet. Jesus does not gloss those over. By his Holy Spirit, participants in the early church distributed resources to the poor.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:34-35).
The early church overcame a complex problem: Selecting the right stewards for our resources to ensure they reach those who need them. The apostles stewarded supplies and were motivated by their obedience to God to distribute them where they were lacking.
Members of the early church believed in sharing with one another and feeding the poor with what remained. Greed and mismanagement hamper those efforts on a wider scale, but personally, Christians are still called to represent Jesus by meeting any immediate physical challenges they become aware of if they can.
Need Vs. Materialism
Jesus and the disciples had few possessions, and no home to call their own. They traveled without carrying food and could not rely on the wages from steady jobs. God is sympathetic to those with real, worldly needs, but we easily succumb to envy. Privileged First World consumers seek more than daily bread, and Jesus spoke against this.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
Scripture warns that the extras will not make you happy. They are fine to have but should not be objects to cherish.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for [Jesus] has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Before one argues that God is not meeting his or her needs, it is important to ask, “Is this a need or a want?”
Needing God More
Philippians 4:19 was written from a prison cell. Paul realized that Jesus does not rescue us by changing our circumstances. He meets us in our circumstances, thereby giving us all we need.
The disciples were sent out with very little as a way of teaching them to rely on the Lord to provide them food, clothing, and shelter through the generosity and obedience of others.
“When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing” (Luke 22:35).
Paul “redefines for Christians the meaning of words like need and abundance. In effect, he says that the believer’s experience of either want or satisfaction is ultimately an internal rather than an external reality.” It is “a certain mental and spiritual attitude,” which leads to “contentment (Greek autarkes/autarkeia).”
The apostle is not dismissing hunger and want. “Nor is he claiming that God will protect the believer from every danger.” But he does challenge the church at Philippi to reconsider the things they worry about. They can place their trust in God — he has proven this to be true over and over in the scriptures.
One way of overcoming anxiety about the future is to set one’s mind on Christ and to rejoice in the fullness of Christ dwelling in them. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:5-6).
Felt Needs Vs. Spiritual Needs
Yearnings are powerful. We strongly desire power, notoriety, a spouse, significance; to feel needed, to be taken care of, to have kids, and so on. We suffer under the weight of pain-filled longings, and God grieves with the infertile, the single, the emotionally abandoned, or the abused.
But our greatest need has already been met: Forgiveness from and reconciliation with God through Jesus. He will often provide that for which a person longs such as a baby for Sarah and Abraham, or a husband for Ruth, even if we have to wait a long time.
Accepting that we are not entitled to what we long for is difficult, even with the comfort of knowing Jesus weeps with us in our grief. God’s reasoning is a mystery. What we want may be good but becomes problematic when we worship it above God.
He told us to have no other gods before him. When we believe we could not live without something other than the Lord, we have transferred our worship to that thing.
Spiritual reward is greater, more important, than even the physical day-to-day needs of food, clothing, and shelter.
God is more important than our kids and spouse. Stephen J. Cole says of the loaves and fish episode: “They should have been focused on the food that endures to eternal life.” For the crowds who followed Jesus, “their physical hunger and their inability to satisfy that hunger pictures the spiritual needs of this sinful world.”
God is not trying to teach us a lesson by withholding something good from us. But there will always be a yearning for something. When one desire is met, another one will take its place.
This cycle leaves us feeling empty, longing for new treasures. In Christ, we have the bread of life and living water, which live in believers eternally. We are never without it.
Paul had been stoned and nearly died, was often hungry and tired. There was a thorn in his side that the Lord wouldn’t take away, but he heard the Lord say, “my grace is sufficient, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
And in Philippians 4, he explained how his faith and hope survived: By thinking about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure” (v. 8).
Another longing many of us experience is the need to be needed. We even transpose this felt need onto our relationship with God, imagining we are only good enough when we are used in his service to bring others to Christ or help the needy.
As they stared at the bread and fish, Philip “started calculating, but he calculated without Christ. He did the numbers without considering the Lord’s power.” When it comes to our desire to contribute to the needs of others, “how often we throw up our hands and conclude that we can’t do something for the Lord because we calculate based on our inadequate resources!”
The Almighty does not need us to complete his work, but if he does send us, he also equips us. “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19).
Jesus demonstrates for us that our greatest desire should be to obey God. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”
We can be used without feeling the pressure of being needed and thereby rest in the fullness of God to accomplish his plans and provide for us the tools to participate as directed by the Father.
But Will God Really Meet All My Needs?
What is God’s will? Does he even want to meet my needs? After all, so many of us are suffering from some legitimate problem — ill health, injury, job loss, homelessness, and companionship to name a few.
What will God do about that? Paul’s perspective indicates that we need to change our attitude and stop acting as though God owes us something. But Jesus’ compassion also demonstrates that he is with us in the midst of suffering.
In the long run, our greatest need was fulfilled on the cross — we can reach the Father directly by prayer in Jesus’ name. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Be led by the Lord, and you will want for nothing.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Suwaree Tangbovornpichet
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.