There is a tiny Italian bar and restaurant in Lancaster, PA called Valentino’s. To say that their generation-spanning secret spaghetti sauce recipe is comparable to Feast-of-the-Lamb fare is only a slight exaggeration. And complemented perfectly to this plate of wonders is a red plastic basket full of impossibly fresh, soft yet perfectly crusted, secret sauce absorbing bread. Oh, how I love bread!
Bread was a staple in Bible times, and is used iconically and metaphorically throughout God’s word. In Judges 7:13, God uses barley bread to picture Gideon and his 300 men destroying the camp of Midian. Jesus uses the imagery of leavened bread to typify the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6). He also likens bread to the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 6:32) and refers to himself as the bread of life (John 6:35). Bread is, of course, used to symbolize Christ’s broken body in communion (1 Corinthians 11:24).
In Matthew 7:9, Jesus encourages his followers toward prayer by posing the question, “…which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?”. When I think of this verse, I picture God lovingly (and with great indulgence) handing me a warm, squishy loaf of Valentino’s white Italian bread. And sometimes, that is just what he does.
But what if God chooses to give me whole wheat bread? Or worse, gluten free? There is another image of bread which God uses in his word, that sometimes causes me to pause with apprehension before I pray and ask, and that is the bread of adversity (Isaiah 30:20). I know that everything God gives me is good. But it doesn’t always taste good. Like white bread, which appeals to me while I am eating it, temporal comforts may only provide temporary satisfaction. Whole wheat bread may not appeal to my taste buds, but over time I reap the benefits of it in the form of more energy and a slimmer waistline. It’s hard for me to swallow, but in the end it’s what’s best. So it is with God’s provision of adversity. It’s hard going down, but for the Christian, it reaps benefits in our Christian character, driving us further in our sanctification.
In Isaiah 30:20-22, God explains, "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes will see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." These words are just so beautiful! Our eyes will see our Teacher. Our spiritual ears will hear his voice behind us, encouraging us on. When Isaiah was given these words, Israel was, once again, in full rebellion. They had relied on Egypt instead of the Lord for safety, despite the Lord’s assurances that they only need to be quiet and trust (v.30:15), and that he would be gracious and just if only they would wait (v.30:18). So they were given the “bread of adversity and the water of affliction” to drive them back to their rightful King.
God gives us the bread of adversity in order to sanctify us. The Bible reminds us that we are given adversity in the form of discipline so that we may share in Christ’s holiness and “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:7-11). We are refined in adversity, and made more and more like Christ. C.S. Lewis, in his magnificent book Mere Christianity writes,
Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.
Often, because of the grave condition of our souls, becoming little Christs can only be achieved through the consumption of the bread of adversity.
God gives us the bread of adversity to combat pride. “Before destruction a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12). Humility is pleasing to God. We are told that Christ humbled himself “even unto death,” and that we are to follow his example (Philippians 2:3-11). Pride keeps us from God, and when we are counted as his children, he will give us whatever we need to kill the pride that lurks in our hearts.
God gives us the bread of adversity so that we can be relatable and help others. The most meaningful ministry comes from those who have lived out what they are preaching. If I write to edify and encourage, I will only write from what I have learned through my own experience. I have seen God clearest in the lowest points of my life. And what I know to be true is that he is faithful, he loves me, and he will always draw me to him when I go to him. I take joy in helping others to see the sufficiency of Christ when they are walking through adversity.
Even Christ lowered himself to our own experience in order for us to be able to relate to him. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). The Bread of Life ate the bread of adversity so that we could break bread with him in eternity!
John Piper goes a bit further than my little bread metaphor. In his poem, The Stone and the Snake, Piper contends that if we ask for bread, but our need is for a stone or a snake, God will provide for the need, not the request.
If you should need an anchor for your boat,But, lured by hunger, ask for bread,I’ll mark your need, and lest you seaward float,Give you a heavy stone instead.Or if you need to drain a viper’s fang,A healing antidote to make,But ask for useless fish to ease the pang,I will discern, and give the snake.