Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (John 6:26-27)
We live in a culture centered on getting and not giving. We're consumers. What makes us happy is getting the thing we want, as quickly as we can get it. From fast food restaurants to Amazon.com, we have created a society that delivers what we need, the moment we crave it. Behind all of this, a question is lurking—one we're probably afraid to ask. In the case of fast food, we already know the answer, but the same question applies to other things we demand at a moment's notice and want so badly: Are they good for us?
In John 6, Jesus feeds thousands of people with only a small amount of bread and fish. It's a surprising miracle, at least for the reason that we might not expect God to care about whether we're hungry. Like many surprises, it's open to misinterpretation. If God is willing to fill our bellies, what else might he be willing to do for us? We can imagine any number of wrong answers to that question. Apparently, those who witnessed the miracle missed the point behind it and followed Jesus across the sea to his next stop. They were hungry and wanted a repeat performance.
We do the same thing. We turn to God when we need something and all our own efforts have failed. We might even come to believe that this is who God is—someone who makes our dreams come true. Someone who exists to make us happy. When he doesn't come through, we get frustrated and bitter. If you have the power to do anything, God, why won't you give me what I want? Some of those who followed Jesus felt that way. They began grumbling and abandoned him when he explained that what they needed wasn't food at all, but him (John 6:61, 66).
As followers of Jesus Christ, we should respond to his power and authority with our submission and trust. We should set our dreams aside and wait on God's faithfulness. That's part of what it means to believe in Jesus. Jesus expects nothing less when he tells them, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). The Greek word translated belief can also be translated trust. Jesus is saying, Trust me. I'm offering you the thing you really need. What the world offers are temporary substitutes.
It's difficult in today's world to believe that we really don't need the goods and services marketed to us, that they are not going to make us any more fulfilled, joyful, or peaceful. They can make us happy, but only briefly. What Jesus offers satisfies us and lasts. It's what we need today, what we'll need tomorrow, and all that we'll ever need.
Following Jesus doesn't always guarantee happiness. Sometimes, life is hard. But no other religion or philosophy guarantees happiness, either. The happiness out there, whatever your approach to life, is temporary. But the life that Jesus offers lasts forever. For that reason, Jesus tells them not to work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life. He's telling you the same thing. Invest your energy, time, resources, and heart in him.
This truth is what the miracle revealed: Jesus has the power to give us everything we need. Those who ate the bread and fish experienced the power of God to meet their needs. So trust me, Jesus says, because that same power will be there for you the day you leave this world. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40). The world has no answer to the greatest need of all. No amount of worldly possessions, comfort, or wealth will matter the moment you die.
In the storms of life, what you need isn't happiness but joy. You need the peace that comes from God's presence in the center of your life. You receive purpose to accomplish things that last forever. That's what Jesus offers you—the knowledge that your life matters, and that, when you need him the most, he will be there waiting for you.