In Psalm 73, we find the Psalmist wrestling through the burdens of life with amazing candor. Trying to understand why the arrogant and wicked seemed to have everything going for them, the Psalmist confesses the temptation to give up and/or follow their ways. We’re told that all of it seemed like a “wearisome task” (16), until the Psalmist drew close to the Lord in “the sanctuary of God” (17). We then have the following passage (23-26):
“I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
The Psalmist arrives at a place of peace through this declaration:”There is nothing I desire more than you, God. You are my portion forever.”
The word choice of portion is an interesting one. A portion is a piece of something, specifically the piece one is allotted or needs in a given moment. Think of the portions that make up our meals throughout the day. To think of God as our portion then, is to think of him as the source of our sustenance and satisfaction in any given time.
There is a beautiful, tangible picture of this in Exodus 16 where we read of God providing bread for his people (whiny, rebellious people) in the desert when they were faint with hunger. One of the key details to that story is that the bread, known as manna, wasn’t just provided in a one time distribution. God didn’t say, “I made a huge warehouse that has enough bread for 40 years, just tap into it when you want.” Instead, the bread only lasted a day. Then, each morning, new bread was provided. Think of how this would have shaped the people; they had to get their heads and hearts to the place where they trusted that God’s generosity would continue, and that when they woke each morning his provision would be there in fresh supply.
Finding our Portion in Prayer
Of course humankind does not find life in physical bread alone. We find true life in connection with our creator (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4); he is the source of our satisfaction and strength. This revelation is behind the Psalmist’s confession that God himself is our portion. And like the Psalmist, a primary way we find this life-giving connection is in prayer.
With the manna, God provided satisfaction and strength for Israel every morning. But we find the Psalmist going to God in prayer even more frequently than that, calling upon the Lord “evening, and morning, and at noon” (Psalm 55:17) as well as in the “watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). In this we find a helpful rhythm to emulate in our own prayer lives, one that coincides with the Daily Offices of many Christian traditions.
Pastor and author Zack Eswine makes the connection between the idea of portion and the Psalmist’s example of regular prayer throughout the day:
“Jesus gives us this gift of one-day-at-a-time portions to bear the burdens that find us. The psalmist gets us started in how to relearn that each day has enough of its own worry in it … The psalmist identifies four parts of a twenty-four-hour day. I’ve come to think of these four parts as portions. God is our portion, which means that at any given moment of our day he is there and is enough for us.”
Instead of seeking new bread in the desert each morning, we seek connection to God in each part of our day, which has its own unique worries. When we wake we may be overwhelmed with anxiety about the pressures of the day. In the afternoon we may be tired and begin to wander in focus and purpose. The night alway holds particular temptations. Rather than holding onto some distant moment of rest/escape to get us through it all, we narrow our focus to the moment we are in and the one we are about to enter. As each part of the day transitions into the next, we center ourselves on God and his purposes. We remember that his grace, provision, and power are enough. He will be our portion for the next six hours, then the six after that, and the six after that …
Eswine breaks the day into four sections connected to the Psalmist’s language:
Morning — dawn to noon
Noon — noon to dusk
Evening — dusk to bedtime
The Night Watches — bedtime to dawn
How might we apply this to our lives? Make it a regular discipline to set aside five minutes (or more) for prayer at the point where each part of your day transitions into the next. If you don’t know what to pray, begin with the words of Psalm 73 quoted above.
Eat the Manna
As I meditate on this idea of God as my satisfying and sustaining portion, not just daily but in each unique part of my day, there are two simple sentences that linger in my mind. I first encountered them in a tweet (of all things) from writer and professor Marilyn McEntyre. She wrote:
It has taken me a long time to believe as well. I still doubt. I am still learning the lesson Israel had to learn in the desert. God’s supply for today will be enough and I need not eat it with anxiety about tomorrow, or even the next part of the day. I am able to find peace in the manna that the Lord has given in each moment. More will come. It always has.
Some Help Remembering
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