‘Do not work for food that cannot last’ (John 6:27).
Why does Jesus say this? What is he pointing to? He is telling his hearers that there is another kind of food and another kind of hunger which bread cannot provide.
The way of the world-without-God is to stay on the surface; possessions, prestige, power and competitiveness are surface realities. The way of Jesus is deeper, it invites us down to the level of heart and spirit. There is a space down there in each of us that only God can fill. In that deep space, we hunger.
During prayer, we let that hunger become conscious. The food that matches this deep hunger is relationship with Jesus in faith. Jesus is offering this relationship; he wants us to have a conscious relationship with himself. It is as if he is saying to each of us, ‘Believe, come into the circle of relationship with me. It will satisfy your deepest hunger. You are made for this. It is worth working at.’
During personal prayer you ‘cross over to the other side’ – not of the Lake of Galilee, but of yourself. You reach down to your authentic self. You let your deepest hunger become conscious. You go over also to God’s side. Your journey leads you to Jesus, who gives you himself in deep friendship.
Prayer means idleness for God, emptiness before God, a vacation or holiday with God. The time you spend in prayer is time put beyond usefulness to yourself. Prayer is not useful: it is something of a different order. What you bring to prayer is just yourself and your time and your desire to be with God: you come with your availability. If you, for your part, are going to be less busy, and even idle, this suggests that God is the main actor in your prayer, and what happens in prayer is God’s agenda. God is the artist; you are the canvas or the shapeless block of wood which will be transformed by divine action.