This simple, beautiful song is neither praise nor petition. It is an overflow of the heart offering a declaration in melody before the Lord. There are many times we sing or say things in devotion that we know aren’t true about our lives…yet. We want them to be real, but as the words are offered, they are still more aspirational than experiential. This isn’t hypocritical. It is good and right to cry out to God with sincere faith that He can transform us into what we are not yet, but what we will be by His grace. (Romans 4:17)
The invitation and the challenge of this song is to actually do this and not cheapen the intensity of these lyrics. We are declaring that our hearts relate to God like the air we breathe and the food that provides our very sustenance. In other words, we are proclaiming that we are desperately dependent upon Him. The harsh reality we must confront is that it is very difficult for most of us to genuinely be desperate. For those of us who live in the West, we are so accustomed to the norm of convenience and abundance in which real need or lack rarely enters our experience. Cognitively we know our bodies require food, but without any actual feeling of deprivation there is no desperation for our daily bread. This doesn’t just apply to our outer man. Our minds and emotions are inundated with entertainment, information, and social media that offers a nearly constant stream of stimulation.
The consequence is that we often think of cultivating the presence of Jesus in our hearts as dessert rather than our daily bread. Prolonged devotional time is a bonus; it is icing on the cake of our busy day in the midst of the demands of our frenetic lives. It is so easy for us to make excuses as to why we don’t prioritize a deep life in the word of God and we allow days and even weeks to pass living hurried and distracted. All the while we neglect the place and the Person where our souls can be nourished. Yet how many days have passed recently, or ever, when you simply didn’t eat because you were so busy? Somehow, someway, we always make time to eat.
“He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
There is story from the underground Church in China that I find almost haunting in its contrast to the caricature of where we might find ourselves. It was during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970’s. Christianity was severely repressed, and believers were brutally persecuted. Having come to faith in Jesus through miraculous circumstances in his family, this brother in Christ yearned to have access to the Bible. He did not even know anyone who had seen a Bible. Finding an old pastor who had lived before the Cultural Revolution, he narrates the following experience:
The pastor saw the anxiety of my heart. He spoke to me again, “If you’re serious, then you should not only kneel down and pray to the Lord, you should also fast and weep. The more you weep the sooner you’ll get a Bible.” I went home, and every morning and afternoon I ate and drank nothing. Every evening I ate just one small bowl of steamed rice. I cried like a hungry child to his heavenly Father, wanting to be filled with his Word. For the next one hundred days I prayed for a Bible, until I could bear it no more. My parents were sure I was losing my mind.
This, I believe, is a vivid glimpse into true desperation. For one hundred days this humble brother fasted just to receive those precious words that we so often neglect. His desire was answered, and he received a Bible in an extraordinary way. We can painfully acknowledge that such spiritual hunger is foreign to us, and yet sing the words of this song with a longing for our hearts to be so enthralled with the glory of God that He would indeed be like the air we breathe. It might be that we need to start by slowing down, and quieting down, long enough to realize just how famished our inner man truly is. We are so overstimulated with false and fleeting things that we numb ourselves from feeling the deprivation that leads to spiritual desperation. We are scared of our barrenness. We are afraid of the ache within our souls. Yet it is coming to terms with this arid, painful condition that can lead us into the depths of the knowledge of God. It is in our own private wilderness that we discover we cannot live on bread alone, and we learn to feast upon the word of God and find life.
 Paul Hattaway, The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun (Oxford, England: Monarch Books, 2011).