Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Keep Your Eyes On The... Leftovers?

Jesus feeds the 5,000 

John 6:5-9
Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

It's a really good thing that I wasn't one of the disciples there that day.  If I had been, the Bible would have had one more facepalm-inducing groaner of a story.  It would have read something like this:

"But Betsy, being faint with hunger, and being of little faith and great self-centeredness, snatched the loaves and fishes away from Andrew and devoured them herself, reasoning that she would need lots of sustenance for herself first, if she was to be expected to feed everyone else."
Milennia of Christians would shake their heads as they read my story. "How could she be that dense and selfish?"

How indeed?  How have I reached the ripe old age of fifty without learning to consistently trust that God will meet my needs when I minister to others? When will I learn that He takes care of those who obey his command to think of others first?

But notice the timing of God's provision.  The disciples got basketfulls of leftovers to eat... after they served food to everyone else.  I don't mean to imply that that's always how He does things, but it does make me wonder:  How many blessings have I missed because I waited for God to do a miracle before I was willing to act...while He was waiting for me to step out in obedient faith?

It's harder to step out when you don't see the provision first.  Put yourself in the disciples' dusty sandals. Can you imagine how difficult that must have been at first, listening to your own stomach growling while you portioned out food to others?  

I've been serving alongside You, Lord!  These people are just moochers.  I've given up everything for You, but what have they given up?  Not lunch, that's for sure.  No,  I'm the one who has to give that up!

There was no wine on hand, but if I'd been there, there would have been plenty of whine!

I wonder what Jesus would have done if I'd devoured the loaves and fishes.  He probably would have created food from scratch and had us serve it.  But when it came time for the disciples to enjoy the leftovers, I wonder if there would have been a basket for me.  Or would Jesus have looked into my eyes with loving rebuke and said, "You preferred what you could snatch greedily for yourself, and I let you have it.  But that's all.  The other disciples who weren't greedy get the miraculous provision that only I can give.  And what I can give is always more satisfying than whatever you can snatch for yourself."

Maybe not. He's so much more gracious than we expect Him to be. But getting nothing more than my stolen, faithless meal is what I would have deserved.

But the Lord is gracious in more than just feeding empty bellies. He feeds empty souls and enlightens darkened minds, too.  And I can only hope that He would have worked a miracle in my heart if I'd been there that day.  I can hope that, by His grace, the rumblings of my stomach would slowly have been drowned out by a song of awe-filled praise as I saw His miracle flowing through my fingers.  I can hope that my once-grasping hands would have begun to delight in giving and giving and giving; in being part of the wonder of His lavish grace.

The good news for me and you is that He still teaches the same lessons today. He still wants us to understand that He enriches us so that we can be generous (2 Co 9:11).  He still commands us to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Php 2:4).  He still promises to supply all our needs (Php. 4:19).

And He doesn't just teach us about physical provision for physical needs.  Perhaps more importantly, His provision is the only hope we have for not sinning when our emotions are hit hard.  When our personal bank of compassion and/or forgiveness is running dry, but we still need to give.

As I've been writing this, I've also been made aware of someone's terrible behavior which caused great undeserved pain to good people.  Again.  It's a pattern with this particular person, and he happens to be someone for whom I bear some responsibility.

I feel my soul starting to grasp again.  Not for bread or fish, but for other things I feel desperately in need of.  

  • Power.
  • Control.
  • Some way to get through to him!
  • Some way to make him feel how much I despise his behavior.
  • Some way to compose the proper words of wrath that will (despite James 1:20) somehow produce the righteousness of God.

Why am I desperate to grasp these things?  Because I don't see miraculous provision yet.  I don't have what it takes to fix this person, and so far, God hasn't fixed him either.  

Since writing the above paragraph, I've had a chance to talk to that hurtful person.  I told him I didn't know what to say, but that he and I both know how capable I am of saying sinful, hurtful things, and that I don't want to do that.  I've told him I'm praying and keeping my mouth shut until I know how to say something edifying (Eph. 4:29-32).  And I've reminded him that such restraint is exactly what I so often tell him to practice.  I admitted that I needed to do a better job of modeling, of practicing what I preach.

I suggested that he pray about his sin.  And then I got back to work, trying to serve in quiet trust while praying for help.  Trying to do what Jesus says to do.  Because that's how the disciples fed the multitudes.  They obeyed with what little they had, and watched Jesus do the rest.

Unlike the demands of that ancient mountainside picnic, my needs relative to this particular person's challenges will probably last for many years.  I probably won't see a definitive solution today.  So it's my job to obey, to try to serve in love, to walk according to the light that I have, and to trust God's timing, day in and day out, for as long as it takes.  

I need to trust Him that whatever he gives me today is sufficient for today, even if it doesn't feel like it.

And if my heart is bent on loving, serving, and obeying, I'll be ready for more concrete guidance and provision when/if it comes.  But if I harden my heart and insist on futilely grasping for power in sinful wrath, how will Christ bless anyone through me?

Lord, I've got nothing.  In my flesh dwells no good thing.  But by Your grace, may I serve, may I give, and may I hold out for Your leftovers, knowing that Your leftovers are more soul-satisfying than self's greediest fare.

P.S.  Thank You, Lord, for the edifying conversation that you made possible later.  Thank You that You kept a hand over my mouth earlier, so I wouldn't spout off something which might have prevented that later conversation from happening.  You are so good!
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