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Just As You Are
It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Christ what we have and what we are.
* WILLIAM BARCLAY
IS THE ECONOMY IMPROVING?
It depends on whom you ask. By some measures, yes. But if you ask one of the millions of Americans who have lost jobs in recent years—whether through being "downsized," having a high-tech job shipped overseas, or simply being fired—their economy isn't improving. Some of these jobless folks don't show up in the government's numbers—because they've stopped looking. They've given up.
It's an easy thing to do when you're in those straits. You pray, and you pray, and you search for the Lord's leading in His Word, and try to be obedient. But no job materializes. Meanwhile, money's getting tight. You feel as if you've done everything you can, yet your finances and even your faith are dwindling. You're running on empty, and where is God?
UP AGAINST OUR LIMITS
We've all been there. We've all been in a place of human limitations in the face of overwhelming needs. Our lives, our marriages, our families, our ministries all put more demands on us than our resources can cover. We don't quite know what to do.
Sometimes the demands we are called to meet put us in a place of discouragement, even resignation. We know there is no way we can meet our obligations, and we feel like giving up. Giving up on work—or even finding work. Giving up on our marriages and families. Giving up on church and ministry. Even giving up on God!
We know there is no way we can make the next house payment. No way we can cover the expenses of raising a family. No way we can accomplish the things God has called us to do. No way we can get through the trials we face. No way to realize our dreams of doing big things for the kingdom of God. We assess the needs placed before us, and we know we can't meet those needs. We are just too limited.
Limited in our financial resources.
Limited in our abilities.
Limited in our know-how.
Limited in our faith.
Even Jesus' disciples—the twelve men who traveled and ministered with Him daily, witnessing up close the miracles He performed—faced limitations when it came to doing what He had called them to do. Jesus knew that. He understood their humanity. But He never let a little thing like human limitations get in the way of accomplishing great things for the kingdom. In fact, He used their humanness, their limitations, to His glory, showing how God works through "clay pots," as Paul calls us. And He will begin with you just as you are, with what little you have ... no matter how small.
In one miracle scene—one so profound and so spectacular that all four Gospel writers included it in their accounts of the life and work of Christ—Jesus showed the disciples how He could do great things with very little.
Remember how in the introduction we looked at the three great "miracle periods" in the Bible: the time of the Exodus, the era of Elijah and Elisha, and the earthly ministry of Jesus Himself, followed by the Acts of the Apostles. As we begin to look at the sixth chapter of Mark's gospel, Mark seems to be comparing and contrasting Moses and Christ. He describes the place by the sea as "lonely" and "desolate," evoking echoes of Moses leading the children of Israel through the wilderness. The Israelites became hungry in the wilderness, Moses prayed, and God sent manna from heaven.
Now, nearly 1,500 years later, here is Jesus with these Jews out in a deserted place, and again they're hungry. But this time Jesus Himself is the manna sent from heaven. In fact, in John 6:49–51, Jesus says that their fathers ate manna in the wilderness, but "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever ..."
It was Elijah who told the widow in Zarephath that the bowl of flour would not be exhausted nor the jar of oil emptied, but that she and her son would have bread (1 Kings 17:8–16). Here in Mark 6, the bread stretched much further than that.
It was Elisha who fed the one hundred prophets with twenty loaves of barley (see 2 Kings 4:42–44), but here again Jesus is going to feed multiplied thousands with five loaves and two fish. It seems that the text is telling us that here is One greater than the prophets!
In Mark 6:39, Jesus gives the command for the people to sit on the green grass. Your mind goes back to Psalm 23, where David writes that "the Lord is my shepherd ... He makes me lie down in green pastures." Here is One who is greater than David. It is as if the Holy Spirit is pointing out that here is One who is greater than the law, the prophets, and the sacred writings. This sheds new light on Jesus' words: "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17–18). Here is the very Word of God in the flesh.
But while the disciples are busy in that lakeshore wilderness dividing all those people into groups and parceling out the barley loaves and fish, Herod is also hosting quite a different feast—a banquet at his palace.
You probably remember that Herod had taken his brother Philip's wife and eloped with her, even though they were both married. John the Baptist had confronted Herod, and the king was furious. Herod had the Baptist arrested, and, through the deception and manipulation of Salome, his stepdaughter, had John beheaded.
This shows us the contrasts between the two banquets. Herod's banquet was to pamper his ego and show off his power, but Jesus' banquet ministered to the needs of others. Herod's banquet had a political agenda, but Jesus' banquet had a kingdom agenda. Herod's banquet would end in death, but Jesus' banquet would give life.
Of course, if you were one of the thousands who had followed Jesus to this remote spot, curious, hoping to hear Him speak or maybe even perform one of the miracles you had heard about, you never would have guessed He was going to host a feast! The scene was a large flat area at the foot of the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee. It was a barren, dry area with little vegetation growing, just some large grassy areas probably stripped almost to bare soil by passing herds of sheep.
It was late in the day, close to sunset. Many of the people hadn't eaten since early that morning, and they were becoming very hungry. But before anyone said a word about feeding them, Jesus knew their needs. He looked out at the throng, and from the bottom of His heart He felt deep compassion for them.
He knew they needed direction and salvation, and He had a plan to meet those needs. But more immediately, they needed something to eat. He had a plan for meeting that need, too.
Still, He wasn't going to meet that need using the large amount of physical resources it would take to accomplish what needed to be done. Rather, His plan relied on the miraculous.
As nightfall approached, the disciples came to Jesus to tell Him that there were a lot of hungry people in the crowd and that it would be a good idea to send them away to the local villages so they could buy themselves something to eat. But Jesus had a different idea.
"You give them something to eat!" Jesus told the disciples. The New Living Translation shows the disciples' protest and confusion: "With what?" they asked. "It would take a small fortune to buy food for all this crowd!" (verse 37). In effect, they were arguing with the Master: "You want us to feed these people, but there is no way we can do it! We don't have any food, we don't have money to buy food, we're miles away from any supermarkets, and anyway, everything's closed. Now what?"
The disciples' reaction was much like that of a single parent who receives her son's $5,000 medical bill but who has barely enough money to put a roof over his head, food in his stomach, and clothes on his back. There is no medical insurance to fall back on and no foreseeable way she will come up with the cash to pay the bill. In a fit of frustration, anxiety and hopelessness, the mother tosses the bill aside, throws up her hands and exclaims to nobody in particular, "How am I going to pay for this?"
In John's account of this miracle scene, we read of Philip, who assessed the financial situation. Jesus had just asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed all those people. Philip knew that the disciples among them couldn't come up with nearly enough money to pay for so much as a small meal for all these people, that it would take two-thirds of a year's salary to buy that much food. Even if they were near an open restaurant or grocery—and had a way of carting all that food back to the place by the lake—they didn't have enough money. Beyond that, it was getting late and they were feeling tired and frustrated. At that moment, the disciples were at the end of their rope.
HOW SOON WE FORGET
Here is the disciples' problem—a problem we can, perhaps, identify with. The disciples' problem at that moment wasn't just that they had no clue how they were going to take care of all those hungry people. Their problem was that they had forgotten whom they served and what He had already told them, taught them, and shown them.
Earlier, Jesus had given the disciples authority to cast out demonic spirits and to heal the sick and the lame. They were mere men, and Jesus was telling them they themselves would perform miracles in His name. He also gave them their marching orders: "Take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt—but to wear sandals; and He added, 'Do not put on two tunics'" (Mark 6:8–9).
Jesus was telling them, in other words, "I am your source for everything you need. You needn't take anything with you, because I'm going to take care of everything."
The disciples obeyed Jesus' instructions to the letter, and they had done everything Jesus had said they would. They, everyday people like you and me, remember, preached with power, cast out demons, healed the sick—all of that after leaving their Lord and moving out in pairs. They had seen the power of Jesus Christ at work before their very eyes. They had seen people repent, seen demons flee in His name, and seen the sickest people restored to health.
But now, at the moment when Jesus was about to do something miraculous through them, they forgot what the power of God had already done through them. And they had taken their eyes off the fact that Jesus was right here with them.
Instead, they focused on their dwindling resources and lost opportunities. They didn't figure Jesus into the equation. Even after seeing the miracles Jesus had performed, even after performing those same kinds of miracles themselves, it never crossed their minds that Jesus was about to do something spectacular before their very eyes.
Jesus knew what was on the disciples' minds. He knew what was behind their questions. He knew that they not only doubted that they would feed the people; they believed with all their hearts and minds that it couldn't be done.
Now, Jesus had the disciples right where He wanted them!
LIMITED RESOURCES, LIMITLESS MIRACLES
Jesus didn't tell the disciples what He had in mind. He simply sent them out into the crowd to gather all the food they could find. Each of them went from person to person, telling them that the Master had asked them to give up whatever food they were carrying. Time after time, they came up empty. No one had anything to offer. These were, after all, hungry people, and they had probably already eaten whatever food they had carried with them for the day.
But one of the disciples, Andrew (Peter's brother), stumbled onto something. A small boy carrying all his belongings in a small sack volunteered that he had some food. The lad reached into the sack and pulled out five loaves of barley bread and two small fish he had packed for the day. Holding them up for the disciple, the boy cheerfully offered them up.
"Sir, this is all I have," he told Andrew apologetically, "It's not much, but if Jesus needs them He can have them."
When their search was complete, each of the disciples reported back to Jesus. Eleven of them came up empty. Only Andrew had found anything, and even he hadn't found much.
These were not loaves of bread and fish the way we think of them today. The loaves weren't the big slabs of wheat bread we in the West can buy in our grocery stores, and the fish weren't anything like the big Alaskan salmon we've seen. Far from it! In reality, the loaves were small, flat pieces of unleavened bread, probably about the size of small pancakes, and the fish were along the lines of small dried herring.
Now what do we do? the disciples must have been wondering. How are we going to feed all these people with this little bit of food? Even the Teacher Himself can't make something out of nothing!
The disciples saw an impossibility, yet Jesus saw not only a possibility, but a certainty that He could do great things with very little.
THE MIRACLE OF MUCH OUT OF LITTLE
"Go and have the people gather in groups of fifty to a hundred each and sit down on the grass," Jesus told the disciples.
The disciples still wondered just what Jesus had in mind. Yes, there was some food, but barely enough to feed a few people, let alone the thousands gathered that evening. Did He know about some source of food they didn't know about? Or was He just going to teach again, hoping the people would forget, if only for a short time, that they were hungry?
Five small loaves of bread and a couple of puny little fish, and He's asking us to have these people sit, as if we're going to feed them? the disciples must have been thinking. What is He trying to do, start a riot?
The disciples didn't understand what Jesus was doing, but they did as He had told them. In all their doubt, in all their frustration, they obeyed. Walking through the crowd, the disciples spread the word that Jesus had instructed people to gather in small groups and sit down in the grass and relax.
With the disciples and the crowd of thousands looking on, Jesus took the bread and the fish, what little there was of both, and thanked His Father for His provision. Then He broke the loaves of bread and the fish and began giving them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. We are told in Mark 6:41 that He blessed the food and broke the loaves and he kept giving: He broke and gave and broke and gave. The bread was multiplying in His hands.
He gave, and He continued giving. Then He gave some more. The more Jesus gave, the more He seemed to have to give.
Finally, when He was finished giving that evening, thousands of hungry people had had enough to eat. Not only that, but when the disciples had finished gathering the leftovers, twelve baskets full of food remained.
The disciples knew what they had just witnessed. This was not, as has been suggested in the centuries since this scene took place, a case of a crowd of thousands being moved to generosity by the willingness of one small boy to give what little he had. It wasn't a case of someone sneaking away to buy enough food to feed everyone there that night.
This was a miracle, plain and simple. None of the Twelve and none of the thousands there that evening could explain it or even fully understand it. After all, that's what a miracle is! It's God performing great things in the face of our limited knowledge, our limited skills, our limited resources.
They just knew they had witnessed something big coming from something very small.
THE LITTLE, THE LEAST, THE LAST?
In my hometown of Dallas, Texas, a mentality exists that everything has to be big. We like big houses, big cars, big salaries. People here seem to think that if something is small, then it can't be worth much. That's even true in the "Christian world" down here. We like big churches and big ministries down here. There seems to be the mentality that if it's small, then God can't be in it. But that is not just true only in Texas. All of us, no matter where we live, seem to be unimpressed with what we think is unimpressive: the little, the least, the last.
But the God we serve specializes in working with small things, in taking our human limitations and doing miracles.
The Old Testament prophet Zechariah wrote, "Do not despise these small beginnings ..." (Zechariah 4:10, nlt). And the Bible shows us over and over that God loves to take little things and do great things with them. It was a small teenager with a small sling and a small rock who brought down a giant—a teenager who later became a great king of Israel. It was a little servant girl who took the mighty military leader Naaman to the prophet Elisha for cleansing from leprosy (see 2 Kings 5). And it was a little baby in a manger who was God in the flesh, who would one day teach and perform miracles the likes of which the world had never seen, who would give of Himself on a cross so that we could be reunited with our heavenly Father.
When you feel small, when you feel limited in your resources, you need to understand that our God is Lord of all, including the limitations life places on us. When you need a miracle in your life, you need to understand that God specializes in doing great things with very little.
Jesus gave the disciples clear instruction, knowing they didn't have the resources to follow them out. They protested and argued with Him. Even as they did as Jesus had instructed them, they rationalized and they doubted. They looked at what they had to offer and concluded that it couldn't be done.
So often, we're like those disciples. We have witnessed, maybe personally, what kinds of miracles He can perform. Time and time again, we have seen Him provide for us, and usually at just the right time. We have heard His powerful teaching. But when we get to where we desperately need a miracle, we lose our focus. We look not at our Provider and our source for everything we need, but at our limited, or nonexistent, resources.
When we take our focus off our Source, we can become anxious, frustrated, even panicky because we know we don't have "enough." We focus on our lost opportunities, at what we "should" have done before to solve our own problems and meet our own needs. Then, the hopelessness, that feeling of resignation, sets in. There is nothing we can do to help our situation.
Excerpted from The Miracle You've Been Searching For by Mac Brunson. Copyright © 2004 Mac Brunson. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Posted January 27, 2011
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