[I wrote this a few years back when I was between ministry assignments. I thought it might help a few of you who are in a similar situation. Let me know if this encourages you.]
“We have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” Jesus said. – Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-38
Up until recently, I never had a need or an opportunity to apply these verses to my life. However, since I have been an unemployed minister for a while, I am starting to read Scripture differently, because I am starting to doubt my own resources.
As I search, seek, and ask God about my next assignment, I cannot help but wonder about my skills and talents and why so many churches have no interest in employing me. I do not have an answer at this time, but it has driven me to look at Scripture in a different light.
Because my primary spiritual gift is teaching, I have spent years reading the Bible mostly for those things I could teach from the pulpit or in the Sunday school class. However, since those two forums have recently (and, I pray, temporarily) dried up, I have resorted to reading Scripture not so much for how I can apply it to your life, but for how I can apply it to mine! Yes, I should have been doing this all along, but I am a little slow on the uptake. Just like the disciples in these two passages. Perhaps this is why these stories bothered me as I read them this morning. They hit too close to home.
In the first passage, the disciples show their concern for the crowd, but in a selfish way. They know the crowd needs to eat, but the disciples do not want to take responsibility for this task and ask Jesus to send them away. Not missing a beat, Jesus says, “That isn’t necessary – you feed them” (14:16 NLT).
However, the disciples reply by saying they do not have adequate resources. “But we only have five loaves of bread and two fish!” they tell Jesus.
“Bring them here,” Jesus says.
At that point, I stopped reading.
I am feeling a bit like the disciples. I know I have some resources, but they seem so meager and inadequate for the task. It is all too overwhelming for me. People need to be fed and taught and discipled and trained to do the work of ministry, and all I have is a little Bible training and a passion to teach.
“Bring them here,” Jesus tells me.
And I know what will happen when I do. He will take the little I have and bless it and make it adequate for the job He has assigned for me. Feeling better about myself – if not a tad rebuked – I continued reading.
Now I come to the second story, the feeding of the 4,000 (5,000 plus 4,000 equals 9,000, hence the title, if you were wondering.)
In the second passage, Jesus has to tell the disciples of His compassion for the hungry people, and guides the disciples into an understanding of the people’s need to eat. The disciples respond by wondering where they could find enough food to feed everybody. Jesus takes them a step further and asks them what they have on hand. “Seven loaves, and a few small fish,” they reply.
Once again, Jesus asks for their limited resources, blesses it, returns it to the disciples and has them distribute it to the people. Much to their amazement, the disciples discover that not only were 4,000 men fed, but like before, there were baskets full of leftovers.
I stopped reading again. This one not only hit home, it destroyed it.
I have often prided myself on my ability to read Scripture, understand enough of it to apply it in a situation, and find a way to teach it. But this second story, coming so quickly on the heals of the first, reminds me how often I have to learn the same lesson numerous times. I used to shout at the disciples, “Why are you so dense? Didn’t you get it the first time?” Now I leave the disciples alone and ask myself the same questions.
So what are the lessons for me? (I don’t know about you. Go get your own lessons.).
- Jesus knows my limited resources.
- Jesus asks me to bring my resources to Him.
- Jesus blesses my resources beyond my comprehension.
- I may have to learn this lesson more than once.
Fortunately, there will come a day when Jesus will send me out to feed the hungry, pray for the sick, teach new disciples and bring glory to His name. I only pray that I don’t have to learn this lesson too many times. I’m tired of being unemployed.