Big Problems, Small Resources
Hello church family. This morning I am sitting on one of my favourite places, Fort Edmonton Footbridge. I often like to come here to walk, to sit, and to think.
Today, I want to talk about big problems. We all have them. Sometimes they are problems that have gone on for years, sometimes they come up suddenly and you find yourself in a crisis. Big problems tend to cause us to worry and to drain us of emotional and spiritual energy.
What is our response to big problems as Kingdom people? As people who are followers of Jesus Christ.
This leads me into our Scripture for this morning. We are continuing our teaching series in Matthew entitled “An Invitation to the Kingdom” and we find ourselves in Matthew Chapter 14.
As we lead into the story Jesus is having a very hard day. He has just learned that his cousin and close friend John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod. Grieving, Jesus seeks a few hours of solitude by Himself.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
And so, Jesus and the disciples have a big problem. All of these people are getting hungry and they are out in the wilderness with nothing to eat.
The disciples respond the way that I often do, let’s just hope that the big problem will go away by itself. So, they go to Jesus, probably interrupted his teaching, and asked Him to send the crowds away. This is not our problem Jesus, let them fix it themselves. But Jesus says “No, this is our problem. These people have followed us into the wilderness because they wanted to hear the Word of God. They are our responsibility and I want you to deal with it. You give them something to eat.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
In his account of this event the gospel writer John provides more details on the response of the disciples at this point. Philip pushes back and says,
But Lord “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
I can really relate to Philip. He gets out his calculator, he is going to assess the size of the problem. He counts up the number of mouths to feed and the cost of feeding each one and comes up with 200 denarii, which at that time was a half a year’s wages. He decides that this is a financial problem—a big financial problem—and it is too big a problem for the disciples to do anything about.
The disciple Andrew had a slightly different approach. Andrew comes to Jesus and says, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew takes it a bit further. He at least has a look around. What are our assets at this moment? How much food can we lay our hands on? But, if I were to divide up the bread and fish among the crowd it would be a morsel or two at the most, and so we can’t really proceed can we.
But both Philip and Andrew reach the same conclusion: We can’t do anything about this situation. We have done our due diligence; we have carefully analyzed the situations, we have analyzed our stock options and added in GST, and by our calculations we are in a situation of scarcity. So we are unable to do anything about this problem.
Now look what Jesus does here. The next part of the story drives home how utterly inadequate our measuring sticks are in determining the magnitude of a problem.
“Bring [the five loaves and fishes] here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
What a different way Jesus has of doing things. Where Philip added up the need, where Andrew divided up the resources, Jesus multiplies and this results in abundance. Everyone was filled, everyone was satisfied, there was more than enough.
Several comments that I would like to make here:
- When it comes to big problems in life, our assessment of the size and magnitude of the problem is too limited. Whether it is the current difficulty that our church is going through; the state of your marriage or other family relationship; your finances; an illness that you are facing; or a host of other problems. What we typically do when faced with a problem is add up all of the needs, add up all our assets, and try to balance them. We commonly use money or emotional time and energy as the way of keeping score, the measuring stick to tell us where we are, whether a problem is big or small, and whether we can deal with it. But God uses a different metric.
I would suggest that God does not categorize problems as big problems or small problems. In fact, I would extend that and say that God doesn’t see problems or issues but opportunities; opportunities to reveal Himself in us His people, to reveal His love, His character, His provision for us.
The application that I want to make here is that some of you have no trouble trusting God to provide for the so called “big issues” in your life, but trusting God and asking Him to intervene for more mundane things—like a sore back, an upcoming job interview, or a flat tire—is harder. It’s like we think that God does not care for the so called small problems in our lives. Problems are not big or small for God, they are opportunities, and I think we miss out on blessing by not trusting God with them sooner.
- There is one thing the disciples did right in this story: they brought the problem to Jesus. They brought the need to Jesus, they brought the resource to Jesus. They recognized that they were overwhelmed, they recognized that there was a bigger need than they had the capacity to meet and they turned to Jesus.
Here is where I stumble: I often underestimate the size of a problem or overestimate my own ability to meet it and I strike out on my own without ever involving the Lord. Only after I find myself going in circles or getting myself emotionally exhausted too, I stop and think that perhaps I should talk to God. I can provide numerous examples of this, or just ask my kids. May we all learn this lesson to come to Jesus regularly because He cares for us.
Can I also just say one more thing—and this to those who in particular are grieving the recent events that have been happening at the church—you have been serving the Lord in the Church and now you don’t know where you fit and you are wondering “will I ever be used by the Lord again, will I ever feel the power of the Holy Spirit in ministry again?”
Can I ask you to reflect on the first part of this story? Jesus was committed to the people who followed him into the Wilderness. Jesus is present with those who hunger for righteousness and thirst for the Word of God. Start there and see what God will yet do in your life.
And so, Calvary, as Kingdom people can I encourage you to this week face each problem that comes your way head on. Let’s not just wish and hope they go away; let us not hold on to our problems for fear of how God might handle them; let us not labour over issues in our own strength but to trust in His timing, His love, and His grace; and let us recognize our dependence upon God in the big and small things and trust in His ability to multiply His grace and provision in our lives.