A Gift from His Grief
How powerful is Jesus to meet my real needs?
Last week I had a day full of the kinds of frustrations that threaten to consume me at times. You know…
the days when a child’s unhappiness seems never-ending…
when another person’s brokenness weighs like a hundred pounds…
when my own failures fill my tolerance to the brim…
when someone’s absence feels more raw than usual…
when a long-held dream seems especially unlikely…
when the money tree looks like a black hole…
An endless list of things can cause a day – or a week, or a lifetime – like that.
The kids can sense my distraction at those times, like sharks detecting blood. They are capable of whipping up such a stormy sea of complaining around me that I begin to get that drowning feeling.
Last week, I called my quadrifarious carnivores to the kitchen table and anchored them to their chairs so we could try a different approach. We opened their children’s Bible, and there I discovered what Jesus did when all he wanted was to be alone with his grief.
How Multitudes Get Fed
What would you do if your best friend and biggest supporter was suddenly gone? Throw a party for 5000?
John the Baptist, possibly Jesus’ best friend on earth, had just been murdered. When Jesus heard the news,
…he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Matthew 14:13
But a needy crowd whipped up around him as soon as they heard where he was. (That’s familiar, too – except my crowd is miniature and fourfold. A crowd of 5000 never even crosses the threshold of my imagination.)
…the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. Matthew 14:13
This is where Jesus begins to stretch my imagination… where he demonstrates what could be done, even in the middle of grief and distraction:
1) He saw with compassionate eyes and started meeting practical needs.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:14
There are countless people everywhere who have needs. In the lonely, prayerful place – out on my “fishing boat” – I can ask God to open my eyes, bring people to me, and give me compassion. I have prayed this recently. And people have landed in my path, when I wasn’t looking for them.
2) Believe that Jesus is the answer to the needs around us.
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.” Matthew 14:15-16
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking there’s something more that people need, more than just Jesus. There’s superior wisdom. There are psychologists and programs and better forms of showing compassion. There’s research and organic gardening and tort reform.
I still believe in medical, legal, and humanitarian approaches for showing practical love to a very broken world. Jesus spent quite a bit of time healing sickness, relieving hunger, and protesting injustice, too.
But when these forms of “help” send people away from Jesus, the miracle of salvation is missed.
“They do not need to go away,” he said.
It seems too simplistic, that Jesus – His salvation – is able to meet our real needs.
“…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 1 Corinthians 1:18-20
Jesus didn’t include any caveats or leave any fine print when he replaced our sinful nature for his righteous one. His final sacrifice is the answer for our disconnection from God, for the root of destruction in our lives. When he was executed at the cross, he paid the penalty for the sins of every person, giving his right relationship with God to anyone who believes. “It is finished,” Jesus breathed from the cross. (John 19:30) Why have I acted like this isn’t what people truly need?
3) Feed people.
“You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16
Jesus offered food to every person on the lake shore. But to his committed followers, he offered something more – a ministry. “You give them something to eat.”
Where do I place myself on the lake shore? Which person am I?
- Some days I am one of the multitude, just hungry and needing food… sometimes so insignificant in my situation that I’m like the “women and children” who weren’t even counted in the 5000 in that culture – but I get fed anyway.
As one of the crowd, will I get my food today and then wander back to wherever I was before, never really committing to follow Jesus?
- On the best days, I am blessed with simplicity, maybe like the little boy in John’s version of the story: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish…” (John 6:9). I only know that someone important wants my lunch, and I unquestioningly yield.
Do I understand why Jesus alone is the one who deserves all I have?
- If I place myself as Jesus, there’s a wee bit of a problem! But it’s worth examining:
Is there a Lord in my life, or am I managing it all myself?
- Most days, I’m one of the disciples – someone who ought to know what can be expected from Jesus. Instead, I have been sending people here, there, and everywhere else for what they need.
Are people getting mixed messages from me about how to get what they really need?
I have been asked – commanded – to offer food to the hungry, whether I think I have enough for them or not. It doesn’t matter how much I have. What matters is that, in the presence of Jesus, I am actually giving whatever I have.
4) Watch for miraculous provision.
…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. Matthew 14:17-21
The story ends with people’s needs being met in an incredible way. Even the disciples each had a basket full of food left over. Jesus’ provision was enough for every person there.
What could it do for my griefs and distractions, if I could see for myself how Jesus is able to transform my inadequate supply for his powerful work? How different would I feel, to see his provision through my small offering and have my basket end up full, too? Can I stretch my imagination – my belief – far enough to expect something unexpected from what I give?
My kids were calm and peaceful around the kitchen table as we finished talking about our home being a place where we offer ourselves to serve others. No more storm, no more drowning feeling.
I discovered that the in the next story, Jesus did get to withdraw to a lonely place to pray. Meanwhile, a stormy sea whipped up around his disciples. Guess who showed up then, too, calming wind, waves, and fears?
Jesus is what I need.
When I take inventory of my “loaves and fish” today, what do I have available right now to feed someone in Jesus’ presence?