Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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What do you have?

Jesus multiplies bread

by Dennis Pollock

Our world admires strength. The movies and TV shows are filled with heroes who are strong, independent, and totally competent. They meet every challenge, survive every attack, and make wonderfully clever remarks in the face of danger. They overcome incredible odds and show no signs of weakness or fear. We sit in our seats, admiring them, and wishing we could be just like them. But the Bible's view of strength and weakness is completely different from the world's. God is not nearly so impressed with strength or nearly so bothered by weakness as we are. 

Once when Jesus was teaching a large crowd of thousands out in a wilderness area, the disciples approached Him and suggested He dismiss the crowd so that they could go into the nearby towns and get something to eat. Jesus surprised them by saying, "You give them something to eat." When they replied that the crowds were far too big for that, He asked, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." They checked around and came up with a grand total of five loaves and two fish, a pathetically small amount to try to feed the huge crowd. 

To the disciples there seemed a tremendous disparity here. Five loaves of bread for 5,000 men – this made no sense at all.  But the question was not, "What don't you have?" It was, "What do you have?" It is always this way with the Lord. The paltry amount of food was given to Jesus, who blessed it, broke it, and gave it back to the disciples for distribution. Something pretty miraculous happened while the loaves and fish were in Jesus' hands, however. As the disciples began sheepishly passing out the little bits of bread and fish they began to multiply – and to multiply again and again. The baskets overflowed with bread and fish and never stopped overflowing until everyone had been fed and was full. The result was that what had seemed utterly inadequate to feed the crowd turned out to be not only adequate but more than adequate – "And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish." There were leftovers! 

How this relates to us 

Satan is the ultimate discourager. He will give you a thousand different reasons why you should not attempt to do anything for Christ. We often look at others we perceive to be more talented than us, more beautiful than us, more articulate than us, and decide we are merely second class Christians never meant to do much in Christ's service. We think, "Ministry is for the strong, for the highly talented, for the extraordinary folks – not for common, ordinary, shop-at-Wal-Mart, eat-at-McDonalds people like me." Sometimes we allow particular weaknesses to discourage us. "Maybe I  could have done something significant, but because of this one situation, this one weakness, this one problem I face in my life, I had better stay home, watch TV, and mind my own business." 

We cannot wait for ideal conditions before we get started serving Christ! In Proverbs we read, "The lazy man says, 'There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!'' (Proverbs 22:13). The flesh will always look for any reason, any difficulty, any weakness it can use as an excuse for never attempting anything for Christ.  

God loves to use the weak for His mighty purposes! The classic Bible example of this is found in the Old Testament story of Gideon. An angel appeared to the young man and told him God wanted to use him to deliver Israel from their oppressors, the Midianites. Gideon raised an army of 32,000 for this purpose, but before he could engage the enemy army, God stopped him in his tracks, telling him, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'" God felt the Israelite army was too strong – when they overcame their enemy they would simply assume they had done it on their own. So He had Gideon put them through a series of tests that whittled the army down from 32,000 to 300! Now God had an army he was prepared to use. 

That God may be glorified 

The reason God delights to choose the foolish to confound the wise and the weak to confound the strong is found in the phrase, "lest Israel claim glory for itself…" Who gets the glory for the victories in our lives is a huge deal to God. He delights to come to the rescue of His people, but He insists that He be given the glory. This is not because God is narcissistic, but because it is extremely unhealthy for God's people to assume they have accomplished great things by reason of their own superior qualities. God's people being successful is not a problem for Him – in fact He very much desires this. But being successful and foolishly assuming you are the reason for your own success is very much a problem. For this reason God must frequently allow things in our lives that seem to make us less likely to achieve success, in order that He may display His power and receive the glory when the success comes, not so much because of us but in spite of us. We curse and bemoan our weaknesses, thinking they disqualify us for fruitful service, when in fact those very weaknesses may be the prerequisite for our success.

This is not just true with Old Testament stories of battles; it is every bit as true as we minister in Christ's service under the New Covenant. Paul speaks directly to this theme when he declares, "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Notice that Paul repeats himself here. He starts out the sentence with "lest I be exalted above measure, talks about this mysterious thorn in the flesh, and then concludes with the very same phrase he began with, "lest I be exalted above measure." He wants us to get it – God loves to use and empower His people but the one thing He cannot abide is when we begin, either in our own eyes or in the eyes of others, to be exalted above measure. And so He creates or allows various thorns in the flesh, uniquely tailored for those He entrusts His marvelous insights and gifts. 

We like to think we are at our best when everything is going great for us. We are fat and sassy, our skies are blue, our future is rosy, and we have no pressing problems to distract us from doing God's will. In truth having pressing problems or unsettling weaknesses may be one of the major things that qualifies us for successful service. But regardless of whether our infirmities and needs are thorns from God or merely the result of being human and living in a fallen world, we cannot afford to allow them to keep us from attempting great things for God. And as we do we will be amazed at the creative ways God finds to use us in spite of these weaknesses. 

Floyd the Barber 

One of my favorite TV shows is the old 1960's Andy Griffith show. This show aired for eight seasons and never dropped below the number seven slot throughout its history. When they finally ended the series it was resting at number one. But after the fifth season they had a major crisis. Don Knotts, who played the proud, bumbling deputy Barney Fife, left the show. Don was a comic genius and many wondered if there was any way the series could continue without him. In earlier seasons Howard McNear had added a comic touch as Floyd the barber, but in 1964 he had suffered a massive stroke and was forced to leave the show.

 Knowing they were in trouble without Knotts, the producers decided to give McNear a call and see if he were feeling up to coming back to his role as Floyd. But McNear was so devastated physically by the stroke that he could not stand more than a minute, he couldn't walk, and his left hand was entirely useless. Nevertheless Howard was willing to give it a go, and agreed to come back to the show if they could work around his physical limitations.

 The result was magic. Howard came back and became a very important addition to the program. If you watch him in seasons six and seven you will find him almost always sitting. The few times he appears to be standing, he was in truth being supported by a special brace which held him up. Shooting schedules were changed so that his days would not be so long as before. Yet despite the problems, some of his best performances were accomplished in the space of those two years, and he was a major reason why the Andy Griffith Show never fell in the ratings. Finally by the last episode of season seven he realized he could go no further. His speech was starting to slur and he had trouble remembering his lines. Within two years Howard McNear passed away.

 Amazingly most folks who are not die hard Andy Griffith Show fanatics would never know this about "Floyd the barber." He was so funny and so much an integral part of the show they would never guess the tremendous effort it took this man to play Floyd in those two seasons. Instead of worrying about what he did not have, he used what he had and entertained millions of people. 

Vessels of clay 

Potter making pot

Paul writes, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). We have a treasure! We who have been born again through faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected One, have been given Christ's very nature in the Person of the Holy Spirit. We are promised amazing things as a result of our relationship with God through Christ – answered prayer, power over Satan and his demons, a life of triumph, all our needs supplied, and the wisdom of God for all our perplexing challenges. We walk through this life as fabulously wealthy men and women.

 But this treasure is placed within earthen vessels – vessels with flaws, vessels that don't look so pretty, vessels that stumble over our words, vessels that are prone to depression, vessels that get the flu and colds, vessels that age and become wrinkled, vessels that get headaches, and are prone to worry too much. And on top of all of that, almost all of us look at the vessels of others and wonder why our vessel wasn't created a bit more like theirs. If only God had consulted us before creating us! If only we had a more outgoing personality, or were a little smarter, or a whole lot prettier, or more athletic, or healthier, or more self-confident! If we just had a few adjustments we could really be something Jesus could use, but as it is, well, not so much.

 We were not made to be too comfortable, too self-satisfied, too smug, too full of ourselves in this life. And just to make sure that doesn't happen God allows various infirmities, needs, reproaches, distresses, and issues in our lives. These are not our enemies nor are they distractions or hindrances to attaining the fullness of the will of God in our lives. They are simply reminders of the one basic truth that came from the mouth of Jesus which we must never forget: "Without Me you can do nothing." Our weaknesses are not a reason for us to withdraw from the active service of our Lord, but rather to depend upon Christ and look to Him continually to be our strength.

God is not looking for golden vessels or silver vessels; He is looking for yielded vessels. He doesn't require men and women of great talent and polish, but men and women fully devoted to Him and to His Son Jesus Christ. Ours is not to focus on our inability but to offer ourselves to Christ and let Him do with us as He wills. Paul writes, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). As you offer yourself to Jesus as a vessel for His use, the question is not what you don't have, but what you do have. However puny, however pathetic, however unimpressive, give Him what you do have and watch Him use you.




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