"Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties."
Mark 6:39-40 (NIV)
Worn out. Hungry. Without resources. Needs on every side. That's what Jesus' disciples faced at the end of a long day of ministry. Even Jesus was ready for a rest. So He suggested they go by boat to a solitary place. Great idea, right? Well, it didn't work out that way.
By that point in Jesus' ministry, people followed Him everywhere. In fact, they were so desperate for His touch, they ran around the lake, and actually got to the other side before Jesus did.
Imagine the disciples' response seeing all those needy people. I imagine they felt empty. Have you ever felt that way? … exhausted by the demands on you … emotionally bankrupt … at the end of your resources with nothing left to give?
Just when the disciples wanted to curl up and rest, Jesus started to teach to the people. Didn't He notice they were exhausted? They wanted to do nothing, because that's all they thought they could do.
The disciples even tried to stop Jesus from teaching, and send the people away so they could do nothing in peace. They said, "This is a remote place ... and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat" (Mark 6:35b-36).
So not only were the disciples exhausted, they were in a barren place with NO resources. I know what that feels like. There have been times in my life when needs faced me at every turn, circumstances and people thwarted my best efforts, and hope flickered like a weak flame. At those times, "nothing" seemed like all I could do.
On that day when the disciples felt they could not take on one more task, Jesus gave them a biggie. Instead of allowing them to send the people away, Jesus said, "You give them something to eat" (Mark 6:37).
Jesus then asked the disciples to present what food they had. It wasn't much, but they handed over five loaves of bread and two fish. Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups (v. 39).
While the disciples did that, Jesus thanked God for the food and gave it back to the disciples to pass around. Jesus worked a miracle that day, all the people were fed, and there were 12 baskets of food left.
I've read that story many times in my life, but recently something stood out to me. Why did Jesus ask the disciples to have the people sit? And why did they sit in groups? The most obvious answer is that in the face of an overwhelming situation, Jesus knew everybody needed order.
What if there was more than a need for simple order? What if Jesus wanted the disciples to shift their focus away from what they couldn't do, to what they could do? Then, Jesus did what only He could - He performed a miracle.
The disciples were so focused on their own lack, and how they couldn't possibly meet the overwhelming needs, they decided to do nothing. Worse than that, they forgot they were standing next to the One who could help. But Jesus put them to work on the practical task right before them, to prepare for the miracle He was about to perform.
As I face hard times in my own life, there is wisdom in this for me. Sometimes, all I think about is what I can't control. I focus on the problem and the unfairness of the situation. Even though I've prayed, confessed my needs and presented my resources to Jesus, I stay focused on what I can't do. It's a pretty limited view of the situation.
I somehow forget that I'm standing next to the One who can feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish ... and have leftovers! Sometimes, instead of doing what God has placed in front of me, I do nothing.
Perhaps, instead of wringing my hands with worry, I need to get busy with what I can control. There's always something I can do to bring order to my situation. It's not a distraction technique ... it's an act of faith. Jesus is still in the business of miracles, and I definitely can't do those.
Dear Lord, forgive me when I focus more on my own limitations rather than Your power. There is nothing too great for You. Help me to turn my thoughts away from what I can't do, to what You have placed in front of me. I trust You to do the rest. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Visit Glynnis' blog for ideas on what you can do in overwhelming circumstances
The Character of God: Understanding His Heart for Us by Brian T. Anderson & Glynnis Whitwer
One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land by Priscilla Shirer
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