== Love God == Delight in Light ==

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Loaves, Fish, Pride and Burnout

It was my turn to speak at Church this past Sunday, and I spoke about the story in John 6:1-13 of the feeding of the 5000.

This story caught my interest because it includes the information that it was a "young lad" who gave the 5 loaves and 2 fish that Jesus used to feed that huge crowd of people.

There isn't very much recorded about that lad beyond that simple fact, but it seems to me that reading between the lines a bit draws out some interesting lessons that I need to keep reminding myself about. Of course, since these details aren't actually recorded in this situation, there is no way of knowing whether my assumptions were in fact true in that case. However, I think that they are general principles that are held up by other scriptures.

[1] - The first point that I noticed was that although there were so many people there, it seems that this lad was the only one who actually did something constructive to help to deal with the situation.

I don't know if it was just that he was the only one who happened to have food with him, but I suspect not. Either way, I think that it illustrates the point that God wants us to do something. Of course, He could achieve everything He wanted to through His own strength and action, but it seems that He has chosen to rather work through His servants (i.e. us). So we shouldn't just sit around wondering when God is going to get His act into gear and "feed the 5000" - rather we need to get up and do something to help.

In Isaiah 6:8, Isaiah illustrates this attitude when he says "here I am - send me". He was willing to get up and do something. Similarly, in Matt 9:37-38, Jesus calls for workers for the harvest - in other words, He wants people who are willing to actually get on and do something.

[2] - The second point was that it appears that this lad gave all that he had. It doesn't appear, from what is said in the passage that he kept any of his food for himself.

Again, whether or not this was actually the case in that situation, it is certainly true that God wants us to give everything. In Romans 12:1, for example, that we should give ourselves as a "living and holy sacrifice". I think that God wants us to see ourselves and everything we have as completely His. And, when we are thinking about how to use those resources, we should, as it says in Philippians 2, think about other people's needs and interests ahead of our own.

This seems to be the attitude that the lad in John 6 had - he put the needs of those other people ahead of his own need for that food. Unfortunately, far too often I am more like the rich ruler who wasn't prepared to accept Jesus instruction for him to sell all that he had and follow Jesus (see Luke 18:18-27) - I am happy, maybe, to entrust Jesus with 10%, but not 100%.

Maybe the problem is that I don't have the necessary faith in Jesus' promise in Matt 6:33 that if God's interests are what I "seek first" then those other needs will be met. It is interesting, isn't it, that that lad, in spite of giving away all his food, still ate his fill - the only difference was that everyone else also got to eat their fill as well.

[3] - The third interesting point was that the thing that the lad did was relevant to the situation.

I think that sometimes we have that attitude that since God can use whatever we do there's no need for us to worry about whether or not we're doing the right, or most appropriate, thing. Of course, it is true that God could use anything we do for His ends. If the lad had handed Jesus some stones, then Jesus could have turned those into food and fed everyone. However, the lad gave food - the best thing to give when the issue at had is that of feeding people.

Our abilities to think, reason and plan are just as much gifts from God any anything else, so it seems to me that we should be using those for His ends just as we should be using our other gifts. In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus told His disciples to be as "shrewd as serpents". In other words, He wanted them to use their heads. However, along with that instruction, He promised that they would be given the words that they needed when brought before the authorities.

It seems that God wants us to use our intelligence in an attempt to serve Him in the best way, but not rely on that intelligence. We do our best - then He takes that and makes it good enough. That lad did his best: he gave food in a situation where food was needed - then Jesus took over and made it good enough to deal with the needs of the situation.

[4] - The fourth (and final!) point was one that I found particularly relevant to myself: that lad doesn't appear to have attempted to give more that he had to give. He gave what he had, yes, but he didn't then try to do anything more than that. Because he couldn't. He had no more food to give, and, as far as one can tell, he didn't then go off in a desperate attempt to find more food so that he could provide enough for all those 5000+ people.

In my society we are generally more interested in results that in effort. We are more interested in "what did you achieve" or "did you meet your objectives" than in "did you do all you can" or even "did you work hard". But that doesn't seem to be God's approach. In 1 Cor 3:4-9, Paul points out that God expects us to "plant" and "water" but He is the one who "causes the growth". I believe that we need to avoid the mind-set of trying to achieve things that only God can achieve.

That mind-set leads to two common problems: pride and burnout.

If we do something, and God achieves something through it, then we need to recognise that, as Paul says in 1 Cor 4:7, all we did was give back what God has given us. We didn't achieve it - God did. The lad didn't achieve the goal of feeding 5000+ people - Jesus did. The lad could hardly go have and boast about the fact that he had managed to feed 5000 people!

On the other hand, understanding this fact helps us to avoid stress and burn-out. Imagine if that lad had been given the task of sorting out the food for those 5000 people in that situation - he wouldn't have had a hope. If he had thought that he could then the stress of trying would probably have done him in! Similarly, we often look at things that need to be achieved in the world and try to take the burden of solving them on our own shoulders. And then we wonder why we cave in under the stress of it all. The problems around us are far too large to be fixed by us. There are many things that need to be achieved that are far too difficult for us to achieve - only God can achieve them. So we should give up trying. Rather we should give our "5 loaves and 2 fish" and then allow God to use them in whatever way He sees fit.

What God does with what we give may be in line with what we expect. Or it may not. He may do something large and impressive or He may do something small and (in our eyes) insignificant. Whatever it is, however, you can be sure that it will be right.

So those were the four points that I gleaned from reading between the lines of that story. Maybe I'm reading more into that particular story than actually happened, but I think the points are still valid. When we look around us and see things that need doing, we need to:
  • Do something - it may be small, but we should at least do something!
  • Give our all - remember that everything we are and have belongs to God - put other people's interests ahead of our own.
  • Act sensibly - God has given us brains: we should use them.
  • Don't try to do what only God can do - if we try to feed 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish we will fail. Only God can do that. We are responsible for doing what we can do - God is responsible for achieving the results.

I hope that this encourages you to go ahead and give God your "5 loaves and 2 fish" - whatever they may be in your particular case. This website is part of my giving God my "5 loaves and 2 fish". What God will do with it I don't know. It may be something large or it may be something small - that's God's choice. My part is to use my skills to do things that I think will be useful to Him in a way that I think is most likely to be of use to Him. My part is to think about how I can use this site to serve others rather than to serve myself. My job is to be a tool. God's job is to use His tools to build things.

I hope that one day, when I am on my death-bed, I will be able to look back over my life and say that I gave God my loaves and fish.

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