Is obedience convenient? If we only obey when it is, are we actually disobedient? Do you know that God’s calling in our lives is seldom easy or non-intrusive? His lordship imposes itself on our self - imposed schedules in ways that can alarm us or derail our plans and efforts to stay in our comfort zones. And we do try to stay in our comfort zone. Consider an example from the gospels:
Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 is recorded in all four gospels. In Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and in John 6. A close reading of the accounts of this event and of its surrounding context gives a pretty amazing picture.
To begin with, John the Baptist had recently been executed by the local ruler, Herod. Jesus had learned about it and sought a quiet spot. He was both fully God and fully man. He felt emotions just as we do. Humanly speaking, John was his relative and more than that, had been the prophet who God had called and sent to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry (Is 40, Mal 3 and 4). He heard the news and sought a quiet place to think.
Secondly, Jesus had sent the 12 out to preach the kingdom, to heal and exert authority over the enemy. They had just returned after a prolonged time away and He wanted time with them.
They withdrew to a secluded place,\the north end of the Lake of Galilee below the town of Bethsaida. It was fairly remote - it was miles from other towns/villages. Moreover, it was the hometown of three of Jesus’ apostles: Peter, Andrew and Philip. This town was a smallish, but important town set on a hill just east of the place where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee. Its name means “House of Fishing.”
The crowds, seeing Jesus leave by boat followed on foot and after He and the 12 arrived at Bethsaida they approached. A lot of them. The gospels make two things known about their numbers: 5,000 men. And they did not record the number of women and children. In short, there were a lot of people.
Jesus, looked at them and His heart went out to them. He may have been weary in mind and body but He healed their sick. God doesn’t only call us to serve when we are well rested and “up” for ministry. As the day passed, the apostles, especially those from Bethsaida urged Jesus to send the people away to the other towns to get food etc. I wonder if they were uneasy about bringing all these people to their hometown. Were they uneasy about the sheer numbers overwhelming their community, perhaps also uneasy because they were anxious over being blamed by their friends and relations for bringing a huge problem to their hometown? Think about that many people in one place! There were no porta- potties back then. What would that hill and the flats below it be like for weeks after thousands of people staying there for hours? Gross. And what of the town’s resources? Probably ample for its population but very likely totally inadequate for the numbers gathered just beyond its wall. Imagine 10-12 thousand extra people showing up in our community unannounced? The strain on resources would be great. The apostles just wanted the problem to go away. Is this how we respond to challenges God sends our way? Truthfully, it often is. God sends us opportunities and we see only problems.
Jesus had a plan. He told them, “You give them something to eat.” He had just shown Himself powerful to do through them what He commanded them to do. They had been used by God to heal people spiritually and physically, to proclaim the kingdom and He had sustained them in the process. On His command they had not travelled with extra clothes or money but had depended on Him for their daily needs. How quickly they forgot. God will sustain us in trials and hardships and then at the first sign of trouble we act like the sky is falling. How quickly we forget!
Jesus had the people sit down in groups of 50 or so, blessed the meager resources that they had (a few small loaves of bread and a couple fish), gave thanks and started dividing it up into baskets. And He fed everyone. We see only our limited resources, God is unlimited. Would to God that we would focus on His sufficiency rather than our own inadequacy! In the end, 12 baskets of leftovers were collected. Interesting that there was one for each apostle. I think that the message there was that when God provides for ministry and we obey He also provides for us.
God had it all handled. So - Do we obey only when it is easy, convenient or “fun?” God has a word for this attitude - disobedience.
- When we face hardships in our lives, and in our ministries (Yes, God has gifted and called each of us to serve and minister 1 Cor 12:7), we are certainly free to ask God to take the problem away.
- But, if a wise and all-powerful God has allowed this thing to happen and confront us, then He likely wants us to do something. We should start looking for opportunities in the issues and problems that arise. God has it handled!
- We need to be open to whatever God wants to. He seldom does things the way we would. The apostles saw sending the crowds away as the solution. Get rid of the problem! God was concerned to meet the immediate need of the crowd - food. And He was revealing Himself to the people to address the larger issue - their need of salvation. We need to start looking for opportunities to make Him known when we are confronted by events that challenge us. “How can I be used by God to serve in this thing?” “How does God want me to grow through this?” Things like that.
- Finally, remember the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Tim 4:1-5: Timothy was
to be ready to serve “in season or out.” In other words, whether or not it is
convenient or easy. This command is not only for Timothy but for us all.
- In seeking to be obedient in all things, we will learn to love as He does, to
serve as He did and I believe, we will begin to see the glory of God as He
works in all things.
In Jesus, Tony