Have you noticed how so many of us give up before we even try? That an opportunity comes along and guess what? Some of us think we are too old--and we give up even before we try--or too young or not educated enough or not rich enough or not beautiful enough or not articulate enough. We give up without trying.
Oh, God so often places opportunities in this path called life, but guess what? Excuses, excuses! We pass opportunities sometimes thinking these opportunities are nothing but problems to be walked around. So most of the time we give up even without trying.
I suppose much of it has to do with making mental reckonings and being realistic. I always think of a computer in our head going to work computing, adding, subtracting, dividing, and coming up short so that even before we started and before we try, we give up. Oh, it happens all the time. Like when God brings along opportunities of a lifetime, something extraordinary, something special, and guess what? We compute, calculate, estimate, come up short, and pass the opportunity even before we try.
For example, maybe God has called you to the ministry and after that call, you perhaps have decided to count the costs, count the spouse, calculate the kids, subtract the dog, multiply the loans, and the whole going-back-to-school thing, and it's easy to come up short; and next thing you know, you are just not ready to take the risk, and the call becomes a problem to be solved and passed by.
Truth is, we have closets packed with thousands of excuses why our boats are too small to sail in the big, deep side of the ocean called life. So often we opt for the safer floating along in the shallow end of the predictable, taking no risks, never going outside our comfort zone, never befriending anybody who does not look like us and think like us and believe like we do, and we never visit other parts of the world--only from the safety of our living room as we watch television. Oh, one of our favorite reasons for our shallow-end life: finances, of course! We cannot afford it, we say!
Oh, this reminds me of the Gospel of John, chapter six. That was the day Jesus was trying to get away from the crowd. Jesus crossed the sea and climbed a mountain just to get away and get some time for prayer. Oh, Jesus often took some time out, insisted on getting some quiet time, some prayer time. Jesus modeled for us that no matter what kind of wonderful ministry you're involved in, you¹ve got to make time for God. Time for reflection. Time to journal. Time to listen to God. Take time to cross the sea, climb the mountain to find that quiet place where you can be renewed in the spirit by the Spirit.
Well, this particular John 6 day, Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee and climbed up a mountain, sat down to catch his breath; he looks up, and can you believe it? Here they come. They would not let him alone. The crowd had somehow found their way to Jesus. I don¹t know if they had walked around the sea or rented boats to cross the sea. We're not told whichever way they had followed Jesus and made it to this other side of the sea. Following hard after Jesus and here they come scrambling up the mountain - men, women, children, young, old, middle-aged, healthy, the sick, the lonely, the confused, the ones struggling with addictions of various kinds. Some come for a touch. Some come for a word. Some come skipping along. Some come limping along. Some carry others, and all of them climbing up the mountainside to be with Jesus.
When Jesus saw them, all 5,000 of them, guess what he did? He turned to his disciples and said, "Looks like we¹re having guests and it's lunch time. How about a picnic? Nothing beats a picnic on the mountainside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Let's have lunch together! Let's eat together, break bread together." For Jesus this was an opportunity. An opportunity to glimpse the heavenly banquet perhaps. Oh, for Jesus, this was a wonderful opportunity to turn an ordinary day into something absolutely different.
The disciples hardly thought it was an opportunity for them. It was a problem - a big problem. Phillip was the first one to speak up. Phillip did some quick calculations and computing in his head and when he multiplied half a sandwich by 5,000 and looked at the budget, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. To get a picnic for the 5,000 would take six months of paychecks. That is how much it would cost to have a picnic on the mountainside. Truth of the matter, a picnic on the mountainside was WAY out of the budget. Having a picnic on the mountainside was a problem they could not solve even if they tried. Give up before trying! Oh, I bet you they thought, "Imagine the precedence we are setting. Imagine if word goes out that at these Jesus revivals they serve a free meal. Well, next thing we know, everybody would come to the revival expecting a freebie dinner. If you ask me, that¹s a disaster for a revival."
Phillip thinks it's a bad idea. "Lord, it¹s a bad idea. Lord, it¹s not gonna work." Phillip gives up before he tries. Oh, there¹s another disciple, Andrew, Simon Peter¹s brother. Andrew goes a bit further than Phillip and does the practical thing of looking around to see what is available outside the budget. Andrew starts a special fundraising of some sort. Andrew starts looking for contributions, a special project, a go-the-extra-mile campaign. In my mind¹s eye, I can see Andrew walking around saying to the crowd, "Does anybody have extra lunch to share? Hey, folks, if you have brought something to eat and can share, please raise your hand. Jesus wants to have a picnic on the mountainside and we need your help." Well, statistics indicate that Andrew's fundraising was hardly successful. Andrew got only one respons - ?a child, a boy. A boy was willing to share his lunch. Five slices of bread and two fish sticks. I imagine a little boy so happy that he has some contribution to give Jesus. I can see this child so glad that he has something Jesus can use. "Here's my lunch. Give this to Jesus." And guess what Jesus did with the lunch? He gave thanks. He gave God thanks for fishes and loaves. Have you given thanks lately for what you have, little as it may be?
Oh, this story reminds me of so many things. You see, I'm always amazed how over and over again God takes whatever little we have and does a great thing with it. The Bible is full of stories like that. Do you not remember Moses holding only a shepherd's staff and God asking him, "Moses, what do you have?" "Only a stick, Lord." And in the service of God, a mere shepherd¹s staff did a mighty thing. Oh, the Bible is full of stories about God taking some thing very little and doing a mighty thing. Like little boy David with only a slingshot and a pebble and at the service of God, that pebble felled a mighty giant.
My friend, when you work with God, you gotta throw out the expected. When you work with God, dream big dreams and bring whatever you have available no matter how little or how small or how modest. God uses whatever is available for God¹s service. You know what? Let¹s say God decided to put your story in the Bible today. Is there a story in your life where God worked with the little you had to do a mighty thing?
A few years ago I served as pastor of Lavington Church in Nairobi. One day three young men came to my office. Although they were cheerful, they looked tired and wore out. Their tennis shoes were dusty and their clothes needed a wash. The first thing they asked when they came into my office was whether they could sing a verse of "Amazing Grace" in their language. They sang acappella in parts. It was so beautiful. Sounded like angel music, the kind of singing that tugs at the soul and brings tears to your eyes out of the blue. And then they told me their story. They were university students from Rwanda, 23-year olds. Two of them had been medical students. When war broke out in their country, they had escaped with only the clothes on their back and the song in their heart. They had walked for weeks without a change of clothes with no place to sleep. They had often gone hungry, they said, and they had no clue where any of their family members and friends were. They said they had learned to be grateful for their life each day and they had begun singing "Amazing Grace" as a prayer as they walked. They had seen so much violence and death and cruelty that they could not find words to pray so instead they sang "Amazing Grace" as they walked and they said, "God knew and that was enough."
On that afternoon in my office, these three young men had come to church asking for assistance. They said they had found a room to rent for eight U.S. dollars a month. They said they did not need beds; they would gladly sleep on the floor. They were asking our congregation to help them with a month's rent. Eight dollars and some money for food, a total of $12 a month. I asked the three students to come back in a few days so I could meet with the church leaders, and when I met my church leaders, they all agreed it was a great ministry. But someone talked about the budget. Someone said $8 was not a lot, but if you multiplied by 12 months, the next thing you know, it would be impossible. And someone else suggested a very Andrew-like idea. "Let's have a special project," they said. "Let's have a special offering. Let's tell the congregation about the situation, have these young men sing one Sunday morning, and whoever in the congregation is willing to help, could donate outside the usual tithing and offertory." The church leaders talked late into the night. Some were even concerned that so many refugees were in the city that the word would spread our church was involved in paying rent and buying groceries and we would be swamped with needs. Some wanted to keep church and revivals only a spiritual level. No picnics, no food, no dinner.
As I listened to my church leaders, I learned so much about the myth of limited resources. We often think there's just enough for some of us. Some have to go without. We're worried we'll run out, but guess what? God's world has enough for all of us. Someone has put it well, saying, "There is enough for all our needs, but there is not enough for all our greed."
So what's with us? We know all this yet, fact is, we are so very like Phillip and Andrew. We so often imitate the disciples rather than the Lord who calls us to imitate him. Many of us have a Phillip attitude or, at best, an Andrew attitude and through this we are often stressed out.
I suppose this is why I love this story. I love this story because it was a picnic and picnics are so wonderfully simple. Everything tastes wonderful on the mountainside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the blue sky, the cool breeze, brothers and sisters around us, and before us, Jesus.
That day, there was enough for everybody and even leftovers.
Let us pray.
O God, may every day of our life be a day like a picnic on the mountainside. Oh, God, here's my few fish and loaves. Bless our picnic on the mountainside. Amen.