By Brian Onken
I sat in my office, listening to another story of trouble and difficulty. This couple sitting with me was between work, needing help, struggling financially. I was thinking, “What would Jesus do?” Yes, the WWJD thought is clich, but it seemed appropriate. But then is dawned on me, maybe it really wasn’t all that appropriate. What really mattered was not what Jesus would have done, but what Jesus was doing, right there in that moment.
As we walk with Jesus, journeying with him in our day-to-days, he involves us in what he is doing. His desire for us, as his followers and friends, is that we participate in his ongoing life and ministry. He is not some long-dead though-not-forgotten hero of years gone by; he is the living Lord of life and he is still present and active in the world. Through his Word (the Scriptures) and through his Spirit’s presence in the lives of those who follow him, he continues to extend his influence, his care, his love, his presence.
Sometimes, when we feel his tug or grasp from his Word something he might want us to do, we can find ourselves pulling back, resisting. We don’t always, readily, give into his invitation to participate and join him in what he is doing. It’s not that we plan on being obstinate, we just find rising in our own heart a reluctance. It will be crucial to understand why that push back comes, so that we can find better ways to more readily give in to Jesus.
As we watch the close circle of disciples on their journey with Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, we gain insight about how and why this disciple-life is to be lived. To see them struggle helps us to realize that our struggles are not unique; to realize that Jesus didn’t give up on them leads to confidence that he won’t give up on us.
In Mark 6, these twelve disciples have just returned from being sent out by Jesus; they went out as extensions of his own ministry. They taught, they proclaimed the kingdom; some people were healed, others delivered from demonic oppression. They were partnering with Jesus in his work. And, as they gathered back with him, they ended up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by a great crowd.
Jesus taught the crowd; the crowd stayed and listened through the long day. And everyone was getting hungry. So the disciples suggested that the crowd be sent away to get food and fend for themselves. But Jesus turned to the twelve and said, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37).
And they balked; the twelve resisted. They argued back. “You want us to somehow come up with a year’s wages and find a place to purchase enough bread to feed this crowd here in this desolate place?” And the way Mark records it for us, you have to read their response with more than just a tinge of sarcasm. It’s a “You’ve got to be kidding!” kind of reply.
But Jesus wasn’t kidding. He really knew what he was doing. And he really wanted them to give food to the multitude. What they stumbled over was the “How?” They heard him clearly say what he wanted them to do. But they then looked at their resources and they looked to their own thoughts for a strategy and then concluded: “We can’t possibly do that!” So, they pushed back.
What is so wonderful and amazing in the account (which, yes, you should read!) is that it ended up happening just as Jesus had said. The disciples gave the crowd something to eat.
No, they didn’t do it on their own; but then he hadn’t said they would. No, they didn’t do it the way they thought; but then he wasn’t inviting them to figure it out. No, they hadn’t grasped how he was planning on stepping in and stepping up to make sure his will was carried out; but then they hadn’t asked him how he wanted them to do it, they only pushed back, resisted, refused. But it did happen, just as he said. They gave the crowd something to eat.
As wonderful as the miracle was, as delightful as it must have been to have that huge crowd fed, as marvelous the memory of that moment would have been in the minds of those who shared that special picnic lunch, what is sweeter is that Jesus involved a few obstinate and reluctant disciples in what he was doing. He enfolded them in his plans and purposes in spite of how they, initially, resisted. And it happened, just as he said.
We need to see that. Because when we hear Jesus tell us things-through his Word, by his Spirit-we often feel that initial push back. We look at our resources and we look to our own thoughts for a strategy and then conclude: “We can’t possibly do that!” So, we push back.
And, still, he continues to involve us; not abandoning us to our objections to his way of doing things. And, still, he presses on to his end; not giving in to our reluctance but winning us over, involving us in his gracious and great plans.
I’m not sure what Jesus is doing with that couple that just left my office, but I don’t want to push back. I really want to get involved in what He is doing. After all, what he wants to do will happen, just as he said. I just don’t want to miss it.
Brian is on a life long adventure into an ever-expanding experience of joy in being a follower of Jesus. Reflections on this adventure can be found at his blog, Summathetes.