I know we've all been there. We are staring down the bills, or the calendar, or the to-do list, or the "needed repairs" list, and we're coming up short. The math doesn't add up, and we have no way of forcing it to work out. The question is, when we don't have enough--time, money, energy, resources--what do we do?
When I was in college, between my freshman and sophomore year, I did a study abroad over summer break. It was a transitional season of life: going from adolescence to adulthood, and experiencing all the angst and stress that goes with that. I had made some mistakes, and was feeling the consequences. I had taken some leaps of faith, and was fully at God's mercy to catch me. I was staring down some pretty grim financial conundrums, and praying like crazy. And while I was sitting on my bed alone, I pulled out a book that a friend had given me at the start of my trip: "There is Always Enough." I can't overstate the timeliness of that gift.
As I read the story of a woman who depended on God for her literal daily bread, and for the needs of the hundreds of orphans for which she cared and served, I was changed somehow. I can't really explain it, but I could feel things shifting inside me--the rattling of chains loosening and falling to the floor. And at that same time, I got some news of a HUGE breakthrough in a desperate situation I was in: God had worked a miracle on my behalf. He was taking care of me, even from thousands of miles away, when I was completely in the wrong, and completely helpless. So from somewhere deep inside, I felt a prayer rising up, a promise: God, I will never worry about money again.
This has been a tough promise to keep at times, and I've definitely gone through seasons that have tested it. But God always reminds me not only of my promise--but of his kindness and faithfulness, of his constant loving care for me. He reminds me that I can trust him.
Lately, the story of Jesus miraculously feeding the 4,000 seems to keep popping up in my life. I keep encountering it, somehow, and I know that God is reminding me of some fundamental lessons.
"About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, 'I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.'
His disciples replied, 'How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?'
Jesus asked, 'How much bread do you have?'
'Seven loaves,' they replied.
So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. A few small fish were fond, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.
They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten."
As I've read this story the last few times, a few things especially stand out:
- Firstly, the disciples recognize and state that they clearly don't have enough. The math isn't adding up. They're coming up short, and they're not shy about telling Jesus that.
- Secondly, before Jesus does anything else, he thanks God for the seven loaves. The seven loaves that will NOT feed 4,000 people--Jesus thanks God for them.
- Thirdly, Jesus doesn't just make it enough for a little snack. He doesn't just barely provide the crumbs that are going to get these hungry folks by, he fills their bellies, and provides leftovers to boot.
This story shows us a glimpse of what God is like. First of all, God doesn't expect head-in-the-sand, "I'm-fine-everything's fine" type of stuff. He doesn't want sugar-coated, "Sunday School answers" about our situation. He doesn't require us to pull ourselves together and recite some name-it-claim-it bull honkey. He welcomes our honesty, and enters our actual reality. He embraces us, as-is.
We can be brutally honest with God. If you're not sure about that, read the Psalms. It doesn't stress God out one bit for us to come saying, "Here it is. Our measly seven loaves. This is all we've got and there are 4,000 freaking people to feed. This is the situation."
The second thing I've noticed has been really challenging to me:
Jesus takes what is NOT ENOUGH, lifts it up, and THANKS GOD FOR IT.
I don't know about you, but I'm not naturally inclined to look at the amount that's not cutting it, and immediately feel gratitude. It's much easier to look at the gap between what we need and what we have, and feel stress, anxiety, fear, worry, insecurity, or the cover up for all these other emotions: anger. But instead, Jesus sets the example of giving thanks for whatever we have: no matter how little.
And when it's all done, and the food has been distributed, they ate their fill and had seven baskets of leftovers. The seven loaves had been multiplied into seven baskets--plus enough to feed 4,000 mouths. When we're looking at our own little seven loaves, and the ginormous need of 4,000 people is staring us down, we can trust the God of abundance. When the need far outstretches what we have, we can trust the God who provides even more than is needed.
I have several areas in my life right now that feel like a "7-loaves-for-4,000-people" type of situation. And so here I am. Again. Coming to God with what I have. Maybe you have a situation like this of your own. I won't sugar coat it--this is a hard place to be. But in the midst of these situations, I can tell you from experience that gratitude and trust is much better than worry. There is no joy to be found in fear, insecurity, and anger. So I invite you to join me in this:
Let's state our need with complete honesty.
Let's give thanks for whatever it is that we have--let's choose to thank God for what's currently not enough.
And then let's lift up our "not enough" to the God who is able to turn it into more than enough.