This is my third and final attempt at getting my brain around God’s expectations that we reach out to the world around us. See the preceeding two postings for the beginning of this train of thought (though I think each will more or less stand on it’s own.)
How do we do it? How do we reach out?
There are so many who are lost and hungry. There are so many ways that we are lost and hungry, all of us.
And if we chose only one of these countless problems, we could give every dime we have. We could spend our every waking moment trying to solve some problem. We could sacrifice ourselves and our careers and our families.
And we would not even dent the problem.
What can we do? Why should we bother? It won’t change anything, will it?
There’s this story that they tell us as they train us to be Special Education teachers. It’s a story of a guy walking on a beach. It seems that sometime before, a storm came up and washed all these star fish on to the sand. The tide was receeding but the star fish were left behind. They were dying on the beach.
And this guy, he was looking at the hundreds and thousands of star fish. They stretched out, as far as the eye could see.
And this man, he was picking up the star fish. And he was tossing them back in, one by one.
Somebody approached the man. He said “There’s no way you could ever get all these star fish back into the ocean. You’ll never save them all. It does not matter if you spend all day today and all day tomorrow and even the day after that. You’ll never finish the job.”
Now the guy, he had a pretty good answer. He looked down at the star fish in his hand, and he said “It doesn’t matter? How can you say it doesn’t matter?” He tossed the star fish back in. “It means everything to the star fish I just tossed back in.”
That guy on the beach, he was reaching out. There were people who said it didn’t matter. But it mattered to the ones he impacted. It mattered to the star fish who made it back in.
I think this is a pretty good story. But I think the reality is even better.
But I have to say that I think as followers of Christ we make a mistake sometimes. We miss out on how great the truth really is. I think if this was a story we’d find in a Christian fiction book, the man would be likely to come upon that scene and drop to his knees, and he’d cry out to God. He’d pray for all those lost star fish.
If this were a Ted Decker or Frank Peretti book, angels would zoom in from out of the sky. They’d life the star fish with mental telepathy. In one tremendous motion, they would splash down back into their home. The star fish and the angels would rejoice. The story would end happily.
But let me ask you a question…
How many times have the lost and alone been like star fish at your feet? How many times have you seen hurting and brokenness? How many times have you prayed your heart out for them?
If you’re like me, you’ve done this a lot. Probably too many times to count.
And let me ask you another question:
How many times have the angels come?
Probably not very many.
This can leave us feeling scared and lost and alone.
We can feel that God doesn’t care. We can feel that his promises are false…
But does God promise us these angels that will come and do the work of reaching out in our place? Ted Decker might promise them. Frank Perretti might promise them. But does Jesus?
Many of us know the story of the fishes and loaves. But do we take it seriously? Jesus did almost the exact same miracle twice. And the story of these miracles appears in all four gospels.
We read eight tellings in total, of Jesus feeding the hungry. I have to wonder what would be so important about this that God would tell it over, and over, and over again. I think it’s because the point is so important. I think it’s because the point is so easy to miss.
So what’s the point?
I’m glad you asked.
Let’s look at the story:
The disciples are like us. They see a need. And it appears they’re worried about it.
They are further like us. They ask the Lord for help.
And here’s where things get interesting.
The things that Jesus actually said are not the sort-of things Jesus usually says in Christian movies.
Jesus says “You do it.”
And the disciples… They don’t do it.
The people closest to Jesus, the people who are supposed to be in the know… They miss it.
And even when they come close to getting it, they don’t even seem to realize it.
In the book of John, we are told: 8Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
We, the people who are supposed to be closest to Jesus. We miss it, sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong. I love prayer. And Jesus is real. He is alive and he is the object of my worship. But he said something important. Something important that his followers then and now miss. He said “You do it.”
Who got it?
The person who got it was a kid with his lunch. If he’d been a few years younger, maybe he would have pulled that gross cracker right out of his mouth.
A detail that appears in these stories all 8 times is that Jesus brings the food before God.
Once he did that, we get the special effects. Once that boy reached out with what he had, God stepped in. He multiplied it, and multiplied it, and he multiplied it.
Right now, we’re asking the question, “How do you reach out?”
And the answer is this:
You turn what you have over to God. And God will take care of the rest.
Sometimes you reach out like a toddler with wafer in your hand. And sometimes you reach out because you need to be picked up. But either way, you just… reach out.
When you reach out, Jesus is with you.
When you are imprisoned, and naked and hungry, Jesus is with you. And as people treat you, so they treat him.
When you are healing, and saving, and setting the captives free… Jesus is with you.
Jesus never asked you to solve the world’s problems. Jesus gave you everything you have: your talents, your time, and your treasure. He knows better than you how little you have.
But he just wants you to start. He wants you to do what you can. He’ll do the rest. You pull the little cookie out of your mouth and offer it to somebody. You hand over your lunch. He’s the one who’s going to feed the thousands with it.