Meditations on “God of Transformation: 16: Is the need too great?
John 6:5-7 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
On two occasions Jesus fed large crowds and at each of the two there was a different challenge presented. In this time in our verses above, the feeding of the five thousand (see v.10), the crowd is there stretched out before them, coming towards them v.5 says, and Jesus’ first thought is for the wellbeing of this people, They are on the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (v.1) and there are no shops nearby, although it was doubtful if even a few shops could cope with this crowd. Yes, still, there is a need and Jesus confronts it by speaking it out: “he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (v.5) He knows it is an impossible situation but he says it, “only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” (v.6) The test is to face Philip with the need – a very large crowd of hungry people and nowhere in the vicinity that can provide food for them all – and see if he suggests asking for heaven to change or transform the situation somehow. But all Philip can do is acknowledge the size of the problem: “Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (v.7) Everything we have read so far simply emphasises the enormity of the need. We’ll look tomorrow at the smallness of the available resources but let’s for now simply focus on ‘the need’.
We live in a day where, whether it is the USA, the UK or other Western nations, Christians are now in a minority. Figures suggested vary according to who you listen to but for the USA at this time I have heard it said that only about 30% of the population are regular church goers (and that says nothing about the quality of their church going) while in the UK it is only about 5%. In other words there is a harvest of about 70% waiting in the USA and 95% in the UK. The only trouble is that they either aren’t or don’t realise they are (spiritually) hungry. So that makes the need out there ever greater.
I don’t believe the church in the USA has come to this yet (still living on your national optimism in the face of falling numbers) but in the UK, I believe in many is the feeling, rather like Philip, “What can we do? The problem is too big?” Indeed we may believe in revival and so move to the fall-back position of saying, “Well God could move sovereignly so we’ll leave it up to Him to bring the change that is impossible for us.” There is an element of truth in that, for really it is only God who can bring salvation and yes, the history of revivals shows that He can move sovereignly and sweep millions into His kingdom, but have you noticed, the history of revivals indicates He clearly only wants to do that from time to time. They are few and far between. So where does this leave us?
It leaves us recognising that only Jesus can provide for this crowd, only Jesus can satisfy the hunger in these people, only this one single body confronted by this great crowd can meet the need that is there. But hold on, where is this body today? Here, in you and me, for the New Testament tells us that we are the body of Christ. Now Christ is the head of this body and so he is the one who imparts wisdom and direction to it, and his Holy Spirit is the one who will release power through this body.
Now there is a danger at this point that many fall into and write books about. And it is to suggest a method or methods by how we confront the need before us. That is no good if our faith level is so low that we believe the problem is too big to be confronted. That is what this story so far is all about – confronting Philip with an impossible need and seeing if he comes up with the answer, “Well Lord, I can’t deal with it but I know you can and I know so often you want to involve us, so what do you want me to do?”
Within that little sentence is a handful of key issues. First, recognize that indeed the problem before us is beyond us. We, on our own do not have the resources to handle it. So, second, we need to turn to Jesus and seek Him for answers because he DOES have answers to EVERYTHING and if we don’t truly believe that then we are really lost! But, third, there is this thing that again and again it is obvious that Jesus wanted to, and still wants to, involve his disciples in what he is doing, so our praying would not be merely, “Lord, help, help, please do something,” but should be, “Lord, show us what you want us to be doing.”
The followers of Jesus under persecution in Acts 4 prayed but realised they needed to be part of the answer and so asked, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29) But they were willing to go even further than that, they wanted to be doing the works of Jesus as he had said (Jn 14:12), “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:30) The result? “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) i.e. instant answers. Being filled with the Spirit brought boldness and ability. At the very least we need a church that is filled with the Spirit, open to Jesus’ leading, and ready to speak to the world.
I repeat again, Jesus has the answers; he just looks for people who will not be dominated into submission by the magnitude of the problem. We’ve seen how David overcame the giant, in an earlier meditation, and that is what we have before us today. Of three things I am certain: 1) God wants to change the situation, and 2) He wants to use His church to do it, and 3) The change will come when His church is open to receive His wisdom, His power, His direction and, as He speaks, His faith. Go with that and watch the transformation! We may be living in one of the most exciting periods of history in this next decade – if we hear.