God Takes Our Little And Makes It Much
Here are three little stories tied together by a common thread of truth. See if you can find it…
The first story is actually an old legend from India that tells about a huge elephant and a tiny mouse who became close friends. Everywhere they went, they walked side by side. One day they came to a long narrow bridge suspended over a deep gorge. They stepped onto the bridge and walked across side by side. When they reached the other side, the little mouse turned to the elephant and said proudly: “Wow! We sure made that old bridge shake, didn’t we?”
The second story involves Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of our time. A couple of years ago in a crucial play-off game, Michael Jordan scored 63 points. A few days later, one of Michael Jordan’s teammates was being interviewed on television. This particular player is not a star, but he is a good substitute who comes off the bench to play just a few minutes every game. The interviewer said to him: “What’s it like being a bench warmer in the big leagues, getting into the game only for just a few minutes? Can you think of any special highlight from that experience?” With tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek, the journeyman player answered: “Well, I will never forget the night Michael Jordan and I combined to score 65 points!”
The third story is lifted from John, Chapter 6, the story of how Jesus fed the 5000. He used five barley loaves and two fish, provided by a little boy, to miraculously feed the vast multitude of people. One legend connected to the story tells that after the miracle, this little boy ran home to his house shouting: “Mama! Mama! You’ll never guess what Jesus and I did today!”
Of course, by now you’ve grasped the common thread of truth in those stories. It’s this. When we join forces with a greater strength, then together we can do incredible things. The spiritual message is obvious: God can take our little and make it much. If we will simply offer Him what we have, humble though it may be, He can use it in amazing and miraculous ways.
That’s the message to be drawn from the story of the feeding of the 5000. And that must be an important message for us to hear. You see, not counting the resurrection, this is the only miracle in the whole ministry of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels. Surely that is proof that God wants us to be familiar with the message contained in this miracle. And the fact is that as we study the story, three important lessons emerge. Interestingly enough, the three key lessons are wrapped up in the attitudes of the three key characters in the story.
First, we encounter in the story the attitude by Jesus who refused to run from a big Challenge.
You will remember that after a long campaign of teaching, preaching, and healing, Jesus and His disciples retreated to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee to rest and to pray. But the Bible says that a huge crowd of people followed them. Those people were hungry for the spiritual power Jesus could give them, and so they came clamoring after the Master. The disciples, worn to a frazzle, had had it with the crowd. They wanted to be rid of them. Besides they also realized that those people were hungry for physical food also, and they knew full well that crowds in that condition can get hostile and out of hand. The best way to handle this problem, they decided, was to duck it. But Jesus refused to employ the disciples’ strategy of escapism. He chose to face the challenge of the crowd rather than to flee from it. He saw the problem as an opportunity. Instead of saying: “We’ve got a potential problem here, let’s move on,” He said: “Let’s face it and deal with it creatively and productively.” Then by the power of God, He proceeded to minister to the needs of that enormous crowd, feeding them both physically and spiritually.
It is clear from His response that for Jesus the way out is always the way through. To Him, the solution to a problem could not be found through running or hiding, but through facing it squarely, facing it head-on, facing it directly and courageously, facing it with trust in the power of God.
Eileen Egan is a lay person who has worked for more than thirty years with Mother Teresa in India. In her book. Such a Vision of the Street, she tells of the day she was talking with Mother Teresa about the long list of depressing problems they were facing in the ministry. Then Mother Teresa, with a warm smile said: “Do we have to call everything a problem? Why not erase the word ‘problem’ from our vocabulary and instead use the word ‘gift’?” Eileen Egan said: “From that time on, items that presented disappointments or difficulties would be introduced with ‘we have a small gift here,’ or ‘today we have an especially big gift.’ And from that time on, there were smiles in the face of situations which earlier had been described by the dour word ‘problem’.”
It is quite clear that Mother Teresa has captured in a wonderful way, the spirit of our Lord, the spirit of seeing problems as opportunities. Back in the 1950’s, William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his acceptance speech, regarded as one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, Faulkner said: “Man shall not only endure, he shall prevail. For he is immortal, not because he alone among the creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit, capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” Now I would not presume all that Faulkner meant when he said that, but I will tell you what it means to me. It means that we are made by God. We are redeemed by God. We are directed by God through life. And we are called by God to use every gift, every opportunity, every challenge He sets before us. For in so doing, we shall not only endure in the face of difficulties and problems, but, by His power, we shall prevail over them. That’s the lesson we learn in this story from Jesus who didn’t run away from the big challenge.
Next, we encounter in the story the attitude of Andrew, who found available resources and brought them to the Lord.
This was the greatness of Andrew. He was always bringing something or someone to Jesus. Earlier he brought his brother, Simon Peter. Later, he brought a group of Greeks seeking answers to their deepest questions. Now he brings this little boy with his picnic lunch. Andrew recognized that what the boy had didn’t amount to much, but he brought the boy and his lunch basket to Jesus anyway. He was content to let Jesus take it from there.
Sometimes we fail to do that. The problem looms so large and seems so formidable that we suffer from tunnel-vision and short-sightedness. We are blinded to the available resources, and we throw up our hands in despair and cry out: “What’s the use?”
My guess is that Bette Midler is not often dragged into Christian pulpits. However, on exercising the power of this pulpit, I lift up God’s truth whenever I find it. And I found a slice of God’s truth in a song Bette Midler sang a few months ago. It hit the top of the charts. It is called “From a Distance.” It has a beautiful melody with haunting lyrics. Listen to the words closely:
“From a distance, the world looks blue and green and the snow-capped mountains white. From a distance, the ocean meets the stream and the eagle takes to flight.From a distance, there is harmony and it echoes through the land. It’s the voice of hope, It’s the voice of peace, It’s the voice of every man.
From a distance, we all have enough and no one is in need. From a distance, there are no guns, no bombs and no disease and no hungry mouths to feed.
From a distance, we are instruments marching in God’s common band, playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace, They’re the songs of every man.
God is watching us, God is watching us…From a distance.
From a distance, you look like my friend even though we are at war.From a distance, I just cannot comprehend what all this fighting is for.(From a distance, there is harmony and it echoes through the land.) It’s the hope of hopes. It’s the love of loves. It’s the heart of every man.
God is watching us, God is watching us… From a distance.”
Now what does that mean? I am not absolutely certain but I will tell you what I think. I think it means that when we back off from something, we can see it better. When we back off from the pride, the selfishness, the aggression, the prejudices, and the hostilities which are so much a part of life, then life comes into better focus. I think it means that God, from His perspective, can see how things ought to be in this world and that with His vision and His help, we could have hope and love and peace. And I think it means that God is indeed watching us, that we are accountable to Him for the way we handle the resources of this world.
Andrew would have understood that. You see, when Andrew was confronted with problems in life, he sought the available resources and brought them to the Lord. And in the hands of the Lord, those resources became an enormous blessing to an equally enormous crowd of people. That’s the lesson we learn from Andrew who found the resources available and brought them forward.
Then, we encounter in the story the attitude of the little boy who was willing to let Jesus take his little and make it much.
That little boy didn’t have much to offer, but in what he had Jesus found the materials for a miracle. But here is what is important. The little boy didn’t hold it back. He didn’t say: “Look, it’s my food and I’m hungry and I’m going to keep it.” He seemed to understand that if he gave it to Jesus, he would be blessed along with 4,999 others.
Some of you will recognize the name Russell Conwell. He came from Massachusetts. He was an atheist. He commanded a company of soldiers in the Civil War known as “The Berkshire Boys.” They were quite successful in their military endeavors during the war. But on one occasion as they were crossing a bridge over a river, they encountered a Confederate force of far greater numbers. A fierce fight erupted and the Berkshire Boys had to beat a hasty retreat. As they did so, they set the bridge on fire to cover their retreat. It was then that Colonel Conwell discovered that he had dropped his sword on the other side of the bridge where the Confederates had attacked, and he expressed his dismay about that. Immediately, one of his young soldiers, a boy named Johnny Ring, ran back across the burning bridge, picked up the sword and headed back through the flames toward Colonel Conwell. The Confederate soldiers were so astonished at his bravery that they didn’t open fire on him. However, his clothes caught fire as he ran, and he was horribly burned. He dropped the sword at Russell Conwell’s feet, and then he collapsed. Conwell knelt beside him and said: “Oh, Johnny, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” The boy replied: “Don’t be, Sir, I’m not sorry. And I’m not afraid either, because Jesus Christ is my Lord.” Then as he breathed his last, Johnny Ring said to Russell Conwell: “Sir, do you know Jesus?” That night, in his tent, Russell Conwell went to his knees and gave himself to Jesus Christ. He said: “I am not much and I haven’t much, but what I am and what I have is yours.” He then vowed that for the rest of his life he would work 16 hours a day—eight hours for himself in the name of Christ and eight hours for Johnny Ring in the name of Christ. He would live two lives, both dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ. Russell Conwell went on to become a preacher. He founded the great Baptist Temple in Philadelphia. He preached a sermon—”Acres of Diamonds”—which subsequently was preached 6,000 times across this land. (It is still in publication today.) The money he raised from that remarkable sermon he used to found Temple University in Philadelphia and what we know today as the Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston. In Russell Conwell, God took a little and made it much. So it was for the little boy in John 6. So it was for Russell Conwell. So it could be for us.
That’s what this marvelous miracle story in John 6 is all about. The boy in the story brought his little and God made it enough and then some. It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle, triumph after triumph, because we do not bring to Jesus what we have and what we are. If we would offer ourselves to Him, why there is just no telling what He could do with us and through us. We may wish that we had more to bring, but that is no reason for failing to bring what we have. Little is always much in the hands of Christ.