I learned early on in ministry in Edinburgh that people don’t always know when a minister is asking rhetorical questions whilst preaching. In a service early in my time in Wester Hailes, I asked the question, “What do people out there say about the church here in Wester Hailes?” I was NOT asking for an answer but boy did I get an answer! I was left in no doubt as to what some people “out there” thought about the church. I should say I enjoyed the experience and now frequently ask a congregation a question, hoping for answers which I can then incorporate into the sermon time. Take the risk and try it, if you are reading this and you are a preacher. It can be very interesting to say the least!
One day, Jesus asked a question of his disciples. I am not sure whether he expected them to answer or not, but what intrigues me is that he already knew what he was going to do about the situation he was asking them about. He was faced with a crowd of hungry people and asked the disciples, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?” We then read these words, “Jesus knew in advance what he was going to do.” (John Chapter 6 verse 6.)
I have found in times of ill health and the changes that has brought to my life that my faith has had to become simpler. There are questions about my future that I do not yet know the answer to. I am so comforted that Jesus allows me to speak to him about the situation, but even more comforted that whatever he calls me to take responsibility for, he knows in advance what he is going to do. When anxiety threatens to overwhelm me, I remember this verse.
Please remember that Jesus did not do it all in the feeding of that hungry crowd. He involved the disciples in solving the problem. They had responsibility to act, and it is good to remember that, but we all need to know where our responsibility in carrying out the will of God begins and ends in any situation and how that works in with what Jesus has already decided in advance that he himself will do. God is not a harsh God. Jesus is not a taskmaster. He looks with compassion on need. He defended his disciples from the harsh expectations of the religious on more than one occasion. On another occasions he was happier to have folk just sitting with him than doing things for him. In this period of my life,I have noticed that when I try and push beyond what he is asking of me and try and do what I am asking of me or think others may be expecting of me, I lose the presence and peace of Christ: This I have found to be a one hundred percent rule.
We seem to get more and more sophisticated in our attempts to minister the good news of Christ,as though the old old story is not sufficient to pass muster in an age that knows more about all sorts of things than our great grandparents’ generation. Well, I have had to rediscover in times of weakness that the old old story of Jesus and his love still works and is still true. I love contemporary worship, but I love it less than I once did, partly because it asks me to be too triumphalist and does not allow me to confess my fears, my anxieties, my need for reassurance. I find myself going back to the more humble hymns from my earlier years which contained truths that I am finding myself needing to live in now. I found myself effortlessly recalling the following words from the church of my childhood and singing them in the midst of an anxious and sleepless night:
“Oh God of Bethel by whose hand, thy people still are fed, who though this weary pilgrimage, hast all our fathers led.
Our vows, our prayers we now present before Thy throne of grace; God of our fathers be the God, of their succeeding race.
Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide; give us each day our daily bread and raiment fit provide.”
As I come to the end of this day i am feeding on this truth: Jesus knows what he is going to do. I hope you may feed on that thought with me.
How true, how refreshing. So often these days I find church is like an executive boardroom for the intellectual middle class. Jesus is accessible to everyone and the message simple, for God so loves us and by this shall all men know we are his disciples by our love for one another.