Growing up in a county that once knew prosperity, and now living in a county that also once knew prosperity, the words from a couple of hymns take on personal meaning. We live “in these last days of great distress”; “these gray and latter days”. The memories of what some call “The Great Recession” still linger. Perhaps we are still in the throes of it here. Many hearts remain full of anxiety.
Saint Paul tells the church in Rome: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good…. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? The answer is nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even hard times serve for our own good.
Hard times serve for humble recognition of your sin. Four thousand men were in physical need in Mark chapter eight. They followed Jesus into the wilderness. They wanted to hear the Word of life. They forgot about earthly food to feast on the Bread of Life. They sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Everything else follows from it. What happens in the wilderness with Jesus, His disciples, and four thousand men shows what happens when everything follows after seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Every weekend the Holy Spirit gathers the faithful together to be fed with the Bread of Life. The church bell rings. Hymns are sung. The Word is heard and proclaimed. The Lord’s Supper is given. You are blessed and go home forgiven. Who wouldn’t want to miss it?
Many people miss it to their own peril. Yes, life happens. Yes, you’re sick. Yes, you’re physically unable to be here. Yet so many miss what happens here because the pursuit of personal satisfaction has gotten in the way of true satisfaction in Christ. We pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, then spend our whole lives going after daily bread with a vengeance. Before you know it, well, there’s no time for Jesus. Maybe there’s a scattered moment or two in the day when you think about God, maybe say a quick prayer, then get back to racing and chasing after that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Even Christians are guilty of misplaced priorities. We are well-fed with things of this world. Granted there are wonderful moments of clarity, like this past Wednesday’s ingathering of food for our community food pantry. Those seem like fleeting moments, though. There’s always one more thing you need and then everything will be just so…until you discover you need just one more thing to round it all off. You set aside the heavenly things for yet another chase after earthly things. You still think everything is up to you to run the race to the bitter end. You forget that everything rests on the Lord blessing you with stewardship of all you have.
Hard times also serve for joyful confidence in the Lord’s help. Jesus says to His disciples: If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way. It’s as if Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them to come up with a solution. They have seen Jesus change water into wine. They have seen Him feed five thousand men with five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Their response has to be: “Lord, You will make it happen. You alone can do everything.”
Nope. Their response sounds like our probable response. Where can anyone get enough bread to feed these people here in this deserted place? They can’t help it. Neither can we help it. When life is cruising along, we don’t lack in courage and confidence. We’re not bashful with advice and help. When a need comes, we are helpless and embarrassed. We cling to what we see and what we have. We start playing the numbers game like the disciples. Let’s see. Seven loaves of bread. A few small fish. That might feed four, but certainly not four thousand.
Jesus wants to help. Jesus does help in a big way. You get a sense something big is about to happen when He says I feel compassion for the crowd. Something big does happen. The crowd is told to sit down. Jesus took the seven loaves, gave thanks, and broke them. He gave the pieces to His disciples to distribute to the crowd, and they did so. They also had a few small fish. He blessed them and said that these should be distributed as well. The people ate and were satisfied.
The Lord Jesus Christ knows only one way to give: the way of more. Christ gives more than what anyone expected. We think of Psalm 145: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. These words are often heard when asking a blessing before a meal. What is not often heard are the verses that follow: The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
Every day we see suffering before us. We probably know at least one family wondering where their next meal will appear. We probably know at least one family struggling to keep the power on or the rent paid. There are those who squander what is given to them. Yet there are those who are underemployed; those who suffer from generational poverty. Living hand to mouth is literally their way of life for decades. Whether you have much, or whether you have little, the Lord will make sure you are never skimp. He’s probably not going to plop millions of dollars into your lap. He will, however, make sure His children have what they need exactly when they need it.
You’ve seen it. You’ve lived it. There’s too much month and not enough money. Yet there is just enough to see you through, with perhaps some fragments left to tide you over until next month. You will eat and be satisfied. The Lord God will see to it. The Lord God also will see to it that you have satisfaction for your sins through Jesus Christ. Though you may be in debt over your head, your eternal debt is paid in full in the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s no need for rambling and scrambling to try to make ends meet for God. He’s done everything necessary for you to live with Him for all eternity. Everything is accomplished in Christ. Nothing is left in your hands.
When you have enough, you have enough to give to others who haven’t enough. If the Lord works good in happy times, He also can work good in hard times. Hard times show you Who is truly in charge of everything. Hard times show to Whom everything belongs. Hard times gives you the opportunity to open your hand and let gratitude fall from it. When gratitude falls from your hand, you have a basket full of broken pieces that are used to satisfy the need of your neighbor. A basketful of broken pieces given to broken people is the love of God in Christ Jesus in action. As the Scriptures say, we love because He first loved us.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.