Whenever I have talked to church food committees about preparing food for an event, the question they always ask is, "How many people are you expecting?" When they know how many are coming, they are diligent in making sure that they have enough food for all the people who are going to be there. Some of them have expressed significant fear about running out of food. In all my years of church ministry I can only remember one time when there wasn't more than enough food for a church event.
We don't like it when our resources are inadequate. Yet in much of life our resources are inadequate. Are we adequately holy? Do we have the resources to love as we ought to love? Do we ever serve God but feel that we just haven't got all that is needed? I certainly don't feel that I have all the resources needed to respond to every situation that comes up in my role as a leader? What about our church? Would you not agree that we are weak and vulnerable? Many of you have commented that we are a congregation that is much smaller than it used to be and we are a congregation made up mostly of people who qualify for a senior's discount. How can we adequately do the work God would want us to do?
Yet as I think about these things, I am not discouraged. The reason I am not discouraged is because God is not limited by our lack of resources. This morning, I would like to look at four stories from the Bible which talk about what God did when human resources were clearly inadequate. As we examine these stories, I hope that we will be encouraged. I hope that we will recognize the greatness of God and I hope that we will be moved to seek God for what He wants us to do for Him even with what little we have.
I. A Stick
In the song, City on our Knees, Toby Mac asks two questions which are relevant for us today. He asks, "If you gotta start somewhere why not here…If you gotta start sometime why not now…" If we look at all the great things which God has done in the past like the miracles he did through Elijah and Peter, we wonder whether God still does miracles today. If we read about what God is doing around the world like bringing many people to Himself in places like China we wonder whether He will do the same thing among us as well. We wonder, "Is God among us or not?" This is a question that was also asked by Israel in Exodus 17:1-7.
A. We Need Water
They asked it at a time when they were lacking water. How long can we go without water? "A 97 year old woman survived 8 days without drinking or eating anything under the rubble of her home after an earthquake in Iran in January 2004." In another news item it was reported that "Nearly all newborn babies were found and rescued after being 7 days under the wreckage of a Hospital in Mexico City following an earthquake in 1985."
These are extreme situations and the common answer is that we could go for 3 days without water. Of course, if we don't have access to water, we would become uncomfortable and panicky much sooner than that. Recognizing that helps us understand that when the people of Israel stopped to camp at Rephidim and there was no water, it didn't take very long for them to become concerned and even more than concerned. I have seen people scramble to line up for food and it is obvious to me that we have a powerful drive to feed ourselves. When we don't have adequate resources, we very quickly get edgy.
B. Is The Lord Among Us?
There were reasons for concern when they did not find water, but the intensity of their complaint against Moses is still somewhat disturbing. They had just seen God do some amazing things in the very recent past. They had seen God deliver them, a slave nation, out of Egypt. Exodus 15 records that just previous to this event, they had camped at a place that had water, but the water was not good and they had seen Moses change the bitter water to sweet water. In Exodus 16 we read that they had also already seen God provide manna in the wilderness.
The demonstrations of God's power, ability and willingness to help were abundant, but how quickly they forgot. We do the same thing when we wonder, "That was then, but what about now?"
At the end of the story, Moses named the location Meribah, which means to test or quarrel. The main contention they had with the Lord was to ask, "Is the Lord among us or not?" Moses appealed to them not to question God, but they did not listen to him. The lack of trust in them was quite obvious. Somehow they had not yet perceived that it was God who had led them and would not stop leading them.
We are not much different. We also frequently get to the place where we wonder if God is among us. Will He help when we are in a difficult place? Will He provide when our resources are inadequate? Is He present to lead our church?
C. God Provided
The other night on America's Got Talent, Eric Dittleman did an amazing thing by predicting what Howie Mandel was thinking. As I watched, I wondered, "How did he do that?" It was like magic.
There is no magic about what happened when Moses provided water for the people of Israel. God told Moses to use his stick to strike a rock and water would come out. It was the same staff he had used to strike the Nile River and do the opposite. In that case, he had made water become unusable. This time, he hit a rock with his stick, in the middle of a desert and good water came out of the rock.
It was no trick, rather, it was clear that God had done it. In fact, we read what God said in verse 6, "I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb." This was to show that He was present among His people. Through a small thing, a stick, God showed His presence to the people. He let them know that He was among them and that He was leading them and that He did care about them. The people asked "Is God there" and God said, "I am standing among you." God demonstrated His presence by providing water.
The lesson for us is also clear, God is able to take the smallest thing and bring about a great blessing. The question is, will we trust or will we also ask, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
II. A Stone
So the lesson from the stick is that God is among us. But often that still does not fill us with confidence. Somehow we believe that what is against us is too great. In fact often we believe that the odds are so great that we have no hope.
The second story, from I Samuel 17:1-51, is quite familiar to us. It is the story of David and Goliath and encourages us that with God, the odds against us are never too great.
A. A Fearsome Enemy
Early in the story the power of the enemy is not only presented, but magnified. Goliath is introduced as a very powerful enemy. His height is described to demonstrate that he was a huge man. Not only was his stature great, but the armor and weaponry which he carried is described so as to intimidate. If you have ever watched strong man competitions, you can appreciate the incredible strength required to carry the weights those athletes carry. As I read this, I was thinking that I would find it difficult even to carry the armor and weapons which Goliath had, never mind use them effectively in battle. It is no wonder that we read in verse 11 that, as The Message says, "When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope."
B. A Weak Boy
Into this picture comes David, whose weakness is highlighted in the story. He is clearly too young to be a soldier because his brothers are soldiers, but he has not been called up.
When his brother, Eliab, speaks to him, he diminishes his importance when he talks about him looking after "those few sheep." The implication is, "you are just a kid with an unimportant job."
When David offers to fight the giant, he comes before king Saul who will determine whether or not he will permit it. At first, he does not permit it and says to him in 1 Samuel 17:33, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
David's weakness is further highlighted when Saul is convinced to let him go and provides him with armor. We should not miss that he gives him his own armor, which we suspect was probably the best armor in the land. But David was unable to handle the armor. He was not used to it which shows his weakness and so when he went against him, he went as simply a shepherd boy.
The giant also perceived his weakness and mocked him when he said to him in, 1 Samuel 17:43, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”
C. A God Given Victory
Yet although the enemy was very strong and David was very weak, David shows us the way to enter into such situations. He went with what he had and with what he knew. What he had was a stone and with that stone the giant was defeated by a mere boy.
However, what he knew was that God was powerful and able to use a weak boy and a little stone to accomplish a great victory.
David teaches us the lesson which we all need to learn and that is the key idea in this story. In verse 47 he says, "…the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's…"
This encourages us that God is not limited by our weaknesses. David's confidence rested not only on the power of God, but also on the purposes of God. He knew that it was against God's purposes for Israel to be defiled by the enemy. He recognized that this was a spiritual issue and that the honor of God's name was at stake. On that basis he had confidence that God would act.
As we understand these things, we too can have confidence that our resources, small as they are, do not limit God. If our desire is for the honor of God's name and if we trust in God, as David did, we also will see God do great things.
III. A Lamp
One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 4:7 which says, "But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us." We know this, yet so often we take the glory for ourselves.
I have been reading the book, Forgotten God, by Francis Chan. He asks an interesting question in one of the chapters when he wonders whether it is right for us to be impressed by a good musician, or speaker or leader? Although it is good to thank someone who has served well, is it not true that our service should be for the honor of God? One of the reasons why God uses us in our weakness is so that He will then be glorified. This is the point of the story of Gideon and his victory over the Midianites in Judges 7:1-25.
In the story of Gideon it was not a weak person who offered his services to God in spite of great odds. In this story, it was God Himself who forced his people to serve out of weakness for the very purpose of teaching them to acknowledge that victory could only happen if God did it.
In both verses 3 & 4, it tells us that they were "sifted." In the first instance, Gideon was to sift them and in the second instance, God sifted them. The purpose of the sifting was to bring them down to such a ridiculously small number that it was clear that they had no hope of winning. At first there were 32,000 warriors. Even that would seem like impossible odds. Judges 8:10 informs us that there were 135,000 Midianites and Judges 7:12 describes them as being "as thick as locusts" and "countless as the sand on the seashore."
Yet can you imagine the pride that would have arisen in them if those 32,000 would somehow have been able to defeat the 135,000? It was possible and if it would have happened, it would have been an amazing victory for the people. That is exactly what God didn't want, so he instructed Gideon to send anyone who was fearful home. After that sifting he was left with 10,000 soldiers. However, now he was left with 10,000 of the most able and bravest soldiers. Once again it was possible that the odds of 13-1 could have resulted in an Israelite victory, so God reduced their number to 300.
With odds of 450 to 1 it is not surprising that fear entered the heart of Gideon. But God took him into the Midianite camp and demonstrated that fear was also present among the enemy. One of them had a dream and in the dream he saw a loaf of bread knocking over a tent. They interpreted this as referring to Gideon. As Gideon heard this it gave him confidence because he perceived that God was in it and that He was going to accomplish a victory for them.
B. God Did It
God told them to go fight and with their lamps, jars, trumpets and a shout, they initiated a process by which God defeated the Midianites.
God wanted them to know that He was the one who would save them. God was concerned, as verse 2 says that, "Israel would only take credit away from me…" But by using this ridiculously weak force it was clear that the credit must go to God.
Sometimes God brings us to a place where the only recourse we have is to rely completely on Him. Because our resources are utterly inadequate, if anything is going to happen, it is clear that God must do it.
When I think about our church, this is what gives me hope. We know that our programs, our leadership, our resources, our skills are not enough to accomplish great things for God. I believe that we have come to the place where we know that we do not have what it takes. My prayer, my hope is that God will do a mighty work among us so that it will be evident that no one, not me, not the church council, not any skilled person in the church, but God alone has done it.
As we think about these stories, we rejoice as we remember that God is among us and can use our weakness to do great things for His glory. Yet we may still be reluctant to offer the little we have to Him. The story of the feeding of the 5000 in John 6:1-14 encourages us to bring what we have and see what God will do with it.
A. How Do You Feed A Crowd?
Once again in this story, as in the others we have examined, the lack of resources is highlighted. When Jesus pointed out the need of the crowd and asked Philip what he thought could be done, Philip responded that it would take more money than they had available to buy even a small amount of bread for each person. He responded to Jesus by saying in John 6:7, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”" Morris points out that "Philip does not point to a solution, but to an impossibility."
Not much more helpful is Andrew's response who had taken an inventory and discovered that the only thing available to them was a young boy's lunch made up of five barley loaves and two small fish. Barley loaves were the food of the poor - nourishing but not very tasty. The fish were likely little more than a little garnish to make the bread go down more easily. He also points out, "…what are they among so many people?"
B. God Feeds A Crowd
But then Jesus stepped in and with those few things, fed the 5000. The contrast of the little and the much God makes of it is pointed out in several places. Philip pointed out the impossibility and that 8 months wages would only give everyone "a little." Yet in verse 11 we read that from the 5 loaves and two fish they ate "as much as they wanted." Even more amazing is that after they gathered up the leftovers, there was more left over than what they started with.
Once again, God was able to do a great deal with a very little bit.
C. Bring Little /God Makes Much
What the boy offered was not very helpful. It would be like offering a thimble full of water to fill a swimming pool. It was ridiculously little. But he did offer the little he had and God did much with it. Barclay said, "If just as we are, we would lay ourselves on the altar of the service of Jesus Christ, there is no saying what Christ could do with us and through us." He also said, "Little is always much in the hands of Christ."
In Zechariah, God was encouraging his people about what he would accomplish through the work of Zerubbabel. In Zechariah 4:10 he says, " Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…" (NLT)
What we learn from a stick, a stone, a loaf and a lunch is that God can take small things and do great things and so we also should not "despise these small beginnings."
David Hunt, President of WorldServe, has written, “The Lord doesn’t need your strength. He needs your weakness, your dependence upon Him. He needs a vessel through which He can work with relentless power and ‘show that this all-surpassing power is from God.’”
As we stand in our weakness as Christians or as a church, the implications of these truths, which are so powerfully presented in Scripture, are significant.
We should not be discouraged if we are inadequate. We should not despise small things, because God can do great things with them.
We should offer to God what we are and what we have because we never know what He will accomplish with what we offer.
We should keep our eyes open to see what God is doing even with small things.
We should desire the glory of God above all.
We should trust that God will build His kingdom, even here, even through us, even out of our weakness.