Grumbling Bellies and Hearts: a Story of Real Faith in the Raw

Apr 18, 2012   //   by Joshua March   //   Worship  //  1 Comment

So, I’m finishing up today’s lunch of leftover salmon and bread, and I can’t help but be reminded of the miracle of Jesus feeding the four thousand through ‘fish and loaves’. The account from Mark 8:1-9a is included below. Take a quick read and I’ll catch up with you on the other side.

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?”Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present.

Yes, you’ve read the story before. Yes, you’re familiar with all of the usual themes: feeding the hungry, thanksgiving, Jesus meeting our needs, etc. I’m not discounting any of them; it’s just that I know that you’ve heard them before.

Today, I want to talk about something else: the amazing faith victories in this story. What’s that? You don’t see any? After all, if faith, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, where is faith necessary in this story? The loaves and the fish aren’t exactly immaterial here. We’re not talking metaphysical bread and meat; this isn’t the passage in John describing ‘living water’. Jesus provided real, hunger-satisfying nourishment.

And if you focus on the food and the hungry horde of people on that hill, you’ll probably miss the tremendous faith story here. With four thousand people present, I would even think it to be probable that no more than those seated closest to Jesus really saw Jesus using such a small quantity of food to feed the masses; those in the back probably just assumed the disciples brought the party with them. So it’s quite possible that the crowd may have mostly been unaware of the miracle that happened right in their midst. (There’s a sermon here.)

So that leaves us with whom? Ah, yes, that ragtag band of unlikely brothers: the disciples. It was these twelve that saw Jesus give thanks for the food and then ask them to distribute the food to the chorus of rumbling bellies behind them. I can only imagine the disciples standing there dumbfounded, silently questioning Jesus’ sanity–or at least His math skills– as he directs them to begin using just a few meager morsels to feed the thousands. After all, just a few moments prior, was it not the disciples that had asked, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

Now, we can’t be sure how much food four thousand people would consume, but let’s be conservative and assume that it could have been done with 1/4 loaf and 1/2 a fish per person. That gives us about 1,000 loaves and 2,000 fish. This is an important detail! For if the story instead described Jesus either multiplying the loaves and fish before the disciples’ eyes or creating the needed nourishment ex nihilo, thereby allowing the disciples to begin distributing it to the crowd out of this newly-created storehouse, there would have been no victory of faith here. Sure, they would have ooooh’d and aaaah’d. They would have clapped their hands and cheered! Praise would be on their lips and thanksgiving in their hearts… but no faith would have been required as they would have seen the abundance before them and known instantly with their minds that there was enough to feed the crowd.

And this is the first stop on our faith trip today. Most of the time (except when the disciples were out fishing), the Lord doesn’t answer our prayers by dumping a ton of fish on us (can I get an ‘amen’ or a ‘praise the Lord’?). Often, He just ensures that we have enough— that our baskets do not run empty. Had he given us the whole ‘kettle of fish’, we’d be thankful, but there’d be no room for faith. No, it’s by trusting that He’ll continue to supply our needs and not let our baskets be emptied that we please the Lord with our faithfulness and He gets the glory! Amen.

Now, back to our story…

As mentioned, the Lord did not just create nets full of fish and ovens full of bread. No, in the story we read that the Jesus instructed the disciples to feed the crowd by distributing the food in the baskets–not from the storehouse: just the seven loaves and couple of fish. And, yet, upon hearing Jesus’ seemingly-impossible request, every single one of the disciples begins to do as he was told.

And here the second stop on our faith journey today.

I’m sure that it wouldn’t surprise you if I stated that it certainly pleases the Lord when we answer “yes, Lord, yes” and immediately begin to follow His instruction with our hearts full of joy, our heads held high, and a spring in our step as we trust Him implicitly to go before us and light our way! But the lesson here is not to fool yourself into thinking that it’s always that easy. No, in fact…

Wait for it…

Faith is hard.

I’m allowed to say that, right? It’s not as if you weren’t already thinking it.

No, if each of us were honest, the number of times that the Lord tells us to do something impossible and we respond with an unthinking, unwavering “okie dokie!” is far and few between– at best. Now, I’m not saying that none of the disciples were able to just bounce away from the Lord’s instruction and begin passing out the food without questioning the holy insanity of the entire situation; but I am saying that I think it’s highly likely that at least some of them weren’t. At least this disciple wouldn’t have, in all honesty.

No, this is where we can allow our victory, confidence, and self-esteem to be eroded by believing the lies that it’s not okay to doubt or to question the Lord in difficult or impossible times. Go ahead. You’re not fooling anyone– especially the Lord– if you pretend you’re happy or settled about something when you’re not.

Really, go on. He can handle it.

I promise.

No, and you may feel free to disagree with me on this part, but I think it’s highly likely that at least one of those disciples heard the Lord speak and thought something to the effect of, “Come again–You want me to do what, Lord? It’s not that I don’t trust You, Lord, but that’s just not a lot of food and that’s a whole lot of people! I mean, You can see them all, right? You got the ones in the back there? And on the sides too? And surely You know that, well it’s just that… it’s just not a lot of food and– oh, right, I said that already…”

And while we can’t know exactly what each of the disciples was thinking in that moment, we do read that every single one of them turned and obeyed–each of them stepped out in faith in spite of their doubts! And this is the victory. This is what pleases the Lord! I believe firmly, in our own lives, that when we hear the Lord speak and we then turn, baskets in our hands and questions and doubt in our hearts, grumbling under our breath, “Okay, Lord, I don’t see how this is going to work, but I’m going to step out in obedience do as You have asked”, even then we worship and glorify the Lord with our faithfulness. It is in that moment that we are literally and explicitly stating that there is no way that we can accomplish the task before us except through the Lord’s moving. And this is why we must remember that faithfulness isn’t about how we feel–it’s about our response to the Lord because of Who He is–in spite of how we feel! Amen.

And this brings us to our final point.

Let’s think about how the story ends. After the food had been distributed, “the people had a few bites to eat and their stomachs continued to rumble.” Oh, that wasn’t it? Right, it was “most of the people had enough to eat while those at the very back were left dreaming of dinner.”

No, the scripture tells us that “the people ate and were satisfied.” Not ‘partially satisfied’. Not ‘some of the people’.  No, ‘the people were satisfied.” And what’s more was there were leftovers! Seven basketfuls! We don’t know how big these baskets were, but no one would argue that ‘seven basketfuls’ isn’t more food than the ‘seven loaves’ and a ‘few fish’ with which they started. I imagine the conversation between the disciples while returning to Jesus upon completing their task was more than a little different than the conversation betwen them when Jesus initially gave them the instruction! The Lord had taken the disciple’s impossibly-insignificant offering of food and had reached thousands with it–and the excess was even more than the original offering! And here you were, thinking that New Math started in the sixties.


And so what we have learned today about faith?

We were reminded that the Lord answers our prayers in His way and His timing. And when this is enough for us–that we don’t have to see the whole pile of fish when a basket of bread is enough, we are glorifying the Lord through our faithfulness.

We were reminded that it is our actions that define our faith and that we are not bound by passing doubting thoughts. And when we do not fool ourselves into thinking that questioning the Lord is somehow forbidden or even sin, and when we allow ourselves to step out in obedience even when we don’t have total comfort, we are glorifying the Lord through our faithfulness.

And while I’d be compelled to call it a day after establishing that indeed we are glorifying the Lord through our faithfulness even when all we have to give is a few woefully-insufficient crumbs and that we can’t even give them with a smile on our faces, let us not forget the lesson of the seven baskets of ‘leftovers’. Not only is the Lord able to use our meager offerings and sacrifices to further His kingdom, but He’s also able to return to us more than we gave in the first place!

As Pastor often says, you can’t out-give the Lord! So, go on and try.

Really, go on. He can handle it.

I promise.

Moreover, He promises.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.  — Psalm 34:8

Let each of us step out in faith, even in seemingly-impossible situations, giving whatever we can for the Lord’s use and let’s just see what He won’t do!


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