Problems. We all have them. Some are bigger than others, but they are a part of life. The problems that have loomed over me recently are a tree that was leaning over and going to hit my neighbor’s garage when it fell if we didn’t take care of it and my car being in the body shop after hitting an unavoidable tire tread on I-95 two weeks ago. Problems.
Jesus and the disciples had a problem.
They had gone to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to try to get away for some rest, but they arrived instead to find a huge crowd of people who were all following Jesus because of the signs He had been performing on the sick. 5,000 men actually – and more if you assume that there were also women and children there.
Jesus, of course, has compassion on them. He teaches them and heals the sick and then, as it is getting late, He addresses the issue of feeding them. The “problem” is that there are so many people in a “desolate place” (Mark 6:35) and not enough food for them. So Jesus poses the question to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5) Of course, being omniscient and all-powerful, Jesus already knew what He was going to do. But John lets us know that Jesus asked Philip this question to “test him” (John 6:6).
Philip’s response? “Two hundred denarii (day’s wages) worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7). Then Andrew volunteers that a boy has five loaves and two fish even though it’s not sufficient for such a large crowd. And then Jesus takes what they have and feeds everyone with leftovers to spare.
I know this story well. I even have the coffee mug. But I had never stopped to notice how Jesus approaches Philip in John’s version of it and how Philip responds until my pastor preached on it recently. What struck me is Philip’s answer. Jesus is standing right there – the guy who turned water into wine not long before this. Philip was probably there for that. But his default response is to run the numbers and think of how this problem can be solved practically. It’s not to turn it around and ask Jesus to do something.
King Asa was another man who faced problems. One was when an army of a million Ethiopians was coming against them and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were overwhelmingly outmanned. Asa’s solution to the problem? God. That was it. It was all he had. “Then Asa called out to the Lord his God, and said, ‘Lord, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude.’” (2 Chronicles 14:11) And the Lord responded by routing the Ethiopians.
Later Asa faced another problem. This time it came from the king of Israel who was fortifying a city on the border of the two nations in order to keep anyone from coming in and going out from Asa. How did Asa solve his problem this time? By bribing the king of Aram with all the gold and silver in the house of the Lord and in his own treasuries to come fight against Israel so they would leave him alone. And it worked. But there was a cost. A seer from God came to him to rebuke him for his sin of not relying on God and to tell him that from now on he would have wars. (See 2 Chronicles 16:1-10.)
I happened to read all of these stories just a few days apart and the message for me was obvious – what is my default when I have to solve problems? I can relate so much to Philip. I just start thinking and planning and figuring it all out. And sometimes I end up like he did – with no good answer that just leads to pessimism or hopelessness. Other times I come up with answers that are just done in my flesh – in my own strength and resources. This can be my default when I’m really stressed. Much as it makes me cringe to admit it, at those times I’m more like Asa choosing to resort to my own devices rather than relying on God at all.
I wish instead my default was to pray, to ask God to work. Instead of figuring out my own solutions, will I remember that Jesus is right here and can do “exceeding abundantly beyond all that I ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? Of course, there is my part to do at times and God gave me a mind to use and hands to work. But He still wants all of that done in dependence on Him and the Holy Spirit who lives in me and in prayer.
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is in all four gospels and all of them end by mentioning that the disciples picked up the leftover fragments and that there were twelve basketfuls of them. I assume that’s one per disciple. It was pointed out at church that since He is omniscient, Jesus knew exactly how much bread to make. And yet He chose to have all of these leftover fragments. So interesting. We don’t really know why He did that, but I think it may have been to show His power, how great He is, and how He can do far more than we trust Him to do.
When reading about King Asa, I think the saddest part is how he ended. 2 Chronicles 16:12 says, “And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord but the physicians.” His heart had become hard and so he only sought earthly solutions to his problems and wouldn’t seek the Lord at all. How I pray I don’t end up like that! Lord, give me a soft and teachable heart that runs to You with my problems and trusts You to lead, to provide, and to strengthen me in the process.