trials

Unreasonable? (John 6:1-21)

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There is a crowd large gathered, after all Jesus has been doing signs and wonders.  Jesus was seeking out some down-time but as the crowds gather Jesus chooses a grassy hilltop on which to teach them.

Seeing approximately 10 000 – 15 000 men, women and children gathering to hear Him Jesus leans over to Phillip and essentially says; ‘How are we going to feed all these people?’.  Philip is astounded.  I can imagine him thinking; ‘This is unreasonable, this is not our problem, we don’t have the resources for this, Lord what are you suggesting?’

Can you empathise with Philip? 

Have you ever felt like God was being unreasonable?  

John doesn’t record Philip ever recovering from his feeling limited by their apparent available resources – in South African currency Phillip estimated that it would have cost R20 000 to buy enough bread to go around.

What is going on here?

Why would God ask us to do what only He can do?  

John 6:6 contains the key to the answer to questions such as these.

He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:6)

Jesus is not scatterbrained, hasn’t lost the plot, isn’t unaware of realities and constraints.  No Scripture pointedly reveals Jesus’ motive in the scenario; ‘He said this to test him’.  Jesus was not uncertain as to how He was going to deal with this dilemma of so many people and feeding them, John records; ‘for He Himself knew what He would do.’

There is a difference between what we think we believe, what we say we believe and what we do believe.  What we truly believe is revealed by our responses to situations and our actions.

I know this feeling.  It’s easy sitting in your room with your bible or sitting in church listening to preaching or in a small group discussion thinking or saying what you believe… And then it happens!  Something arises in real life and that belief is tested, is it real, do I really believe?

Philip no doubt has just been with Jesus, heard Jesus’ clear claims to being the divine Son of God, has seen Jesus do amazing miracles – but did Phillip truly believe?

Jesus sets up a scenario that will test him, will squeeze out of Philip and the other disciples whether they truly believe that Jesus is God, that Jesus has authority over all things.

Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers in such a way that it is clear that he can empathise with Phillip, Paul knew what it felt like to have God test his faith, test him to see what was really in his head and heart. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

Likewise, James urges believers to consider it pure joy when we are tested, when our faith is put on trial because such tests from God give us the opportunity  to see steadfastness grow in us so that we might mature in our faith not. (James 1:3)

What’s happening in your life that might be God testing you?

Is there anything God’s asked you to do that you think is unreasonable?

Friend.  God’s not malicious, He’s not having fun with you.  No, your heavenly Father wants to test the genuineness of your faith, wants your faith to grow and to mature.

Andrew did better than Phillip in this moment.  Philiip doesn’t manage to lift his thoughts above the challenges and constraints and reasons why he can’t do what Jesus is suggesting he do.

Andrew at least thought about what they did have and believed Jesus could do a miracle.  He probably didn’t know what Jesus would do, didn’t know the magnitude of the miracle Jesus would do, but his actions do reveal that he did believe Jesus was able to, was going to do something astounding and miraculous.

What do you have in your situation?

Focus on what God had entrusted you with.

Give that to Him for His purposes mixed with faith.

And watch Jesus grow your faith and reveal His majestic power and purposes.

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When suffering is not wrong…

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Concept of a stressed businessman under pressure

All too frequently I assume that if there is suffering or a trial of some sort in my life or the lives of those I love or in the lives of those I am responsible for as a church leader – I assume that something is wrong.

Are you ever like this too?

When we have to make a decision and then after that decision things don’t go as smoothly as we would like them to, we can find ourselves re-considering whether we made the right decision after-all.

We feel this because we think that if we made the right decision then why is this circumstance feeling so hard, why did I get sick, why did that accident happen, why, why….?

When God called Nadine and I to come and serve Him by serving Oasis Church in Amanzimtoti I needed to sell my stake in a business so that we could buy a house to live in.  We knew God had spoken, what had been a 15yr journey of working out my sense of call had become clear as we were called by Oasis Church and sent by Jubilee Community Church in 2003…

And then it happened!  I had sold my shares in a business to someone so as to pay for the house.  The agreement was signed and sealed and on that basis we bought our home…

However, then the trial started as the person I’d sold the stake in the business to began to delay proceedings and payment.  

Eventually after delaying and delaying he eventually reneged on the deal entirely and we had a house that we had moved into but didn’t have the money to pay for it and couldn’t afford to have a bond big enough to pay for it!
Why? Why Lord?  Did we make a mistake? We thought we had heard the Spirit’s leading in coming, in finding the house, in finding a buyer for my stake in the business….why this, and why now?

Today in my reading of Matthew 4:1 I was struck by these words;

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

You don’t see that on Jesus t-shirts and bumper stickers and Pinterest posters!

We don’t like the idea that suffering can come from the hand of our loving Father through the agency of evil.  But read it again, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into a place of temptation by the devil.

It reminds me of Jospeh’s declaration to his brothers at the end of his tumultuous and tragic journey from his dad’s house to the palace in Egypt- “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20a in NLT)

Suffering and trials are never pleasant but they can produce incredible fruit that doesn’t grow under any other circumstances, fruit/character that our loving Heavenly Father wants for us and wants in our lives (Hebrews 12:7-11)

I remember that after struggling with our crisis for a number of months worrying and at times waving my fists at my Father, I had a moment where I stopped fighting the circumstance which actually I knew wasn’t ultimately the making of this man but actually under the sweet sovereignty of my loving Father and I came to appreciate that my Father had brought me to this place for His purposes in my life, to produce the type of fruit that only grows in contexts like this…

Remarkably, not long after that ‘aha moment’ another buyer emerged and the deal was cancelled with the first guy and another was concluded and the money was paid and we could move on.

Jesus was lead by the Spirit into a trial for something within the purposes of Father God, could it be possible that a trial you are in might be similar? Hebrews 12:11 makes it clear that the fruit that could come from enduring a trial only comes to those who have been ‘trained by it’.

Will you be trained by it if all you ever want is for the trial to stop, if all you could ever consider is that this hard thing is the work of the devil (which it may well be but still under the loving control of the sovereignty of Your Heavenly Father)?

We are suffering averse, I know I am!  But a truly biblical perspective can help us in our suffering and can alert us to possibilities that could transform the impact on us from something that is merely negative to something that God uses for incredible good.

By Gareth Bowley