Faith not Enthusiasm
I'm pretty excitable. I love change, I love progress. I love problem solving, brainstorming, fresh ideas and creativity! When someone takes a bold step I'm high-fiving and celebrating! This is ALSO where God has had to stand in my way, many times and challenge my faith. And this is what happened in John chapter 6 too!
It's the 'Jesus feeding the crowds' story that I've read many times and maybe you have too. So, this week, I read it every day and watched for something new, something different than I'd seen before.
This time the crowd intrigued me. I noticed some of their words: "attracted by the miracles", "enthusiasm", "show us", "give us", "what do we do?". As an excitable person, I can understand. Imagine being in a crowd of five thousand people and one person borrows the lunch bag of a little kid, prayers over it and hands out enough fish and bread to feed everyone with twelve baskets of leftovers! Amazing! I'd probably want to get up close, ask questions, see more! I might privately brainstorm about all the things that could be done, fixed, built, created, healed, changed and transformed with that kind of power . . . and how might I fit into all that???
But Jesus is not drawn to enthusiasm. In fact, he does something quite the opposite. He leaves! He hikes up a mountain to be alone. His close companions, the disciples, eventually got back into their boat and headed across the sea because it was getting dark. They didn't know where Jesus had gone and I'm sure they were a bit confused. To add to their confusion, a strong wind picked up making their trip back to shore difficult. A few miles out they noticed a man walking on top of the water. Yup. Jesus waves, reassures them, "It's just me" and they bring him on board and finish the trip together. The next day, the crowd figures out that Jesus had somehow gotten to the other side of the water without leaving with the disciples at the same time and they went to go find him.
Here's where Jesus does what I also have experienced in my own life. He figuratively dumps a bucket of cold water on their enthusiasm by telling them what is necessary . . . faith!
But they don't get it! It's like a runner saying to his coach, "I can do it! I can run the marathon! Look at my energy and desire! I'm ready!" and the coach says, "Nope, not yet, first show me that you can run the half-marathon, then next year you'll be ready!" You can imagine how hard that would be for the runner to accept a slower pace, a shorter goal and the humility involved in accepting that he's not ready.
Jesus does this with the crowd. He challenges their faith. He explains that all they want is bread, to be fed, filled with stomach food that Jesus can provide miraculously. Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever." They still don't get it. He doesn't cater to their enthusiasm, he makes it even MORE difficult to understand! He goes on to say that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to live forever! Gasp! The sheer graphic description of this started to turn the crowd away. (He didn't mean it literally of course, but he used words that pushed them to the limits of their faith.) You can imagine the looks on their faces . . . from excited enthusiastic expressions, eyebrows up, big smiles to . . . that awkward, fading smile, then a frown, arms folding, scratching their heads trying to understand.
But you and I are not much different than that crowd, are we? Well, let me speak for myself. After a profound conversation with someone where it was clear that God was present and brought healing to the person's weariness or discouragement through our time together and by the power of God, I am grateful. But then . . . sometimes, I brainstorm. "Lord," I say, "Hey, let's do this again! Should I open an office somewhere and do spiritual counselling as a full time job! I'm ready Lord, let me at it! See my enthusiasm? My desire? Aren't I useful to you? Isn't this what you want?" And Jesus' response to me, time and time again has been much like his speech to this crowd. "Ya Heather? You want to be involved in what I'm doing? Okay . . . here's what that looks like. Be willing to suffer, like I have. Be obedient. Lay down your own desires and do what I ask you to do. Humble yourself. Be sustained by only the nourishment that I give you, not people's praise, not success or approval or whatever you usually like to snack on. I am the Bread of Life and only through faith in Me will you be whole and free and able to be someone that my power can flow through to offer this Bread to others. Lay down your enthusiasm . . . and put your faith in Me!"
Tough words. Good words. True.
"Lord, reveal to us today, where enthusiasm has become louder than faith in You. Help us to lay down any idea or project or aspiration that is not in line with how You want to offer life to us, and through us as we share Your love and grace with the world. Amen"