Often when beginning our faith journey in heeding the call of Jesus Christ to “Follow Me,” we remain unsure of our human footsteps regarding what lies ahead.
Just like any road map, it looks like straight black lines towards experiencing eternity in God’s realm, but experience tells us from other roads we have traveled that those seemingly linear lines are full of bumps, dips and curves along the way.
As we spiritually buckle up for the journey, our hearts may be firm, and we sincerely desire to heed our Heavenly Father’s calling, but our knees may be shaking and even a bit wobbly. Starting out on the narrow path to life (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
American King James Version×), we may even be pondering, “Will I have what it takes to stay on that narrow path behind the lead of the Good Shepherd?”
Let’s be blunt: None of us have what it takes on our own or it would merely be by our works. Never, ever forget—it’s about what God is performing in us and not we of ourselves. But, once we have surrendered our past, present and future to His perfect will, where would He have us start in faith-filled responsiveness to His invitation?
It’s as simple and yet as challenging as three simple steps:
That’s it? That’s all? Indeed it is! Sad to say, even veteran Christians have often lost their way because they’ve forgotten these three basic steps of how to respond to Christ’s call to “Follow Me.”
So whether we’re novices on this journey or an old-timer at the end of our rope with worry and doubt, let’s allow the Good Shepherd to “prepare a table before us” to understand these three vital steps towards eternity in an event that happened long ago on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Viewing through the eyes of Christ
Let’s go up to the top and see what’s happening. It’s here where the view is best, because it’s through the eyes of the Master as captured through the lens of chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.
It’s here that Jesus of Nazareth looked down and saw a crowd surging slowly up the hill toward Him and His disciples. He humanly sighed but spiritually smiled at what was coming His way. It was many of the same people He left behind earlier. They found Him again!
He had just left them by boat on another shore of the lake after a long day of teaching. He needed a break to recharge—after all, He was human too. But the massive crowd had traveled several miles seeking after this man who taught so profoundly and performed miracles for those without any hope. Many were on their way up to Jerusalem for the Passover, but now they detoured up a hillside to understand more.
Jesus must have been deeply moved with compassion on such a swarm of humanity seemingly driven by something they couldn’t yet fully comprehend but nonetheless desired to obtain. John says the number was 5,000, yet Jesus wasn’t focusing on numbers but determining a need. His desire was to care for them both spiritually and physically.
He asked one of the 12, Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (verse 5). He asked Philip specifically because his hometown of Bethsaida was nearby. He replied, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (verse 7).
Basically, Philip responded that it would cost a half-year’s wages to make a dent in the hunger of this crowd, and even then they couldn’t really do it in this remote place on such short notice.
But as John notes, Jesus asked the question as a test, because He already knew what He was going to do (verse 6). Christ had already moved to the future in His heart and mind, and He was going to invite the disciples and the Passover pilgrims to join Him there. But He needed a human instrument untarnished from the facts and figures on the ground.
As Jesus surveyed the human landscape round about them, the disciples wondered what would happen next. Perhaps they wondered, as we do at times, “How did we ever get here? What now?”
One who’s available, open and willing
And “what now” began to unfold before them. Jesus smiled as He saw Andrew moving toward Him through the crowd. While some of the disciples were overwhelmed with the facts on the ground, Andrew went out looking for a solution. And he found one, even if ever so small in the form of a boy with a modest amount of food. Jesus smiled, because His answer was on the way.
Andrew introduced a boy available, open and willing for service: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish.” But even Andrew’s hopefulness was betrayed by the reality on the ground staring them in the face. He added, “But what are they among so many?”
It’s here that Jesus swung into full action mode. So often when a miracle was in the works, He gave His followers an assignment. He told the disciples, “Make the people to sit down!”
Then, the young boy who was open and willing placed his own lunch into the hands of this special Man in the middle of the crowd. The lad looked up as the Rabbi thanked and praised God who had provided the fish and loaves.
The boy watched as this Man of Nazareth began to personally distribute this miraculous meal package to His disciples for distribution. This was indeed hands-on! The food kept on going out and going out until everyone was full. The root Greek word for “filled” in verse 12 gives the sense of fully satisfied. Everyone took as much as he or she wanted—no rations here!
A teaching moment, for then and now
And then, Christ provided one more teaching moment for His skeptical disciples: “Gather up the fragments that remain,” which came to 12 full baskets (verse 12).
Imagine the disciples lugging their baskets up the hill with bread fragments spilling out. If they hadn’t learned their lesson before, they now had this to contemplate. Jesus’ add-on instruction no doubt reinforced what He wanted them to learn. Years later they would remember this simple story with profound implications regarding the first three tangible steps of following Christ wherever He leads.
Let’s appreciate that Jesus always knows exactly where He is going and what He is about at all times, now and then. He was not on that isolated hill by mistake, but by design. Sure, He humanly needed a rest, but God never wastes time or a miracle. He is never boxed into a corner but is opening doors to further perform His purpose and desire for us.
The boy came forward and made available the little he had. Barley, being inferior to wheat for making bread, was a diet staple among the poor. But the youngster was willing and trusting to hand over all he had, no matter how meager, to Jesus Christ for His purpose.
How often do you and I stand unmovable along the highway of life because we don’t think God can use us to satisfy His glory? You know how it goes—”I’m too dumb,” “too small,” “too old,” “too young,” “too heavy,” “too poor,” or “too much” or “too little” of whatever else. Thus, we never hand over anything into His service to be used but simply stay hidden in the crowd of humanity. This little boy is God’s poster child to remind us that age, size and substance are never out of bounds when it comes to serving God.
The powerful lesson in this story
Consider this for a moment in regard to our personal encounter with Christ: If we give Him nothing, He has nothing of us to use. If we’re not doing anything, how can we expect Him to bless it?
But the powerful lesson in this story is if we give Him whatever we have, even if it’s just a little and what others might consider ordinary, then He can take our little and make it much to His glory.
How so, you say? Jesus would again magnify the boy’s willing offering of food the very next day. This time not simply to placate empty stomachs, but fill the souls of those who would follow Him by declaring, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:50 John 6:50This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
American King James Version×). Indeed, Christ “knew what He was going to do” (John 6:6 John 6:6And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.
American King James Version×), but He desires to use our availability, openness and willingness to prepare the way.
The little boy who met Jesus that day stands behind a long line of people who made themselves available, open and willing to serve God’s purpose even though humanly they had nothing to offer. But that’s all right with God. Consider Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth with empty wombs that bore fruit. Consider Gideon with a measly army of 300 men. Consider Ruth, the Moabite widow with no desired pedigree who became an ancestor of Jesus—the One through whom all of us may become part of God’s family.
These are people who would now knowingly smile at the apostle Paul’s words found in Philippians 4:6-7 Philippians 4:6-7 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×that remind us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Indeed, this kind of peace that bears lasting results moves beyond the mere facts on the ground that can stifle our call to glorify God in all we do.
So what are you holding onto and not offering to God because of self-imposed isolation from service toward His glory in you?
Allow me for a moment to fill in for Andrew and help connect you to your God-given destiny. Sure, there are smarter, noisier, flashier human tools all around us that God might use, but that’s not the starting or ending point in gaining God’s attention and experiencing His grace. Just ask Philip. Just ask the lad with his lunch.
Being “in the know” only gets you so far with God. Let’s understand that each of us has been given a story by our Maker. Each of us has been given His Word. It’s not how much you know about His Word, but how much you put it into practice when it comes to those moments of taking those first three steps of being 1) available, 2) open and 3) willing to serve Christ whenever, wherever and however He might guide us.
By the way, that previously mentioned line is still forming behind the little boy for those who understand that our little becomes much in God’s hands toward His glory.