Thursday, May 19
What Opportunities Are Right in Front of You?
This was my teaching from a Wednesday night service a while back. I decided to bring it out of the archives today.
When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn’t work at zero gravity. In order to solve this problem, they hired Andersen Consulting. It took them one decade and $12 million. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on practically any surface including crystal and a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees C. And what did the Russians do? The Russians used a pencil!
Too often we focus on problems and fail to see opportunities right in front of us. Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; while an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Likewise the Lord tells us to be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Eph. 5:15-17. In other words, “If you want to understand the Lord’s will, be wise by looking for the opportunities He sets before you, especially in difficult circumstances.”
For me, often times I try to fix whatever is broken in my own strength before I ever call upon the Lord. It isn’t a matter of not trusting God but rather the independence that raises its ugly head when I find myself dealing with something heavy. Many times I will exhaust all avenues on my own and then finally call upon God to bring in the big guns!
Jesus had tried to slip quietly away from the crowds, but the people found out where he was going and followed him. Instead of showing impatience at this interruption, Jesus welcomed the people and ministered to their needs. Have you ever experienced interruption when you were doing something you deemed very important? How do you see people who interrupt your schedule – as nuisances, or as the reason for your life and ministry?
Luke 9: 10-17
Our passage tells us that Jesus and His disciples withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but a crowd in excess of 5,000 learned about it and followed him. As it got late in the day, the disciples came to him with a problem - too many people to feed. But rather than seeing this as an opportunity for the Lord to work, they saw it as a problem they needed to fix. Notice their pessimism, Mark 6:37 the disciples said to him, “it would take eight months of a man’s wages (to feed all these people)! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"
When the disciples expressed concern about where the crowd of thousands would eat, Jesus offered a surprising solution – “You give them something to eat.” The disciples protested, focusing their attention on what they didn’t have (food and money.)
Is God calling you to do something that you know in man’s eyes is absolutely impossible? Do you think God would ask you to do something that you and he together couldn’t handle? Don’t let your lack of resources blind you to seeing God’s power.
When Jesus asked the disciples to provide food for over 5,000 people, they asked in astonishment if they should go and spend eight months’ wages on bread. A situation that seems impossible with human resources is simply an opportunity for God. The disciples did everything they could by gathering the available food and organizing the people into groups. Then, in answer to prayer, God did the impossible. When facing a seemingly impossible task, do what you can and ask God to do the rest. He may see fit to make the impossible happen.
The disciples dove head-long into “fix-it” mode and not once asked the Lord who was standing right there, what His thoughts were about it. So Jesus looked them right in the eye and said to them, Fella’s, "You give them something to eat." v.13 Now you can almost feel the tightening in their chest, that tingling sensation that creeps up your spine, grabs your neck and sends your brain into panic mode. “You said what?”
"Lord, you don’t just don't get it. You see we had a committee meeting and have identified the problem, assessed our resource pool and have already come up with a perfectly legitimate and natural solution to this problem." Sound like something you may have heard before in your own conversation with the Lord?
Jesus wanted His disciples to stop looking at problems from their natural perspective. Jesus Himself said it. In John’s account, it says that Jesus asked (them this question) to test them, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. John 6:6
Now folks, why in the world would Jesus ask the disciples a question that He already had the answer for? Why would He put them through this exercise when He had already predetermined the outcome?
1. Discipleship is not for spectators.
It has been said that much of Christianity can be compared to a football game; 22 players on the field in dire need of rest and 100,000 spectators in the stands in dire need of exercise. Jesus wants all of His disciples to be engaging in His ministry of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. That’s why He sent out the 12 in Luke 9:1. The Lord invites us to join Him in His work and that is exactly what He wanted the disciples to do and what he wants us to learn and do as well. Why? Because once we come to believe in Christ as Savior, we can’t stay there, we need to move on in making Him Lord of our lives. It would be like being born and staying an infant our entire life. That’s not God’s plan! His plan is for us to join Him in His work, as we come under His direction, authority and leadership. However, as disciples that come under the Lordship of Christ we need to start looking at the world and the problems we face from His perspective. The disciples on the other hand were looking at this dilemma from their perspective. In fact, they left the Lord almost entirely out of the equation or in many of our cases we first exhaust all our resources before we come to Him.How in the world could the disciples feed all those people? They needed to change their perspective. What about you? Do you also need to change your perspective when it comes to the things of God?
2. Problems are opportunities in disguise.
Remember, John says that Jesus asked this only to test them, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. John 6:6
When Jesus asked Philip where they could buy a great amount of bread, Philip started assessing the cost. Jesus wanted to teach him that financial resources are not the most important ones. We can limit what God does in us by assuming what is and is not possible. Is there some impossible task that you believe God is calling you to do? Don’t let your assumption of what can’t be done keep you from taking on the task. God can do the miraculous; trust him to provide the resources.
Jesus wanted to change the way the disciples thought, the way they processed information and the way they dealt with dilemmas. He wanted them to start looking at the world from His perspective. He wanted them to see that many dilemmas they were facing were really opportunities for Him to reveal Himself to people who know Him and people who don’t yet know Him. Jesus wanted His disciples to use this problem as a blessing for people.
The Lord was asking the disciples to do something they were incapable of doing. There was absolutely no way they could feed all these people without either buying them bread or sending them into town. Jesus was creating for His disciples what Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, calls: A Crisis of belief. This was a God-sized assignment. This was way beyond their capability to accomplish and if the Lord did not intervene, they would fail and fall flat on their faces.
Please understand that this is the place where many followers bail out. The Lord lays a God-sized assignment before them and they say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t”, which leads to what Blackaby calls a “crisis of belief”. The word “crisis” comes from a word that means “decision.” The crisis of belief then is a turning point, fork in the road that demands a decision. You must decide what you believe about God and how you respond to Him. How you respond when you reach this turning point will determine whether you go on to be involved with Him in something God-sized that only He can do or whether you will continue to go your own way and miss the opportunity He has placed before you. This is crucial because when we aren’t looking for those opportunities God is placing before us, we don’t experience His presence and power in our life and circumstance.
3. When opportunity knocks, we get up and open the door.
By only looking at the problem instead of God’s provision the disciples thought only about how to accomplish this assignment of feeding the 5,000 in their own power and with their own resources. What they said was, ‘how can we fix this, we have only five loaves of bread and two fish v.13. They were thinking, “We can’t do this, it’s impossible! There is no way to feed that many people with what we have.” Their problem was not with the dilemma, but with the way they were thinking. They had already convinced one another that this task could not be accomplished. They had not yet grabbed onto the fact that Jesus was inviting them to join Him in His work. They thought they had to accomplish this task in their own power and with their current resources. They were thinking, “We can’t do this, it’s impossible!” But remember, Jesus already had in mind what he was going to do. John 6:6
How many times have you restricted God’s work in your own life because of your perspective? We often forget that when God speaks He always reveals what He is going to do—not what He wants us to do. We join Him so He can work through us. That’s why Jesus said in Mark 10:27 "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
The disciples had already seen Jesus heal the lame man, the blind man and the man with leprosy. They had seen Him calm the storm, heal the woman with the issue of blood and raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, all in super-natural ways. But now, when opportunity knocked, it didn’t even enter into their minds that maybe, just maybe God wanted to do something miraculously super-natural through them.
Many of us look around and see what God is doing in other’s lives and allow the enemy to convince us that God could never do a work like that through us. We are looking at circumstances and situations through our perspective and allow the enemy to defeat us before God has a chance!
Now if the disciples pooled all their money and passed the hat among the crowd that day, they may have had enough money to buy something to eat for at least a portion of the people. And in so doing, those who were provided for could say, “Aren’t they devoted and committed followers of Jesus. That was a wonderfully kind thing that they did. Those disciples are all really nice guys.” However, none of those people that day would have explained any of it in terms of what God had done. The disciples could have done it completely separate of God’s intervention. However, the Lord isn’t interested in just feeding people’s bellies for a day. He wants to feed their souls and spirits for eternity. The only way that those people knew that God was at work in and through the disciples was to solve this dilemma in a super-natural way that far exceeded the disciple’s power or resources.
4. God wants to use problems as opportunities to reveal Himself though you and I.
Some people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do.” But I’m learning that God desires to give me tasks and assignments that are far beyond my abilities and power in order to not only reveal Himself to me, but demonstrate His nature, His strength, His kindness and His provision to a watching world. People today need to see the super-naturally visible hand of God working in and through His disciples, so that when something happens there is no question that God had done it. I want to be that disciple!
God told Abraham to father a nation when he and Sarah were well beyond child-bearing years, why? To reveal Himself! God told Moses to deliver the children of Israel through the Red Sea, why? To show Himself! God had Gideon defeat the Midianite army of 120,000 with 300 men, why! To make Himself known!
Jesus told the disciples to feed 5,000 and to make disciples of all nations. None of these things were or are humanly possible. But when God’s people and the world see something happen that only God can do, they come to know God.
God wants people to come to know Him. That is why He chooses to work through us. People know us. They know what we can accomplish. But when they see things happen that can only be explained by God’s intervention, they will come to know Him.
Our passage tells us that Jesus instructed the disciples to have the people sit in groups of 50 and then .v 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. Amazingly, there were more left over than what they began with.
5. Where God guides, He provides
The Lord’s hand was all over this. He told them to do something and then He showed them how to do it. When God gives us a directive, we can count on the fact that God has already considered every factor that must be considered. Doesn’t Scripture say he already had in mind what he was going to do? (John 6:6) So as we seek to know and to do God’s will, it is imperative that we clearly know His will and His directions for carrying it out. In fact, 5He tells us if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. V James 1:5-8
If you have ever seen the constant rolling of huge waves at sea, you know how restless they are – subject to the forces of wind, gravity, and tide. Doubt leaves a person as unsettled as the restless waves. If you want to stop being tossed about, rely on God to show you what is best for you. Ask him for wisdom, and trust that he will give it to you. Then your decisions will be sure and solid.
Like the disciples, our wisdom and knowledge will not be adequate, but God’s wisdom and knowledge are always adequate. Why, because He is always able to accomplish all He calls us to do. Ironically, it was Albert Einstein who said, "When the solution is simple, God is answering."
Let’s open our eyes to the opportunities the Lord sets before us.