Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. John 6:5-6
Philip was stunned. Jesus was asking where to get the food for thousands of people. Immediately his mind didn’t go to where to get it, but to how much it will cost: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
Overhearing Jesus’ question to Philip, Andrew added, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew’s mind went to available resources.
John, writing years later about the incident, describes Jesus’s question as a “test.” But what was the test?
- To see who could whip out their iPhone and locate the nearest market?
- To see who could most quickly calculate the cost?
- To see who could conduct a speedy inventory of personal resources and accounts?
Not even close.
Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing – both proclaiming the ruling power of God and demonstrating it – and sowing absolute truth into their minds. Now presented with an impossible situation, Philip must apply what he has been taught.
The test exposed the inner working of Philip’s thought life under stress. We say we are trusting Him, but our thoughts tell the real story. Under pressure and experiencing anxiety, Philip’s mind didn’t run to the Father who is the King of kings. He stopped at the walls erected by a worldview chained to the physical senses, but blind to an unseen, spiritual realm. He slid off into a mental pit of self-reliance, rather than rest in the unseen, almighty God.
The Old Testament is full of examples of kings who failed to trust God when confronted with vastly superior military threats. They ran and forged alliances with other nations, placing their faith in the popular, collective wisdom of their generation for deliverance. Over and over again, God allowed His people to discover the hard way that He is the rock, the hiding place, and the refuge in the midst of overwhelming problems. They were being tested.
The mature disciple doesn’t ignore a problem. He is intensely aware of the needs. He can see that his immediate resources are inadequate. But the distinct difference within the mature Christian mind is this: he seeks first the kingdom – or ruling power – of God. His mind escapes the confines of a Western worldview… and runs to the absolute authority and infinite resources of the one Jesus called “Father.”
Jesus simply took what was available, lifted it up to His Father, and said “thank you.” And everything changed.
When tested, the problem-solving disciple has disciplined his mind to go first to the Father. Only in His Presence can we see the truth about ourselves and our problems.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10
“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3
The people of God had wandered in the wilderness for forty years, sustained by a daily provision of manna that fell from the sky. The promised land was waiting. They crossed the Jordan River into the land. And then… no more manna.
Living by the Word of God is a journey of faith. We can trust Him for the most basic of needs. The manna is the bread of heaven, a gift from God, and a life-giving resource in the believer’s life. But there’s more… He wants to grow your faith.
A life of faith is always in motion. The faith I exercised in Him yesterday must be renewed today. My faith delights Him (Hebrews 11:6). It is to be a continual, heartfelt response to what He is doing… now… and in every moment.
A life of faith is always in response to what God has said. I can’t control Him, guide Him, or make Him do my will. I can’t decide what God needs to be doing today in my life or the lives of those I pray for… but I can seek Him. I can wait on Him for direction in how to pray. Once He speaks and His desire is clear to me… then I know what to ask for and what to expect (1 John 5:14). My faith can only rest in His Word (Romans 10:17).
So the manna fell for forty years… and then it stopped. It was a training tool to grow and deepen faith in the hearts of His people. Can I trust Him? Must I take care of me? Or will He take care of me? The daily manna for your life is a reminder that you are always cared for and that He is always reliable.
However, there are rivers to be parted and crossed. There are walls that need to come down, captives to be set free, and battles to be won. He is calling you to trust Him for more than your daily bread… He wants to enter into your circumstances, as well as into the life situations of people you know. He taught us to ask for His rule in heaven [where there is no Satan, no sickness, no sin] to be expressed on earth (Matthew 6:10). He wants to show Himself as a living God (2 Chronicles 16:9).
In a journey of faith, don’t be alarmed when the manna ceases… He always has an abundance for you (Philippians 4:11-13)… but get ready for the larger work of God.
He wants to come!
In 1984, Gail and I were serving in Southern California as missionaries with the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (HMB). Living in a small apartment in West Hollywood, we were working alongside veteran missionaries Bob and Glenda Tremaine, nurturing the small First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills congregation, and laying the groundwork for new churches to be planted in the greater Los Angeles area.
In so many ways, Bob became a “father” in the Lord for me. His walk with God had been shaped by years of ministry and church planting experiences in New Mexico, New England, and south Florida. By the time we had started working together, the Tremaines had planted over thirty churches. They knew God, loved God, and walked with God. When Bob told me that the Lord was going to do something… that’s what happened. Over and over again, we saw God at work. Bob taught me to bring everything to the Lord in prayer… even routine business and ministry decisions.
We were doing ministry on the border between two cities. West Hollywood was truly a mosaic of cultures and lifestyles, composed of high density housing in the form of apartments and condominiums. Beverly Hills was a secure enclave of wealthy financiers, physicians, attorneys, media executives, and a few celebrities. Each Sunday, the persons attending our worship services reflected a variety of occupations: accountants and actors, waiters and writers, maids and millionaires. How could our little church develop a presence in our community?
In the early eighties, the use of direct mail by churches was a new idea. Affectionately known as “junk mail” today, direct mail campaigns seemed to be helping businesses and organizations get the word out. Bob asked me to develop a pilot project, experimenting with direct mail as an outreach tool for the church. The HMB also embraced the project, putting in $2,000 to the budget. I went to work.
Our church budget had a few hundred dollars to spare. Based on the available funds, I prepared a proposal that involved using our state-of-the-art copier to produce black-and-white brochures. I went to school on direct mail campaigns, attending seminars and contacting the best direct mail vendors in L.A. for current pricing. My plan was to do a single mailing to all of the addresses in the zip codes associated with West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. I vividly recall the meeting with Bob where I shared my best ideas.
“You’re going about this in the wrong way,” he said. I was stunned and a little indignant, but I listened. “You are pursuing a plan based on your budget. But if you had all the money you needed, what would you do then? Determine the very best approach first, then come back to me with what it will cost to do it right.”
Okay. So I went back to my office and started over. What would it take to really test the value of direct mail as an outreach tool? Well… I needed color brochures if I was mailing to the upscale residences around us. I needed to mail it more than once. I needed to experiment with repeat mailings and different frequencies. My budget swelled to several thousand dollars. I felt sure Bob would choke when he saw the new number. He didn’t. He didn’t even blink.
“Good work,” he said. “Now, let’s take this to the Lord and see what He wants to do. Too many times we limit God by focusing on our resources alone. It’s much better to expand the idea to the limits of your imagination, then let God hem you in to what He wants to do. His provision will determine the scope of this project.” So we prayed.
Within two weeks, God had provided all of the funding we needed… for the entire project. Everything.
I was basing my plan on the current, visible supply of resources: the money the church had in the bank. I did not consider God’s resources or what He wanted to do with the project. Asking me to “push out the walls” and think about what I could do with unlimited resources, Bob helped me discover that God was willing to do more than I was planning!
Since then I’ve learned that many times there is a gap between what I’m thinking and what God is thinking. He is often prepared to do more than I am expecting. Today, when I pray about something, I keep this in mind: God has a will and a plan. Rather than superimpose my expectations on a situation, it is better for me to try and understand what God wants to do — and then ask Him to do that. Centuries ago, the apostle John understood this when he wrote:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14–15).
Prayer is not about me getting what I want. Prayer is about getting what God wants (which is much, much better). I know this raises lots of questions, especially when I don’t like my circumstances or when I have needs that are not going away. I can still trust Him. He does not abandon me. He is still listening. He is still working.
Walking with God is seeking His will every day. As each new question and decision arises, ask, “Lord, how do you want me to respond to this?” Then wait… he will answer you.
Learning to pray and trust God in daily life propels you out of the rank-and-file world of just being religious.
[Author’s Note: This post was originally published March 7, 2012 at DonPucik.com and migrated to EquippingSaints.com]
Romans 10:17 “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Be careful what you pray for. When I first married, I asked God to make me a man of faith. I thought that was the thing to do. Then…
- … he allowed us to experience a deep financial crisis;
- … he led us to serve twice in places that couldn’t support us;
- … he allowed us to lose children in three pregnancies;
- … he allowed me to be unemployed on 3 different occasions; and
- … he allowed me to enter a surveilance mode for cancer (though still clear after 6 years).
And there’s more. But you’ve got the picture.
Faith didn’t arrive because of those experiences, but faith in God was enlarged as He led us through those experiences. In each circumstance I found myself driven for direction and comfort in God’s Word. And on each occasion God spoke to me in new ways even when reading familiar passages.
Faith cannot be exercised until we know what to trust God for. We can read the Bible and not hear God. But when we turn to the Scripture with a burning thirst for direction and help, He speaks!
Faith is a response to what God says. Hearing results from the word (literally “utterance”) that God impresses on your heart as you pour over the pages of the Scripture.
When God speaks, my life changes, even though my circumstances may never change to my liking. Would I pray again to become a man of faith?
In a heartbeat! I would not have wanted to live those experiences without a vital faith rumbling around in my soul — a faith driven by encounters with God in His Word.