In Mark 6:31-44, after a long period on ministering, Jesus and His disciples were so thronged with people that they couldn’t even find time to sit down and eat. He told them to “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” They all got into a boat, but the people saw them and outran the boat to get to the place they were landing before they did. When Jesus “saw much people,” instead of being irritated that His plans to get alone and rest were foiled (as I would likely have done), He was rather “moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd.”
He spent time teaching them, and “when the day was now far spent,” and they were in a setting where there was no place to buy food, the weary disciples wanted Jesus to finally send the people away. But instead, He told them, “Give ye them to eat.” Besides there being no place to buy bread, they could not have afforded enough to feed all the people (5,000 men plus women and children) anyway. He asked them what they had, which was five loaves and two fish. When everyone was seated in an orderly fashion, Jesus “looked up to heaven, and blessed” the food and broke it into pieces to give to the disciples, who in turn gave it to the people. Not only was everyone satisfied, but there were 12 baskets of food left over.
As I read this familiar account this morning, several truths stood out to me.
Jesus is concerned about our physical and emotional needs as well as our spiritual ones. It is not wrong to feel weary and make plans to get away some times. But when those plans are thwarted, I am not to cling to my “right” or “need” to be alone and regroup. God knows those needs, but if He allows someone in need of ministry to come into my path, I am to have compassion on them and minister to them. I should not be irritated with them or with Him or at the circumstances. That compassion will come as I look away from my own needs and desires and see others in their need.
But when I am depleted and don’t have enough to give, I’m not off the hook. I’m not excused from giving. He instructs me to give what I have, and when He blesses it, it’s not only sufficient, it’s abundant. Though the disciples couldn’t find time to eat, in ministering to others, they were fed. Like those Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8, who gave liberally even out of their poverty, we’re to give even when we know what we have isn’t enough. In His hands, it’s turned into more than enough.
This doesn’t mean we’re to ignore our needs, not take care of ourselves, and run ourselves into the ground. There is still the principle employed on airplanes where people are instructed to put their own oxygen masks on before they help others with theirs.
But God doesn’t usually call on us to minister to someone when we’re feeling the most spiritual and ready. Often it comes when we’re depleted from already giving, like the disciples after a busy day of teaching and healing, or a mom after a full day of teaching, training, clothing, feeding, changing, and entertaining a little one, or a father after a long day at work, or a teacher or caregiver or nurse or minister or anyone who has already given just about all they thought they had. What we have in ourselves is never enough anyway, but when we’re “running on empty,” and we ask God to bless, fill, and use us, He ministers to us through our ministry to others.
How I praise Thee, precious Savior,
That Thy love laid hold of me;
Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me
That I might Thy channel be.
Channels only, blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous pow’r
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.
Just a channel full of blessing,
To the thirsty hearts around;
To tell out Thy full salvation,
All Thy loving message sound.
Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me,
A clean vessel in Thy hand;
With no pow’r but as Thou givest
Graciously with each command.
Witnessing Thy pow’r to save me,
Setting free from self and sin;
Thou who bought me to possess me,
In Thy fullness, Lord, come in.
Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit
Hearts that full surrender know;
That the streams of living water
From our inner man may flow.
~ Mary E. Maxwell