Lessons from a Lunchbox
By Laura Bagby
Last week I had the privilege of having my recently married friends over
for dinner. Used to only feeding one, or at most two, I was concerned that
somehow my roommate and I wouldn't have enough food to adequately feed our
two guests. Like Martha in the Bible, I was feeling a bit anxious about completing
How about you? I am sure some of you have fed 10-, 20-, even 50 people, and
for you caterers, a thousand or more. You spend all day shopping, chopping,
cooking, cleaning, setting the table, and serving your guests. It takes time,
money, and a lot of preparation to get the job done right.
Now imagine you are tasked with feeding 5,000 hungry, restless men, many
of whom are complete strangers to you. Forget the fancy china and white tablecloths
and three-course dinners. In this case, you will be asked to use your survivor
skills to get the job done. And here's the catch: You didn't bring much in
the way of edibles, because you were completely unprepared for such a large
crowd; you can't move from your current location to get groceries and your
current location does not have any electricity with which to cook; you can't
order carryout because you don't have phone access or a credit card; you have
no idea who, if any, might have some terrible food allergy and sue you for
damages; it is evening and soon it will be dark; and worst of all, your boss
is watching every move you make to see how you are going to fulfill this duty.
It sounds rather impossible, doesn't it?
Well, I know of a couple of folks who managed to feed the whole lot of them
a real meal with a meager five loaves of bread and two fish. Word has gotten
around on this one, so I bet you have heard the story, too. My friends didn't
make the front page of the local newspaper, but they did make it into a very
prestigious and important publication -- the Bible.
Their story is recorded in all four Gospels: Matthew 14: 13-21, Mark 6:30-43,
Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15.
Because you may not have your Bible handy, I have taken the liberty to write
out this incredible story as it appears in Mark. The version that I have chosen
is from The Book (the New Living Translation), because it puts
the passage in more day-to-day terms. Take a minute to read God's word to
you and then we will look at applying these "Lunchbox Lessons" to our own
The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him
all they had done and what they had taught. Then Jesus said, "Let's get
away from the crowds for a while and rest." There were so many people
coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to
eat. They left by boat for a quieter spot. But many people saw them leaving,
and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and met them as they
landed. A vast crowd was there as he stepped from the boat, and he had
compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So
he taught them many things.
Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, "This is a
desolate place, and it is getting late. Send the crowds away so they can
go to the nearby farms and villages and buy themselves some food."
But Jesus said, "You feed them."
"With what?" they asked. "It would take a small fortune to buy food for
all this crowd!"
"How much food do you have?" he asked. "Go and find out."
They came back and reported, "We have five loaves of bread and two fish."
Then Jesus told the crowd to sit down in groups on the green grass. So
they sat in groups of fifty or a hundred.
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and
asked God's blessing on the food. Breaking the loaves into pieces, he
kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples to give to the people.
They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets
of leftover bread and fish. Five thousand men had eaten from those five
MINISTRY WILL INCONVENIENCE YOU
We notice from verse one that the apostles had just come back from a wonderful
time of ministry and were eagerly explaining to Jesus what they had done and
taught. The disciples probably relished hearing the wonderful spiritual news
and loved the idea of hanging out with the holy huddle, but the annoying townspeople
weren't leaving them alone. And even after Jesus and the faithful men tried
to make a quick getaway, those rotten people were audacious enough to hunt
Jesus down. How rude! Couldn't they just understand that Jesus didn't want
to spend time with them? The Son of God had important things to discuss with
the 12. Now was not the time, so the disciples thought.
You can almost hear the irritation as the disciples said to Jesus, "Why don't
You send the crowds away for food?" After all, it was a good and practical
suggestion, which, in the natural, would have been an acceptable solution.
But Jesus had a totally different perspective. Jesus was not annoyed by the
crowd; rather, He loved them. The version in Luke says that He welcomed the
people and healed their illnesses (Luke 9:11). In Matthew 14: 14 and again
in Mark 6:34, it says Jesus had compassion on the people. Jesus saw that the
fields were white unto harvest. To send the crowds away could have meant loss.
Some people might have gone away and never returned to the Master's side.
Jesus couldn't let that happen. And two, He had to teach the disciples that
as followers of Jesus Christ, they couldn't always expect comfort and they
couldn't expect things to be done in their timing as they had planned.
Likewise, if we as today's disciples want to live by faith, then we are going
to be put in situations that call for our cooperation. These situations will
first call for an attitude change. We can't have blessing and cursing in our
hearts at the same time. We are called to love our neighbor. Isaiah 58 talks
about feeding the poor and clothing the hungry and freeing the oppressed.
If we do these things and don't have love, we are just a clanging symbol --
we are just making noise. And who wants to hear that?
If you want to follow Jesus, you will be asked to change your plans. I remember
last fall, after the September 11 attacks, being determined to go to a home
show, even though my church was calling people to prayer that same night.
My reasoning was I needed some fun and I needed to escape from the sadness
and uncertainty of my present reality. I figured a domestic pursuit would
lift my spirits. But as I turned off the interstate to locate the home show,
my car completely died at a traffic light. I was forced to return home. I
was somewhat irritated, but I knew what my next step had to be. I walked into
church and experienced God's tremendous grace and blessing.
ASSESS WHAT YOU HAVE
In Mark 6: 38, Jesus asked the disciples, "How much food do you have? Go
and find out." Why would Jesus ask the disciples this? Wouldn't He know how
much food was available? I think there are several reasons why Jesus asked
this simple question.
First, Jesus wanted the disciples to see just how impossible their situation
was. After scouring the crowds, the disciples came up with five loaves of
bread and two fish. Basically what they had was a sardine sandwich. That was
not enough, and what they would need to make up the difference would have
cost "a small fortune" according to the passage in John. The disciples probably
came back discouraged because they realized what they had was inadequate.
But that is just the point! Jesus wanted the men to realize how little they
had. God says that if we humble ourselves then we shall be exalted. God is
for the humble, and this would have surely brought humility quickly, because
they made an accurate assessment of what they had.
We need to remember this as Christians, because we don't always measure what
we have for the Lord -- our talents, our character, our money, our possessions
-- correctly. The Bible tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than
we ought. Do you think you have a Big Mac when you really have a celery stick
in your spiritual lunchbox? We think we have a feast when in actuality we
have a paltry snack.
Assess what you have to give to the Lord, asking the Lord to help you see
your life and gifts impartially as He does. And instead of getting depressed
or feeling unworthy for somehow not being good enough -- We never will be
good enough. That is why we have God's grace and the blood of Jesus Christ
--give your lunch to God.
GIVE WHAT YOU HAVE IN FAITH
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and calmly got the men grouped together.
Then He prayed a blessing over the food. That was it: a simple prayer. But
that prayer offered in faith resulted in a miracle.
Did you notice God wanted the entire lunch? The same is true for us. God
wants it all. He wants what you have to offer, however big or small, in its
entirety. There is no holding back, no stinginess, if you want God to act
on your behalf.
Once we willingly offer what we have, God does something amazing. One plus
one no longer equals one. It might equal five, ten, or even a thousand. In
this case, one lunch became 5,000 lunches. When we give to the Lord, we receive
back more than we started with. It is that principle of reciprocity.
If you are thinking what I used to think, you are wondering where the catch
is. Well, you must offer what you have in faith. How much faith? I ask you,
How much faith did the disciples have to have for this to work? From the passage
we read in Mark, it doesn't say. Wouldn't such a great work of the Lord call
for a great amount of faith from the disciples?
This is the mystery, because the Bible says we need only a mustard seed of
faith. If you have ever held a mustard seed in your hand, you know just how
miniscule it is. It is way smaller than a peach pit, way smaller than a watermelon
seed. It is around the size of a poppy seed --tiny. But if you take that dot
of a seed and place it in the capable hands of Jesus, He will grow that seed
into a great big bush.
The key isn't how much faith we have, but who we have faith
in. Do you lack faith today? The Bible says faith comes from hearing and hearing
from the Word of God. Get that Word in and you will have what is necessary
to ask in faith and see a miracle occur in your life.
WAIT FOR GOD'S ABUNDANT BLESSING
According to Scripture, everyone in the crowd had as much as they needed
to eat. Plus, the disciples had leftovers -- twelve baskets full. They got
a double blessing. The disciples expected that through the power of God everyone
would get their fill, but I doubt they expected to have leftovers. How many
times do we pray for just what we need and no more, and yet God provides beyond
what we ever asked or imagined? Jesus tells us to ask anything in His name
and He will do it. Next time you are praying in faith, realize that God might
just have a double portion waiting. Are you going to believe Him for it?
GOD MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE
OK, read the statement above again, only this time emphasize God: God
makes the impossible possible. Did you get that? It's God, not you. This impossible
task that you are struggling with has got "Property of God" stamped across
it in big red stenciled letters.
If your typical response to a monstrous task ordered by God is 'Why me?'
or 'I can't' or 'Isn't there some other way?' then you are in good company.
Some of the great men of God that are mentioned in the Bible, like Moses,
Gideon, Jonah, and our dear disciples in the above passage -- all known for
their eventual obedience to God -- hid their tail between their legs when
faced with a new, and impossible challenge from the Creator. Maybe you have,
too. Perhaps you can see yourself in one or more of these scenarios:
"God, I don't have a seminary degree. How can I possibly become a pastor
"God, I don't have the money to go on this missions trip. I need over $3,000
in three weeks. I will never get the money in time."
"Lord, you are asking a lot from me. Start my own business? I am not assertive
enough. No one would want to work for me."
"Lord, you want me to witness to my neighbors? But I don't even know them?
What would I say? I am just not bold enough and I don't know the Bible well
enough to do a good job."
Did you count the number of times the word "I" or "me" was used? Our me-centered
knee-jerk answers only sap our faith and expose our sinful hearts of false
pride and fear.
The more I grow as a Christian, the more I understand that my response to
God when faced with a monstrous task should be, 'How do You want to
use me, Lord, to accomplish Your purposes here?'
Don't we know that we have the King of the Universe on our side? If God has
given us something to accomplish, you better bank on the fact that we can't
do it all by ourselves. If so, God wouldn't get the glory. (And He wants the
glory, so be sure to give Him praise.)God sets up the impossible equation
so that the supernatural can be accomplished. And if we are willing, we get
to be a part of the spectacular endeavor.
So the next time you think, I can't do this, realize that God can
and will if you just give Him the little you have. He will double, triple,
quadruple your measly offering to provide a feast for the nations!