Places of inadequacy challenge us to look to God
January 24, 2019
This article originally appeared as a part of Regarding Ruling Elders: A Monthly Series for Spiritual Leaders. To receive monthly notifications of new articles and read archived issues, visit pcusa.org/rulingelders.
The story of the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6 starts with the disciples coming to Jesus and asking him to send the people away to buy food for themselves. Jesus responds to this well-meaning advice by saying, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). The disciples look at the crowd and then look at what they have to offer, and their response to Jesus is basically, “It’s not enough!”
This same scene also plays itself out in the church repeatedly. Our congregation’s energy, facilities and money can all seem pitifully lacking. Budget season especially can seem like a yearly opportunity to have our noses rubbed in the reality of “It’s not enough.”
Sometimes it may seem that we, ourselves, are not enough. The work of officers in the church carries big responsibilities and serving as leaders can quickly push us to a place of inadequacy.
What I have discovered over the years is that these places of insufficiency are invitations to experience God’s sufficiency. They challenge us to look away from ourselves and what we have or do not have to God, who has everything we need. The truth is that as long as we feel we have enough of what we need to get by, we are tempted to leave God out of the equation. Spiritual leadership may turn into a do-it-yourself project. Times of “not enough” are really a blessing! They call us to take what we do have and through prayer put it in Jesus’ hands and ourselves along with it.
The story says that when the disciples gave Jesus their bits of bread and fish, he took it and blessed it and broke it, and he made it enough. How he did this is a mystery to me. But the truth that he does do it is something to which believers down through the centuries can testify. For instance, read the accounts of George Müller‘s ministry with orphans in Bristol, England, in the 1800s. He and his wife gave more than 10,000 orphans a safe place to grow up without ever asking for money from anyone but God. Müller is credited with this comment on his experience: “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”
When we are in need, we are called through prayer to put what we do have (even if it is only our inadequacy) into the hands of Jesus. His promise is to take our bits and pieces and make them enough. And he usually does it in such a way that there are leftovers, just to sharpen the point. This does not mean that we will get just what we want when we want it. It does mean that God’s grace will be sufficient to do what God wants to be done.
A spiritual exercise
Read Mark 6:30–44. The disciples’ response to the needs of the crowd was, “send them away.” Are there any people with needs in your life that you sometimes wish would go away? How do you find your patience and energy being stretched by these people? What circumstances tend to make you feel “it’s not enough” or “I’m not enough?”
Pick one of these situations of need. In prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to show you the five loaves and two fish that you have to offer there. In your imagination, take those things and put them into the hands of Jesus for his use. Ask Jesus to take, bless, break, and use what you have to meet the need in this situation. Thank God for what God is going to do. Try to develop the habit of letting anxiety and irritation function as a call to prayer.
Questions for thought and discussion
Where in the life of your church do you tend to experience “it’s not enough?”
- Where in your own experience as a church officer do you sense that there is a gap between what is called for and what you have to offer?
- Have you ever experienced a time when God took not enough and made it enough?
Joan S. Gray has served as teaching elder in twelve congregations. She is the co-author of Presbyterian Polity for Church Leaders, and the author of Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers and Sailboat Church, all published by Westminster/John Knox Press. Joan concluded a two-year term as Moderator of the 217th General Assembly (2006) of the PC(USA) and lives in midtown Atlanta.
Today’s Focus: Regarding Ruling Elders: A Monthly Series
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