Our family vacation could not have arrived at a better time.
I was feeling worn out, discouraged, and depleted from the daily grind. Day in and day out, each 24-hour period seemed packed to the brim with activities, work, and other commitments. There never seemed to be enough time in the day to see all the people I wanted to see, finish the housework I needed to finish, and give all the effort I wanted to give in serving the church.
Honestly, that last one was the kicker. I realized that I was becoming weary and exhausted from serving. While I felt certain that I was not attempting to do more than he had asked of me, the weariness had caught up with me and left me feeling inadequate and depleted.
This reminded me of the reality of human frailty. While God never slumbers nor sleeps, you and I often come face to face with our limitations, especially in the area of serving God’s people, be it visiting the elderly, playing music for church services, teaching the children in Sunday School, or carrying one another’s burdens through the ministry of prayer.
The twelve disciples came up against their own limitations in Mark chapter six, after they had spent considerable time casting out demons and healing the sick in Jesus’ name (12,13). The men were weary with serving and had “no leisure even to eat” from the ministry they continued to do (31).
At this point, word about Jesus was spreading, and the crowds followed him wherever he journeyed. Jesus had just encouraged the disciples to get away for some rest from their service; yet, another crowd “saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (33). I imagine the disciples were thinking, We’ve got nothing left in our tanks! How can we possibly minister to these people adequately?
Those of us who are also weary in serving and aware of our limitations can learn five helpful keys to our perseverance from the rest of this account, when Jesus feeds the five thousand:
1. Submit to the plans God has for you
We often become even more exhausted from trying to skirt around God’s plans for us, rather than submitting to them in faith. Discouragement and self-pity tend to surface within us when events don’t pan out the way we thought they would: the rehearsal runs late, people’s hearts are hardened to the ministry of the Word, the turnout for the prayer meeting is slim and disheartening.
The disciples had not planned on continuing to minister to the crowds; they had wanted to get away, rest, and recover. So when Jesus changed plans on them, they had a few choices: They could resist him completely and go off to rest, comply with frustration out of obligation, or submit willingly to the change of plans out of a deep trust in his good intentions for them.
Willing submission to God’s plan, even when it looks different than ours, actually produces the fruit of patience and peace within us. As a result, our service increasingly becomes the aroma of Christ, rather than reluctant, dead works that are of little benefit to anyone.
2. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with love for people
As the crowds gathered around Jesus and the twelve, Mark tells us that “[Jesus] had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (34). When I am growing weary in my serving, one of the first things to fly out the window is love for other people, rendering the rest of my outward actions useless. It is especially difficult to lovingly serve those who do not show any appreciation or love in return.
But Jesus, the great Shepherd of the lost sheep, was not merely unappreciated, he was rejected by men. The same crowds he ministered to, healed, and taught were the ones who crucified him. Yet, despite all the hatred and violence towards him, Jesus loved his enemies to the end and forgave them, even while he hung upon the cross.
This same Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit, and we need only to ask the Spirit to pour the love of Christ into our hearts so that we can love even the most unappreciative and difficult of sinners. The gospel frees us to serve in love because it reminds us of how immensely we have been served by Christ.
3. Give all you have as an offering of worship, even if it seems meager
When Jesus asks the disciples to provide the crowds something to eat, they bring him five loaves of bread and two fish - not exactly an adequate meal for five thousand hungry people! Nonetheless, the disciples obeyed Jesus’ command to bring what they had for his service, even it seemed meager and insufficient.
When I’m growing exhausted and discouraged from serving, I am tempted to believe that passing the baton to someone more able is better than giving what little I have. One of my greatest struggles is singing, and I often want to hide and let a more talented singer take over for me. Perhaps you, too, have found yourself embarrassed or discouraged by your limitations in serving, and you’re equally tempted to pass the baton.
But Jesus teaches us through this account that our obedience despite our limitations is the platform by which he works wonders in and through us, while making his own name great. Jesus used the five loaves and two fish for his purposes, and he will just as surely use what little you bring him in obedience and faith.
4. Trust the ability of God to provide what you cannot
So what happened when the disciples gave Jesus the seemingly meager five loaves and two fish?
[Jesus] looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men (41-44).
Five loaves and two fish fed five thousand people? Did the disciples make that happen themselves? No, but Jesus took their obedient service and multiplied it, bearing significant fruit through an insignificant offering.
We may never see the fruit of our service - how many people trust Christ or grow in their spiritual maturity - but we can trust God’s ability to multiply our efforts for his glory in the lives of his people (and even in the lives of unbelievers). Our limitations serve to remind us that God does not need our service, but he delights to use us when we willingly, trustingly offer ourselves as living sacrifices. It is through the multiplication of our small, but sincere, offerings that God reveals his perfect power and strength and works among his people.
Notice that the people “all ate and were satisfied.” Ultimately, it is the Bread of Life, himself, who satisfies his people, not the greatness of our service. Our service points to our need for the greater Servant, and this should encourage us to continue giving of ourselves to see his glory put on display through our limitations.
5. Get away, seek Christ, and rest
Finally, it is important not to discount Jesus’ initial command for the disciples to go away by themselves and rest. Yes, Jesus had a different plan for the men that day, which purposed to put his power and authority on display. But even Jesus got away to rest and pray to the Father, and if the Son of God set that example for us, how much more do we need to rest and recharge?
It is only in resting in the Bread of Life, ourselves, that we will be fed by his Word and be satisfied. It is only when we think deeply about the gospel and receive the mercy and grace of God anew that we will be compelled and equipped to continue pouring ourselves out in service to others.
What outpouring of service is Jesus asking you to offer to him today?