Jesus and the Miracle of Abundance

By Jessica LaGrone –

God loves to deal in the small. I know that sounds like a contradiction when you’re talking about miracles, where we step back in awe of the big and bold actions of God, but it’s true. The big things that God does often begin with something small.

When our family moved to Kentucky, Jim and I decided to bring four-year-old Drew along on the house hunting trip with us to help him through the transition of moving to a new place. As four-year-olds sometimes do, Drew decided he was along on the trip not for his benefit, but for ours, and that his opinion was needed on the process of searching for a new house. In his little mind he had developed his own list of must-haves for our new house: it would need to have a fireplace, a basement (since living in Texas he had never even seen one), and a garden. In the small town to which we were moving, our realtor only found four houses to show us that were in our price range. In each, Drew would look around and announce “no fireplace!” or “no room for a garden!” letting us know this particular house didn’t fit his qualifications. To be honest, none of the four seemed to Jim and I to be the home that would best suit our family’s needs. Discouraged and tired, we called it quits for the day. 

Just as we were about to give up, a family friend who lived in town happened to mention that she knew someone who was planning to sell their home but had not yet put it on the market. A phone call was made, and we were standing on the doorstep of a home that certainly looked as if it was made just for us. As we walked from room to room my heart soared, dreaming of how this would be the perfect place for our family. I was so lost in thought that I barely heard Drew ticking off his little list: “fireplace!” “basement!” and then, as we finished the tour of the inside and were shown the amazing backyard. The homeowner happened to mention that she had recently started a small garden off to the side of the house. Drew announced then and there that we were buying the house, and left the grownups to do the negotiating.

Of course, there were lots more details to be worked out, but my heart was so touched that God paid attention to the requests of a little boy looking for his heart’s desires. As tiny as these details seem, it was the small things that God used to guide us to the house we now call home.

Have you ever noticed that in scripture small things pop up again and again that signal God’s attention to detail? Little David conquers Goliath with just a small stone (1 Samuel 17:48-50). A minuscule cloud signifies the beginning of a great storm the prophet Elijah predicted (1 Kings 18:41-46). Elijah hears God in the sound of sheer silence – not the earthquake, fire, or wind (1 Kings 19:11-13). Jesus points to a tiny mustard seed as the representation of true faith, since it starts out small but grows large (Matthew 13:31-32). James indicates that the tongue is powerful and mighty, reminding us that a small spark can ignite a forest fire (James 3:5).

Where there’s a scarcity of ingredients, it reminds us that it’s God’s power, not human ingenuity or provision, to which we should give our attention and praise. The harder the odds and the smaller the resources, the more amazed we are when God pulls through and makes something amazing out of almost nothing.

No miracle exemplifies this quite as well as the day Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand.

Before that miracle story even began, the disciples were already run down. They were tired and worn out from ministering to others, and they were so busy they hadn’t even had a chance to eat. I’m sure you’ve felt like this from time to time, when your responsibilities and care for others have drained you so much that you are desperately in need of time just to care for yourself.

Jesus invites the disciples to come to a quiet place where they can rest. They cross over to the other side of the lake in a boat, but people hurry by foot to get there ahead of them, so that when they arrive another great crowd has already formed (Mark 6:33). Galilee is not a very large region, and the towns are not very far apart; so when people witness the amazing things Jesus is doing, they tell their friends and rush ahead to the next town where they can find him. Crowds form easily when word spreads of a miracle-working rabbi crossing from shore to shore.

When Jesus, who is still tired and hungry from his ministry in the previous town, arrives, he encounters a brand-new crowd – described as “great” in size. While we seem to only remember that the crowd came with empty bellies, that’s not even the first kind of scarcity Jesus noticed. He first sees that they are starving for leadership, teaching, and truth, so he “began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34). Then, at the end of a long day of teaching, the disciples call Jesus’ attention to another kind of scarcity.

The disciples are exhausted and hungry, the crowds are “great” in size but lack a shepherd to care for them, and now we find that thousands of people are also hungry. When Jesus tells the disciples to take inventory, they find themselves digging in their pockets for crumbs!

One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, who was Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up after searching the crowd for any food. You can hear the exasperation in his voice: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8-9)

It seems a bit strange to complain to a limitless God about how impossible your situation is, but that’s what the disciples are doing here. In fact, our prayers sometimes sound this way too; we lay our desperate situations out before the King of Kings and tell him just how impossible things look to us.

But there’s a small detail in this miracle story that we don’t want to miss. I call it a “small” detail because we’re talking here about things that are small in our eyes but great in Jesus’ hands. It is, of course, the boy. It’s not a disciple who provides the small offering with which Jesus will make a miracle. It’s not even an adult. It’s a boy. Don’t miss this: the disciples aren’t even the ones with the resources here. They are totally out of food, out of ideas, and out of patience, wanting Jesus to just send everybody home so they can be done. They have nothing to offer. But the boy does. This story stacks the odds of great scarcity against tiny provision, and weighing those in the hands of the miracle-worker Jesus to see what he can do.

One detail that I love is that the disciple who acts as the go-between, bringing the boy and his food to Jesus, is Andrew. Otherwise, this little one and his gifts might have been lost in the crowd. We named our firstborn son Andrew (he goes by Drew, the same one who closed the deal for the purchase of our current home). Andrew the disciple has a habit of bringing people to Jesus. Before he brought the boy with the fish and loaves, he brought his own brother, Simon Peter, to meet Jesus (John 1:41). I’ve always told my Andrew: “I hope you bring many people to Jesus someday, too.”

Andrew the disciple shows remarkable humility and wisdom in both of these situations. Where his brother is concerned, Andrew must have known that Peter was the stronger personality and might end up getting more of Jesus’ attention. (Peter is by far the most mentioned disciple, and the leader according to all four Gospels.) But Andrew also knows that the best thing he can do for anyone he loves is to bring them to Jesus.

In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, Andrew knows he could be laughed at when he presents a small boy with a tiny lunch as an answer to a crowd full of hunger. But despite his own question regarding the sufficiency of that small amount, he must also know that any offering, no matter how small, is something great in Jesus’ hands.

If there is someone in your life you’re concerned about or worrying over, bring them to Jesus. Pray for them. Even that tiny act is enough for something great.

Our small resources in God’s hands are more than enough. When blessed in Jesus’ hands, the five loaves and two fish turn out to be a feast. Jesus actually divides five loaves among all of them, and then amazingly he divides the two small fish among them all as well.

The result is mind-blowing. We’re told not only that everyone eats but also that all are satisfied! And to show that God is more than enough for all our needs: they take up leftovers, and twelve baskets are filled!

Don’t miss the number here: twelve. Remember our tired and weary disciples? There are twelve of them. The number of leftover baskets helps remind them that just as they take care of the needs of others – distributing the food and giving them something to eat – God will always take care of their needs as well.  God is always “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

There are people who analyze this miracle in a way that implies it is no miracle at all, saying that the people just reached into their coats for the little bit of food they brought and, inspired by Jesus, began sharing generously. While generosity is indeed a gift, this text, told in all four Gospels, clearly gives us a glimpse of the awe that both the crowd and the disciples had at Jesus’ miraculous actions. Just because miracles are impossible to understand doesn’t mean they have to be impossible to believe. Miracles are an opportunity to marvel at the marvelous, not to explain away the unexplainable.

The crowd is large. The hunger and exhaustion are great. The boy is small. The lunch basket is meager. But Jesus is enough!

In his book Brave Enough to Follow, Stuart Briscoe reminds us that “human resources, however limited, when willingly offered and divinely empowered, are more than adequate to achieve divine ends.” Remember that what is small in our hands is big in Jesus’ hands. Even if you weigh your situation and find the difference between the needs and the provisions to be great, remember that God is greater.

He loves to show off by using the smallest among us. He pays attention to the heart’s desire of even the smallest four-year-old. He sees people’s hunger for teaching, truth, and shepherding, and still meets their need for lunch. This is how great our God is: that the biggest things he does often begin with something small. 

Jessica LaGrone is the Dean of Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Her books and Bible studies include Namesake, Broken and Blessed, and Set Apart. This article is excerpted from Inside the Miracles of Jesus: Discovering the Power of Desperation, recently released by Abingdon Press. Reprinted by permission.

You can purchase the book here.

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