Thanks For Nothing!
In 2021 I am trying to memorize scripture as part of a new spiritual discipline. As I do, I have a new appreciation for very short verses. In fact, I’ve begun studying some of the shortest verses that carry within them a powerful lesson. During Advent I looked at John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Here at the beginning of 2021, I am intrigued by another short phrase embedded in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The story goes like this.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish (John 6:5-11).
This story is so familiar to us that there is a danger we might miss a powerful, two-word phrase hidden in the midst of it. The context for this phrase is shaped by an insurmountable need on one side and a woefully inadequate resource on the other. 5,000 men, which likely means 20,000 people, are hungry and Jesus has five small barley loaves and two fish.
Jesus’ response was to pray. The fact that he prayed was not surprising, but what he prayed was shocking. Did you hear it? Jesus takes the meager loaves of bread, holds them up to the father, and he “gave thanks.” Thanks? Thanks for what? There was absolutely nothing here to be thankful for. The situation was hopeless. The need was insurmountable. The resources were ridiculously inadequate.
Had I been in that situation, I would have prayed as well, but certainly not the prayer that Jesus prayed. Mine would have gone something like this, “Dear Lord, we are facing such a huge need and we have so few resources. We need a miracle. We need you to show up in a mighty way. We’re calling on your name to do the miraculous in our midst. Help us in this time of great trouble, Lord. We trust in your promises, we beseech your name as one will deliver us from times of difficulty. Oh Lord, you are our great provider, provide for us today that which we do not have. Be merciful Lord that we might see your bounty and goodness. Help us Lord. Save us Lord, in Jesus name. Amen.”
Now that’s not a bad prayer. It would likely get lots of nods and ‘amens’ from the crowd. It would put us in a position of trusting God to do something miraculous. But that’s not how Jesus prayed. We’re simply told that he gave thanks.
We have to be careful to be true to scripture here when we think about how to interpret this. It would be tempting to conclude that Jesus gave thanks because he knew what God was about to do. And while that might be true, there’s nothing in the text that alludes to that. What we find is the simple and very hard truth that Jesus gave thanks for resources that were wholly inadequate to meet the need. Jesus thanked God for providing them. It was the blessing over a meal. There were no caveats, no strings attached. Jesus lifted up five small barley loaves in front of 20,000 hungry people and thanked God for them.
What do we learn from this? What does it mean for us as stewards to follow Jesus’ example? Here are five challenging takeaways I’d like to put before you.
First, it means that whatever God provides for any given situation, our immediate response should be thankfulness. Our gratitude is not based on the mathematics of how the resources meet the need but on obedience and faithfulness to the one who provides for all of our needs.
Second, I believe it means that our call is to steward the resources we have not constantly long for what we don’t have. In this way there is a sense of holy contentment that what God has provided will be enough. How else would you give thanks for so little in the face of so much need?
Third, I believe it means we trust that God understands the needs we have and, if we will be thankful for our current provision, he will provide. The father knew how many people were hungry, and by Jesus thanking him for what he had provided, it opened the door to the miracle.
Fourth, I believe it keeps us focused on the mathematics of the kingdom of God. How often do we see God meet our needs in ways that defy our own logical, financially sound approach? Phillip knew there would not be enough money anywhere to buy the food they needed. But in the mathematics of the kingdom, there was enough for everyone. And for that Jesus gave thanks.
Finally, we should be heartened by Andrew’s faith, even though he admitted what he found was not enough. The fact that he even offered the barley loaves and fish should lead us to ensure that we look carefully at all that God has supplied, even when it seems meager. He could have set this boy’s small lunch aside, choosing not to even bother Jesus with it. But instead, he brought it forward as a provision even though it was far from enough to meet the need. By taking seriously all that God had provided, he placed it into the hands of Jesus to multiply for their provision.
What will you do with this little two word teaching that Jesus, “gave thanks?” Where in your life are you not giving thanks for what God has provided because it seems so inadequate? Where do you question God’s ability to meet your need? Where are you overlooking current resources you have because they seem so inconsequential based on your need? Where have you failed to give thanks for what God has provided because you’re so anxious and worried about the need that still remains?
May these words of Jesus remind us that in his hands all resources are enough to supply all of our needs. May we develop a steward’s heart of true thankfulness for all that God provides, and then watch him do great things in us and through us as his faithful stewards of every barley loaf and fish he places at our feet.