We are living in unstable times that often leave the soul unsettled and our faith shaken. Our economy teeters on the brink between boom and bust. High unemployment numbers mean many families are struggling just to provide the basic necessities of life. Government bailout plans, cash for clunkers, stimulus spending, and record budget deficits leave us concerned for the financial security of future generations. Overseas, nuclear aspirations of tinhorn dictators in Iran and North Korea are reviving cold war visions of a nuclear holocaust while the war in Afghanistan escalates. Here at home our elected representatives appear to be paralyzed by partisan rancor that threatens to tear the country apart.
Our Father said there would days like this. In fact, in the much quoted Olivet Discourse Jesus said, “You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet”(Matt. 24:6 NASV). He went on to say, “Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come” (Matt. 24:12-14 NASV).
As believers in Jesus Christ, how can we be prepared for the troubling times that are upon us? I believe, oddly enough, that the answer can be found at an impromptu picnic where four kinds of faith were revealed. John 6:1-15 tells the story of the feeding of the 5000. As the story unfolds, we find Jesus and his disciples faced with a sizeable dilemma. The crowds had been following Jesus all day. He couldn’t just send them away without providing for their needs. But how would Jesus do it? What was humanly impossible became merely an opportunity for Jesus to display the power of His Father.
The first kind of faith was what I call a pessimistic faith. Philip was a human calculator. He obviously had the spiritual gift of organization. He looked at the situation and immediately took inventory to see what resources were available so he would know what was possible. But faith that focuses on the sufficiency of the provision rather than the sovereignty of the provider is a faith that is incomplete and uninspiring. Verse six says clearly that Jesus already knew what he was going to do. He asked the question about how to feed the five thousand to see the reaction of his disciples. Jesus wasn’t looking for information…He was looking for inspiration. But a pessimistic faith is anything but inspiring.
The second kind of faith was an optimistic but questioning faith that came up just short of meeting the need. Andrew had a reputation for bringing things to Jesus. John 1:41 records that he brought Peter to Jesus. John 12:22 reveals that he brought the Greeks to Jesus. Here, Andrew looks around, finds a small boy with a small lunch and brings both to Jesus. At first, Andrew is excited. He says, “Look, here are five barley loaves and two small fish.” So far Andrew has the right idea. He finds the only resource that is available and brings it to Jesus. But that is where his faith falters. Like Peter, who stepped out of the boat and was doing fine walking on the water until he was distracted by the storm, Andrew is distracted by the reality of the difference between the need and the available provision and he loses faith. He adds, “But what are these among so many people?” Granted, Andrew’s faith transcended Philips because at least for a moment he believed there just might be a miracle. But like so many of us, the moment for the miracle was lost when he allowed a temporal mindset to cloud his ability to think transcendently.
Then there was the faith of the crowd. The crowd’s faith was completely materialistic in nature. The crowd will not believe what it cannot see. The crowd always seeks to share Christ’s glory without knowing His goodness. They will always run to those who perform signs but run away from those who point out sin. Jesus healed them and feed them and as long as their legs were strong and their bellies full they wanted Him as their king. When Jesus began to talk about His mission in terms of sacrifice and the cross the crowd turned away. The crowd will always draw back when God draws the line. They want a shallow, temporary solution to their problems…not a costly yet eternal solution.
Finally, there was the faith of Jesus. It was a positive faith that first remembered to thank God for the provision even before the miracle occurred. Jesus offered thanks for two fish and five small loaves of bread. I would have been complaining about the inadequacy of the provision and I would have immediately asked God to provide a bread truck and fishing trawler filled to capacity. But Jesus simply received what the young boy so willingly provided, thanked God, and then multiplied it to meet the needs of the multitude. This story reminds me that we are always better off with what God can provide than we are with what we can produce. When we are willing to offer what we can produce to God we will discover that He is able to provide abundantly more than we could ever ask or think.
What kind of faith do you have? Is it a pessimistic faith that looks around to see what provision is available? Is it an optimistic but questioning faith that is distracted by the size of the available resources? Is it a materialistic faith that is based on what God has done for you lately? Or is it a positive, Christ-centered faith that is able to thank God for what is available and then trust him for a miracle?
For such a time as this we need a positive, Christ-centered faith that believes in the miracle of personal and cultural transformation.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.