People are inconvenient. They keep you up late, stay longer than you’d like, talk louder than you want, don’t get what you’ve been trying to communicate, and cause a thousand other problems. People are also who God loves, who he sent his Son for, and who we’re called to disciple, and it’s in those times of inconvenience that there is the most potential for God to work greatly. The question is, how will we respond in the moments when we’re inconvenienced and our plans have to be trashed?
Several days ago I listened to a great message from Christine Caine given at Bethel church on some lesser-observed pieces of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. What she said sparked some thoughts that have caused me to reevaluate how I respond when I’m inconvenienced.
Here’s the scene: Jesus’ disciples have just returned from their first solo (and by solo I mean apart from Jesus, not alone) missionary trips. As usual the crowds are surround Jesus, asking for healing, wisdom, and whatever he’ll give. His disciples are working like crazy, so much so that they don’t even have time to eat. Remember, all this is immediately after their first missions trip. They’re wiped. Jesus, knowing his disciples are tired and in need of rest decides to escape away to somewhere that they can chill for awhile.
The people, however, have different ideas. When Jesus and the disciples arrive at their retreat spot all ready for some peace and quiet there are literally thousands of people waiting for them, clamoring for attention. Jesus and his team came expecting dinner and possibly a day or two or rest and peace. What they get is people. Inconvenient, plan-shattering, energy-sucking people.
Here’s where I want us to zoom in and watch closely. How do the disciples respond to this interruption? How does Jesus act? How should we respond when we encounter situations like this, albeit (most likely) on a smaller scale?
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
The Disciple’s Reactions
We don’t get their initial response in Mark’s writing, but the way the disciples come to Jesus a bit later and drop not-so-subtle hints by saying, “This is a remote place…and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can get something to eat” speaks volumes.
They came for a retreat and for some rest. People are getting the way of this, so the disciples cunningly use the people’s hunger as an excuse to get what they want. “Jesus, the people are hungry. Send them away.” But who’s really hungry here? We see a few verses earlier that the disciples are the ones who haven’t even had time to eat. It’s probably safe to assume that at least some of the crowd had eaten whatever the last meal was and had thought about food on their way into this “remote place.”
Unlike Jesus the disciples are focused on themselves and their own plans and needs. These lenses only let them see the crowds as a problem that needs a solution – in this case, to be gotten rid of. To them the people are an inconvenience, and when people are seen through the lens of a problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be removed, we’re blinded to the places where God often does his greatest works.
In contrast, Jesus’ response to this “inconvenience” is compassion. He sees the crowd not through the lens of “what do I want” or “what are my plans,” but through the lens of the love that asks “What do others need?” and the faith which wants to know “What are God’s plans?”. For Jesus, the crowd isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s an opportunity for demonstrating the Father’s character and power.
Because he sees this “inconvenience” as an opportunity rather than a problem, a miracle happens. He submits to God’s changing of his plans and the disciples get see the glory of a God who provides abundantly for thousands.
The question for us is, whose perspective are we living with? The disciples’ or Jesus’? When inconveniences come our way are we living in the self-absorbed world of the disciples, eager to remove any obstacles to our plans and expectations for our lives and ministries? Or are we living in the faith and love of Christ and seeing through God’s eyes, viewing every inconvenience as an opportunity for God’s glory to shine through?
In his essay “On Chasing After One’s Hat,” G.K. Chesterton puts it well when he says,
Most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences–things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains… An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
People are inconvenient. They’re slow to understand, they don’t follow expectations, want help with the most ridiculous things and don’t seem to grasp the simplest of truths. But people are who our Father has sent us to, and it’s in those inconvenient places that we are given a choice to focus on ourselves or to walk in love and faith.
Let’s be like Jesus, looking over the crowd with compassion. Let’s be the boy at the train station, full with wonder and expectation that God is in every crack just waiting to do something glorious. Next time someone gets in the way of your plans, follow God’s lead. See an adventure rather than an inconvenience. Who knows what will happen. You may end up feeding thousands.