John 6:5-6 (the message)
When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Chances are you are familiar with this story. Jesus had been speaking to a crowd of people and then crossed the Sea of Galilee. The huge crowd followed him and climbed a hill to sit and hear more of what He would say. (And see more of His miraculous power on display, no doubt!) Jesus looked over the crowd of hungry people, already knowing what He would do with the five loaves and two fish, but He decided to do some one-on-one work in Philip’s heart. Oh, I love it.
You know what Philip’s response was to the question Jesus asked in the verse above? Philip answered, Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece. I smile as I read his answer. I picture Philip answering with a bit of sarcasm. Totally my thought, I have no idea! But obviously he wasn’t even considering the idea plausible that they could feed the crowd of five thousand. Immediately Philip saw impossibility, even though he stood before a man who had done the impossible several times. Right before his eyes, actually.
What do you think? Think Jesus was shaking His head, tisk tisking, disdain and disappointment in his eyes as he looked at Philip? Think maybe Jesus felt like it was waaay past time Philip’s faith be big and strong? I mean, Jesus could have taken Philip to the side and said Look, you’ve seen me turn water into wine. You’ve seen a paraplegic walk. You’ve heard the reports of the town official whose son was healed as I simply spoke the words. You were there with me at the well. You saw the Samaritan woman run to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. Remember how we stayed for a couple of days and so many of the people believed in Me? By now you should be on board, Philip. I’ll find someone else to use.
Faith. Loaded subject, right? I’ve received much teaching on faith in my life but I’ve struggled, to be really honest. For me, it became something I needed to obtain and manage. I would try to pray and say the right things. I really wanted to be confident and sure as I prayed but deep, deep down I wasn’t. I could not have said that aloud during those times. I don’t know that I could even admit it to myself! I do remember a soul-deep sense that something must just be wrong with me as a Christian. If my prayers and confessions didn’t bring the desired results then I must have weak faith. I remember what I now see as a pivotal time in my life. After my first miscarriage, I felt angry for a little while (completely normal and part of the grieving process). But part of my grief was in the glaring reality of what I was trying so hard to believe about faith and prayer. If as my body began the process of a miscarriage I prayed asking God to stop it but He didn’t, was the miscarriage my fault? Was my faith too weak? Was I in unbelief? Did I say things in my heightened emotional state that revealed the fear I was hiding and negate my praying? Did my fear itself keep God from saving my unborn baby?
Well, hello Friday morning! This is heavy stuff. Smile…
You know what? The truth is when I prayed for God to save my baby, when I stood in a circle with other women and they prayed for me, I wasn’t sure God would do it. I was not. I was afraid but the sad part is I couldn’t admit that. Not really. What I can tell you all these years later is I know that my miscarriage was not my fault. I know that God loves me so much more than that. My unanswered prayer was not a result of my lack of or weak faith. What that experience did show me was that I was spending a lot of time trying to obtain great faith in my faith rather than cultivating an intimacy with Jesus that would yield priceless dividends…trust.
Hebrews says Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Faith is the very fabric of believing in an unseen and yet everywhere God. My journey has been leading me to ask myself, Am I knowing the One in whom I’m placing my faith? Do I trust in my ability to pray and confess the right way or do I trust in Jesus? Am I getting to know Him in such a personal and intimate way that I no longer need to measure my faith as I pray because my faith is growing strong as I simply get to know Him…recognize His voice in my life…follow where He leads so I can witness the reality of Who He is and Who He longs to be in my life?
I had a second miscarriage years after the first one. This may be news to some who read this blog as we kept it private for the most part, but I feel led to share. I remember taking my Bible and opening up to the Psalms. Goodness, my view of God and myself was changing dramatically at this point. I read my Bible and then I got down on my knees in my husband’s childhood bedroom and my teeth literally chattered as I talked to Jesus. But you know what? I remember really, truly placing my trust in Him in that bedroom. It was substance. I could sink my teeth into the way I trusted Jesus. I was getting to know Him in a more intimate way than I ever had before and it was growing a trust in me that could not be shaken. Not even by the loss of another baby. I told Him in that bedroom how I trusted Him, how I believed in His power and His Word. I had no doubts of His presence in my life. I poured out my heart and He filled it with peace. Even as I hurt days later, as I stared at an ultrasound screen and heard the vague murmurs of my doctor, I knew Jesus was with me. I knew, so unlike the first time, that He didn’t withhold what I wanted because of my level of faith. My faith was stronger than it ever had been, you see. I was knowing the One in whom I was believing. So if He let another miscarriage happen then I could accept that He knows what I don’t know. I don’t need all the answers, I need Jesus.
Has my trust been rock solid every day since? No, it has not! I’ve been stretched in seasons of impossiblity since then and faced fear and discouragement. When I struggle, I don’t blame my ability to believe, though. I read my Bible so I can be reminded of who Jesus is and continue to listen for His voice, holding on to this truth: Even in the middle of my “I don’t know what’s going on here!” Jesus does know. And He already knows what He’s going to do.
Jesus was patient with Philip. In His amazing compassion, Jesus decided to “stretch” Philip’s faith. To grow it. I don’t believe the point is faith in faith. I believe it’s faith in the One who is the Author and Perfector of faith. I can’t conjure it up, but I can trust the Perfector and watch it grow as I do. As Jesus asked Philip what could be done to feed the people, He already had a plan. Jesus already knew what He would do so the outcome of the situation wasn’t based on Philip’s answer. The outcome of how Philip would know and relate to Jesus was.
I could quote scripture and say the right things and did it with a heart of good intent. But until I became familiar with Jesus Himself, not hinging on my Pastor or my church or my mother or friends, I couldn’t reconcile my attempts at great faith with my lack of results. The truth is I was desperately trying to believe in the working out of my faith, trying to extract answer to prayer by doing it right, but not taking time to learn the sound of His voice.
The more I learn to recognize the sound of His voice, the less afraid I am of those times He chooses to stretch my faith. The more I grow willing to follow the sound of His voice, the stronger my faith grows. Because I learn over and over and over, Jesus already knows what He is going to do in my life. He makes the impossible possible for me. I’ve experienced answered prayer that has blown me away over the past few years and I share, with a smile, it had everything to do with the grace and goodness of God and so little to do with me. The more I believe He’s good and His grace extends over every part of my life, the more I respond in obedience. The more I follow and obey, the more I see His will unfold in my life and learn Jesus really can be trusted. And the more I trust Jesus, the stronger my faith can grow.
It’s such a personal thing. It’s meant to be, you know.