We’ve been talking over the past few weeks about putting our love into action. And that means actually being with people, being patient with people, going over and beyond what is expected to find bigger and better ways to express our love. And last week, we talked about how love casts out fear, because a lot of times, our fear tends to paralyze us. It keeps us from doing anything. And so, we do nothing. But, you can’t show love while you’re doing nothing. We can only love by doing something.
Before I get into our next point this morning, I have a few pet peeves that I’d like to share with you all. The first two, I think that a lot of people share these with me, the third one maybe not so much.
My #1 pet peeve is the incorrect use of the word “literally”. Please don’t tell me that you literally had a cow – unless, of course, you happen to be a mama cow, or you just finished eating a steak dinner (in which case, you literally had at least part of a cow).
Pet peeve #2 – Please don’t tell me that you’re giving 110% of your effort. I understand what you’re trying to say, but we both know that it’s literally not possible to do something more than 100%. And if you’re going insist on doing something 110%, I would suggest that you don’t stop there. Why not do it 150%? Or 400%? Or 732%? Don’t just stop with a measly 110%. It makes me wonder whether or not you’re really committed.
Pet peeve #3 (and I’m sure by this time some of you are giving thanks to God that you’re not around me all the time, and others of you are planning out your sympathy notes to Sueanne for having to put up with all this). Pet peeve #3 is when I hear someone tell young people, “You can be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.”
And again, I understand what those people are trying to say. And I understand that we need to dream big, and we shouldn’t be limited by other people’s expectations of us, and we can do a lot more than we think that we can. But please don’t be telling young people that they can be whatever they want to be. It’s just not true.
If you are 4” 3” tall, I’m sorry, but you are never going to be the highest scorer in the NBA, no matter how much you dream about it. And I don’t care how much you want it to happen, but you are never going to swim across the Atlantic Ocean. And even if it’s always been your childhood dream, you are never going to grow up to be the President of North Korea.
I could go on and on. Because, I don’t mean to be a dream crusher, but there are literally thousands and thousands of things that you will never be able to do, no matter how much you want to do it.
Now, as a result of having this pet peeve, there are two things that are true in my life. First of all, I find that I am not much in demand as a motivational speaker. Secondly, I need to confess to you that I find that I am sometimes inclined to limit God and what God can do.
Now, I understand what Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” But, I also know there were a lot of miracles taking place in that day and time which – let’s be honest –- makes doing the impossible a whole lot easier.
And so, sadly, I tend to limit God. And it’s not that I’m limiting his power. I mean, God is God. God can do whatever he wants to do. Literally! Our God created the heavens and the earth just by speaking a word. He parted the waters of the Red Sea and he gave a child to a barren 90-year-old woman, and he raised Jesus from the dead. God is all-powerful.
And it’s not just in the Bible. Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen God work in some amazing ways. My problem is that I’m just not sure what God can do with my feeble efforts.
I continually need to hear the encouragement from the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Because I often do feel that my work is in vain.
Last week, we talked about some of our fears that keep us from loving others the way we ought to, and I suggested that one of those fears is the fear that loving others may not do any good. The fear that we may just be wasting our time. What difference is it really going to make?
And I think we all have a tendency to under-estimate what God can do with our efforts. At least, I know I do. Several weeks ago, I quoted from Ephesians 3 where Paul talks about filling our lives with the love of God:
He prays, “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
But, it’s the next verse after that is so very important, and it’s one that I constantly need to be reminded of. In verse 20,
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)
“To him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Listen to how some of the other translations translate this. The Berean Bible – God is “able to do exceedingly above all things that we ask or think.” The NIV — God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” The New Living Translation – God “is able…to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” The Weymouth Bible – God is “able to do infinitely beyond all our highest prayers or thoughts.”
You see, God is not just able to do everything that we ask him to do, as amazing as that might be. And he’s not just able to do more than what we ask him to do. He can do abundantly more than anything we ask. And it’s even more than that. God is able to do far more abundantly above all that we ask or think.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think about the work that we’re doing here in Spring Lake, I can think about accomplishing some pretty big tasks. But God has the power to accomplish far more than we can even imagine! And my fear is that we have read this verse, we’ve studied this verse, we’ve analyzed it and preached it and taught it. About the only thing we haven’t done with this verse is believe it. And because of that, we tend to limit God. And we can’t begin to even imagine what God could accomplish if we would only allow him to use us to reach out and show love to others.
When I hold a basketball in my hands, it’s just a basketball, but when you place that same basketball into the hands of LeBron James, it turns into national championships. If you put a golf club in my hands, it’s merely a golf club, but when you place that same golf club in the hands of Dustin Johnson, it’s used to make birdie after birdie, and championship after championship. A paintbrush in my hands might result in a pretty good picture if it’s paint by numbers, but when a paintbrush was placed in the hands of Rembrandt, it turned into incredible works of art. How is it that the same instruments and the same tools can bring about so many different degrees of results? And the answer is, it all depends on who is holding them and how they’re being used.
There’s a story recorded in both Mark 6 and John 6 that gives us an excellent example of what can happen and how things can be used when we place them in the hands of God. The scene is a grassy meadow near Bethsaida across the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum. Jesus had been preaching and healing the sick most of the day. And then he went off for a while to get some rest, but when he looked up, a crowd of people had followed him.
Jesus turned to Philip, probably because this was Philip’s old stomping grounds, and he asked him, “Where can we go to buy bread for all these people?” Philip was confused by the question, though. He said, “Don’t you understand that it would take more than six months’ wages to buy bread for all these people?” I mean, he knew that Jesus was a nice guy and all, but even for Jesus, this was a lot for him to take care of.
About that time, Andrew showed up and he said, “Hey guys, there’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.”
I wonder what it must have been like to be that little boy. When he got up that day, maybe he was planning to spend the day fishing or playing with his friends. As he’s on his way out the door, his mom says, “Did you remember to pack a lunch?” “Aaawww, Mom.” “Get back in here right now, young man. You know you can’t be out there all day and not have anything with you to eat. You just sit right there while I make you some lunch.” And she pulls out his little lunch basket and prepares him a lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish.
Now, these loaves of bread were not your top-of-the-line sour dough loaves of bread. These were barley loaves, which was the cheapest of all breads. And his fish wasn’t salmon or tuna. It was probably pickled sardines. Maybe the kid left the house muttering to himself, because all his friends were going to make fun of him when they saw that his mother made him bring his lunch.
On his way to meet his buddies, he sees this large crowd gathering, and asks, “What’s going on?” Someone says, “See that guy up there? That’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s an incredible teacher, and he can heal people. We all want to hear him preach and see what he can do.”
Intrigued, the young boy forgets about meeting up with his friends, and he begins to listen to Jesus preach. He’s fascinated with his teachings about the kingdom of God and love and forgiveness, and he can hardly contain himself as Jesus makes the blind see and enables the lame to walk. He ends up spending the whole day listening to Jesus, and then when Jesus leaves, he joins the crowd and follows him.
It’s getting late in the day, and while everyone was standing around, the disciples start walking through the crowd. The boy feels a tug on his arm and turns around to hear Andrew ask him, “What have you got there?” “Oh, nothing.” “Come here, let me see,” and Andrew looks inside the boy’s pail, and says, “Come with me.”
Andrew says, “Jesus, this young boy has five barley loaves and two fish.” And the boy watches in amazement as Jesus takes his lunch — his measly barley loaves and sardines — and turns it into lunch for 5,000 people. He can hardly wait to get home and tell his mother what happened.
So what’s going on here? Besides being a miracle, what’s the significance of Jesus taking those loaves of bread and fish and feeding 5,000 people? The significance is that it illustrates for us what can happen when we give ourselves over to be used by God.
Don’t ever think that what you have is insignificant or it can’t be used! Too often, maybe we think, “I’m too young or I’m too old, there’s nothing God can do with me.” That’s not true.
And you can’t say, “Well I don’t have anything to offer,” or “What I’ve got isn’t very much.” Look at the story of David. All he had was some courage combined with a sling and five smooth stones. We all have something to offer. You may not think so, but you do.
This boy had a meager lunch…five barley loaves and two sardines. That’s not even potluck material. But, he was willing to put it into the hands of God. He said, “Here, take it and use it.”
God didn’t expect that boy to have enough to feed 5,000 people. He only expected the boy to put it into his hands, and then leave the rest up to God. It’s like Greyhound says, “Leave the driving to us.” Place what you have in God’s hands and leave the rest up to Him.
And after you place what you have into the hands of God, you can expect something wonderful to happen. Because God is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
And if you may be tempted to say, “Well, God was able to do so much with that food because he performed a miracle.” And that’s true. But, any time we’re willing to give ourselves over to God and any time we show love to others in the name of Jesus Christ, God can take those efforts and do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
Let me give you an example. Bob Goff tells a story. This evening, I’ll him share all the details with you, but let me give you the gist of it. Bob went over to Uganda with one of his students, John. When they got there, they found thousands of kids living in camps set up by the government with no opportunity for an education. And so they decided to set up a school.
They made all the arrangements and spent months getting the word out. When the first day of school came, they expected maybe a thousand kids to show up. Only four kids showed up. But they taught those kids and showed them the love of God. Before long they had eight kids, and then 19, and then a hundred kids.
Two of the kids walked eight miles to school each way and so they set up a couple of bunks for them to stay overnight. Several years later, they had over 250 students and bunks for them all to stay in. They had to expand their facilities, and so they purchased 40 acres of land and built a new school.
And when I hear Bob talk about everything that’s been accomplished over there, I am absolutely amazed. But I know that it’s not because of what Bob Goff has done. It’s because of what God is accomplishing because Bob is allowing himself to be used by God. And it makes me wonder, “What is it that God could be doing right here in Spring Lake?” And then, I follow up that question by asking myself, “Is the reason that’s not happening because I’m not allowing God to use me? Is it because I haven’t turned everything I have over to God to let him do something great?”
Don’t get me wrong. I think God has already taken our efforts and accomplished some great things over the past two and a half years. I see what he’s accomplishing in the community. I see what he’s accomplishing in the schools. I see how he’s given us two acres of land and the ability to put a building on that land. I just can’t help but wonder what more God could be accomplishing if we were making ourselves more available for God to use. Because, whatever God can do, I know that it is “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
The God who created the heavens and earth is working through us. He provides the power as we provide the willingness. That’s why Paul prayed that we might know the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (Ephesians 1:19).
When I think about my relationship with God, I feel like Stacey King. Several years ago, when Stacey King was a rookie basketball player with the Chicago Bulls, he got to play in the game the evening that Michael Jordan scored 69 points. After the game, Stacey was asked for his reflections on the night, and he said, “I’ll always remember it as the night Michael and I combined for 70 points.” When we combine our efforts with God, some amazing things get done. The amazing things are done by God. But the only way we can partner with God is if we get in the game.
As I said earlier, I don’t any of us question the power of God. If I were to ask you if you believe that God has the power to make significant changes to the town of Spring Lake, that he has the power to turn the hearts of the people of this community to him, I would imagine that most, if not all of you, would answer yes.
But if I were to ask you if you believe that God has the power to make those changes to this community through your efforts, I think most of us would be a bit more hesitant to say yes. Because we struggle to imagine and believe that God can do great things through us, and as a result, we often don’t even ask him to do them.
Have you ever asked God to use you to help people deal with their addictions in Spring Lake? Have you ever asked God to use you to help the children in this community who come from broken homes, or who live in poverty, or who face abuse or neglect? Have you ever asked God to use you to bring the name of Jesus to a group of people whose only experience with that name is to use it as a cuss word? Have you ever asked God to bring about spiritual changes to your workplace and do it through you?
I think too many of us have never seen God do powerful things, because we’ve never asked him to. I wonder how often God hears our prayers and the stuff we ask him for, and he thinks they’re just wimpy prayers. We pray, asking God if he would bless us, or keep us safe, or to have a good day. I wonder how often God hears those prayers and thinks they’re great, but too small.
It would be like if Bill Gates were sitting outside the door here and said after the service every single person could come up to him, the richest man in the world, and ask him for anything you wanted. He may not grant your request, but he wants you to ask him for anything, because he has the power and the resources to make it happen.
If that were the case, first of all, most of you would leave right now to get to the front of the line. Secondly, I have a hard time believing you would go up to Bill gates and say, “I don’t really want anything, I just want you to bless me.” Or, “All I want is for you to help me have a good day.” I think Bill Gates would probably look at you and say, “Sure! I can bless you and I can help you have a good day, but I can do so much more than that!”
And I wonder if God ever hears us pray like that and he thinks, “I can definitely help you have a good day, but did you know that I’m a God who can do far more abundantly than anything you can ask or think of?”
One of my favorite somewhat obscure Old Testament stories is found in 2 Kings chapter 6. The king of Syria was upset that Elisha was helping the king of Israel, so he sent an army of horses and chariots to capture him. The army surrounded the city at night, so when Elisha and his servant woke up the next morning, his servant saw all of these armies surrounding the city and he freaked out.
But Elijah said to him, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16). And I’m sure his servant was thinking, “Maybe you didn’t do so well in math class, because from where I’m sitting, it looks like there are two of us and there are hundreds of them.”
But then, in verse 17, Elisha prayed, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” “So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17).
What a difference it makes when we see things from God’s perspective. Sometimes we look at our meager efforts to show love and we don’t see what a difference it will make. We can’t see what God can do with our efforts. May God open our eyes, so that we may see, because our God is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
This morning, I want to ask you if you really believe God that is as powerful as Paul says he is in Ephesians 3:20? And if you do, are you willing to let your life reflect it? Are you willing to take what you have and put it in God’s hand, expecting that God will do some amazing things with it? Not so that people will be amazed at what we can do, but so that God will receive the glory, and people will be amazed at what our God can do.