The poor widow put two pennies into the Temple treasury. Jesus pointed out her extravagant gift to His disciples, saying, “She put in more than all the rest, for she gave from her poverty all she had to live on. But the others gave from their surplus.” (Mark 12:41-44)
Isn’t it much easier to give from areas where we have a surplus?
Jesus told a parable about a man who had a visitor at midnight (Luke 11:5-13). As a good Jew, the man was responsible to provide lodging and food to this traveler. So he took the man in – even though he didn’t have even a slice of bread to offer him. He then immediately went next door and tried to wake up his neighbor to ask for bread. The neighbor was asleep and didn’t want to get up. But the man’s persistent asking was finally successful and he received bread to take home to his visitor. Jesus said that this is how prayer often is. We must pray persistently to God and He will give what we need.
I wonder if I would have said “yes” to the challenge of hospitality at midnight? Maybe not. I might have just sent the visitor next door, saying, “Hey guy, I’m really sorry, but we’re really not resourced for this kind of need. I don’t even have a sandwich to offer you. The guy next door is better equipped to help you. Best of luck and good night.”
There’s quite a bit of pastoral literature in recent years that says that ministers should focus on their strengths and “staff to their weaknesses”. While there is value in recognizing our strengths and weaknesses, and in team building and shared responsibility, I feel we are in danger of only serving from what we perceive to be our own surpluses. This we usually do without even sincerely needing to pray. The average pastor prays five minutes a day.
When we only do what we know we can do, people see our good work. But when we attempt what only God can do, people have an opportunity to see God Himself at work. Then it is that we can say (with Paul), “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power will be seen to be of God and not of us,” and again, “When I am weak He is strong.”
There are hundreds of excuses we use to avoid facing vulnerability and weakness. We might call this practical wisdom or “playing it safe.” But the Bible calls it something else. It is trusting in the arm of the flesh. It is unbelief. It is robbing God of the glory that could be His and ourselves and others of the good that could be ours.
If only we would give our five loaves and two fish to Jesus. Never mind that the critics (always close by or within!) clearly point out how insufficient this is for such a great need! If Jesus is pleased He can feed thousands – and all he needs from us is weakness and the opportunity we give Him by trusting Him.
After all, He created the universe out of nothing. It’s just the way He is. He’s actually very good at it.