One of my daily tasks, a habit that I love, is to give our four cats their treats: crunchy little chicken-and-gravy-flavored morsels. When I get out of bed, there are Priscilla, Naomi, Delilah, and Keziah — sitting in a row facing me. If they were cartoon characters, this thought bubble would appear above their heads: “Well, human, you’ve been up for ten seconds, so where are our goodies?”
I suspect that the Lord Jesus felt much the same about his encounter with crowds that gathered around him from Galilee to Judea. He loved to tell them stories about the Kingdom of his Father for one simple reason: He loved them.
As a result, he was never annoyed when they clamored for more of his parables — stories about prudent merchants and exquisite pearls, about poor widows and lost coins, about wealthy fathers and lost sons. They, after all — the crowds — were the reason he had come in the first place. As he stated,
The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Yet it was for more than great masses of people that the Lord walked on this Earth. It is clear, from studying what he said, that it was primarily for the sake of every individual in those crowds that he had come.
What that means is that his stories, his teachings, his reaching forth with the Kingdom of God were all done for one extraordinary reason: He loves you.
My former pastorate was in one of the most densely-populated regions of New Jersey. Located along a busy state highway, the church saw its share of scammers who pretended to be poor and in need of money, clothing, and food, as well as many people who were genuinely and desperately in need.
One of our elders had brought more than a dozen pairs of boys’ weatherproof boots and heavy winter coats to the church if they were needed. Another church member had dropped off a girl’s winter coat and weatherproof boots. Lynne and I had every intention of transporting all the clothing to the nearby Salvation Army facility, but were delayed time after time.
It was just about the time that we had cleared our church and personal calendars that a high school guidance counselor stopped by. We were in the habit of bringing donated canned and boxed food to his office at the school for food-challenged students and their families, so it was a surprise to see him at the church.
“We’ve got some new students who are part of a rather large family who barely managed to escape from a Middle East war zone,” he said. “They have nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they were transported to the States. They don’t even have enough for food. Does your emergency food pantry happen to have anything right now that we could give to them?”
The counselor proceeded to tell us that the family included six boys and one girl, and that they were disappointed over not being able to attend school at the same time, since they had to share a single winter coat among the seven of them.
It happened that the stash of donated boots and coats were in the church office where all of us were speaking, but just out of the guidance counselor’s line of sight. It was Lynne who posed the question: “What sizes are needed?” The counselor fished a piece of paper out of his coat pocket; the clothing sizes were printed on it.
As he read the list, Lynne and I looked at each other in astonishment, realizing that what was in front of us was not nearly but exactly what would keep the six brothers and their sister warm and dry during the exceptionally cold winter.
After the school official had left, we began counting the ways our heavenly Father’s hand had guided the entire process of having the family’s need met: the church members’ donations; a delayed trip to the Salvation Army; the guidance counselor’s surprise visit; the exact size clothing for all seven children. But we shouldn’t have been surprised. After all,
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Dan's thoughts for November 5, 2021:
My old plug-in electric lawnmower cut its final swath of grass in mid-summer this year. The motor stopped running in the middle of the front lawn. I had been thinking about buying a battery-powered mower anyway, so the old mower’s failure turned my “thinking” into “doing.” After Amazon delivered the new machine, I charged the battery, then started to mow. The front lawn was about three-quarters done when the mower quit. This time, however, was different. All I had to do was go inside the house, grab a second battery from the charger (snapping the discharged battery into the device), and resume the work.
Even the most deeply-committed, active, strong, effective servants of God run out of energy, spiritually speaking, from time to time. Jesus’ demand,
Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while,
or, as the New International Version translates it,
Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.
The NIV’s words — “with me” — aren't found in the original Greek, but I think there is a very good reason for their inclusion. Knowing the Lord’s deep love for his disciples, it is unlikely that he would have sent Peter, James, John and the rest off to some isolated spot without being by their side.
Why do I believe it is likely that, while he sent the disciples, in his words,
he did not fail to accompany them? Simply stated, it wouldn’t have been in Jesus’ nature to trundle them off to some remote spot beyond the reach of his personal care and counsel. He was fully aware that their ministry to him, which task they had taken very seriously, was sapping their energy. Mark says,
So many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat.
That simple two-word phrase, “with me,” was to them and is to us what recharging Li-ion batteries is to battery-powered mowers. You can no more expect to accomplish the simple task of cutting the lawn without a recharged battery than you can hope to accomplish the work Christ sets before you without a fully-“charged” spirit. He expects — no, gently demands — that you set aside time to linger in his presence expectantly and eagerly — yet quietly and patiently — to gain resilient strength to do what lies ahead.
Here then, not only for those who were in Jesus’ physical presence in the 1st century, but also for those who are in his spiritual presence now, is help for burned-out disciples.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….[M]y yoke is easy and my burden is light.