My high school basketball coach just won his 800th game this past week. He is a remarkable man, whose real impact reaches well beyond the court. While I do not remember all of the plays we ran or the games we played, I do know how his instructions continue to influence my life and my ministry.
There are many reasons my coach has been successful. The ability to teach his players to find, call upon, and have confidence in their (perceived) weakness is one of his greatest skills. There were times when giving up would have been easy, where giving in would have been understandable. Our coach knew how to get us to reach deep within, to muster what was left, and to exhaust ourselves. His ability to get us to believe in ourselves began with his willingness to believe in us! His conscious decision to see the potential in our (perceived) weakness helped us to realize our real strength.
Our practices were designed to get us to a point of exhaustion. We would put in a full workout of drills, scrimmaging, and running. His goal in these practice – especially in the preseason – was to burn us out. He pushed us to our limit; to our breaking point. When we did not think we had anything left to give, he told us to take to the baseline (the out of bounds line beneath the basket). One by one, he called each player to the free throw line. Two attempts were given to each of us. If we made both shots, the team would not run. If we missed one shot, the whole team had to run a suicide or full court sprint. If you missed both free throws, the whole team ran two. If Coach did not think a player had given his best effort in a sprint, then the whole team had to do it over!
I had no way of knowing the valuable skill Coach was developing within me and my teammates as I stood on the baseline during those practices. Coach pushed us to the point of breaking. He, also, taught us to realize the power in the pieces that remained.
There would be nights when my infant son struggled to be soothed back to sleep. Exhausted by a series of sleepless nights, and my back aching after an hour of cradling my son as I walked in circles around the living room, I would find myself searching for the broken pieces.
There would be (and will be) times when walking with a family during a time of grief or tragedy would leave me emotionally and spiritually exhausted, but the family would need more from their pastor, and I would once more find myself searching for the broken pieces.
Have you ever gotten to the point where you felt like you had nothing left to give? Have you ever felt like giving any more of yourself would leave you with nothing for yourself or of yourself? Have you ever felt like all that remains is a bunch of broken pieces?
There is a familiar miracle story told in the Gospel of Matthew of a feeding of five thousand people (in addition to women and children). The full narrative account can be found in Matthew 14:13-21.
Jesus is feeling a little exhausted from his ministry in the Galilee. He seeks a place of solitude: a deserted place where he can be by himself. The crowds he is trying to escape continue to gather and he has compassion on them and cures their sick.
At evening, the disciples approach Jesus and request Jesus send the crowd away for the night so they can travel to the neighboring town and find provisions. Jesus does not send them away; rather, Jesus calls for the disciples to bring the disciples’ provisions to him. The disciples object, because they only have five loaves of bread and two fish, which would barely be enough for Jesus and his disciples…let alone, five thousand men and their families.
As the story goes, Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and he gave thanks to God, before distributing them amongst the gathered. Everyone received their share, ate, and were filled… “and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.” (vs. 20)
The feeding of these five thousand men and their families is regarded as a miracle story because of the unexplainable nature of this occurrence: how could five loaves and two fish be multiplied to feed so many people?
The multiplication of the resources is certainly a miracle! The use of these resources to nourish the gathered may not be the only reason this event is miraculous.
A couple of chapters later (16:5-12), Jesus confronts his disciples and their failure to perceive the power behind the words of Jesus (and, therefore, the authority within the man). The disciples, who had forgotten to travel with bread, became worried about what they would eat. Jesus makes a remark in reference to the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees, before he reminds his disciples of the feeding miracles. Jesus asks his disciples a telling question: “Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” (16:9)
Jesus points his disciples to the filled baskets as a witness to properly perceiving the miracle.
Twelve baskets were filled with the broken pieces that remained. One basket for each disciple.
The disciples were reluctant to present Jesus with their resources (five loaves and two fish), because they feared they did not have enough food to provide for their own needs. Jesus pushes them to give a little more. Jesus pushes the disciples to give a little more of themselves to the people just as Jesus gave a little more of himself when he was seeking a place of solitude. Miraculously, there was more than an abundance remaining – there was more than enough for each disciple to be fed and nourished.
There are times when we do not think we have anything left to give – physically, emotionally, or spiritually. There are times when we, like Jesus, are in need of a little solitude to regroup.
But, there will certainly be times when our exhaustion will be challenged and we will be asked to give more, when we fear we have nothing left to offer.
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is still available today. When we willingly offer ourselves – our whole selves – to serving God by serving others we will likely discover there is more than enough within us and more than enough around us.
Even more miraculous, you will likely discover that when you give the whole of yourself, more than enough will be given to feed, nourish, and sustain you.
Feel free to leave a comment. And, as always, sharing is encouraed!