Does God ever expect us to try solving problems ourselves before he comes to the rescue? I don’t mean – God helps those who help themselves – since most of the time we don’t know how to help ourselves, don’t even recognize the best solutions when we see them. But is it part of trusting God to come to him with ideas? There is a story in the Bible, from Luke 9, about a time when Jesus spent the day with over 5,000 people. As evening approached, the disciples saw a problem looming that they assumed Jesus had overlooked while he was distracted teaching, healing, and ministering. What would these people eat, and where would they sleep?
The disciples were trying to be helpful when they suggested to Jesus, Sent the crowd away so they can find dinner and a place to spend the night. It was the sort of problem-noticing and suggestion-offering that leaders hope to get from their team.
However, instead of offering a suggestion, Jesus caught them totally off guard by saying, You give them something to eat.
What did Jesus expect them to do? Go to town and come back with wagonloads of food? Maybe bring a taco truck caravan? They couldn’t create food out of thin air, and if they suspected Jesus could miraculously create food they didn’t presume on him doing it, so what could they do? Where could they go?
We recently hosted a men’s workshop at our house, and finding enough food for fifteen men was hard enough in a world of grocery stores and food delivery. Finding food for 5,000 people in a 1st-Century world was impossible.
I doubt Jesus expected his disciples to be successful. He knew it was an impossible assignment for anyone but him. But he wanted them to try. He wanted them to come up with a plan instead of simply pointing out an obvious problem.
And so I wonder … how often does Jesus say to me when I confront him with a major life problem, See what you can do? Probably more often than I realize.
I remember one Saturday afternoon with our nephew, Kevin. It was October 2010, and I spent the morning running the Crossroads Marathon in Odessa. Afterward, all I wanted to do was sit down the rest of the day. Cyndi left for a workshop in San Angelo the minute I got home from the race, so I was on Kevin-duty the rest of the weekend.
He was in the front bedroom working on a new Lego kit he’d received when he brought me his box of parts and instructions. Can you help me Uncle Berry?
Sure. Show me how much you’ve done so far.
He hadn’t done anything so far. He hadn’t even opened the instruction book. He was used to getting more hands-on “help” than I was willing to give in my post-marathon condition.
I said, You start working by yourself, and go until you can’t go any further. You can sit here at my table if you don’t want to be alone.
I want you to help me.
I am helping you. I am helping you learn how to put this together.
I want you to help me.
No, you’re asking me to do it for you, which I won’t do. You start building it yourself and let’s see how far you get. You’re better and smarter than you think you are.
He frowned and moped, but built the first two or three pages himself. When he got stuck I fixed one piece then handed it back to him.
We went through about a dozen iterations of working and asking until the project was finished.
Is that how God wants to solve problems with us? Does he want us to try before asking? Does he hold back from helping us because he wants us to try harder?
I don’t know. I don’t think God holds back so he can see how good we are, but I do think he often wants us to engage in solutions as a form of trust in him. But I believe God is more interested in the process of growing our character and spiritual maturity than in our actual destination in life.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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