Armed with Prayer


James, the half–brother of Jesus, according to tradition, made his decisions on his knees. His knees became as hard as the soles of his feet. He wrote these words, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it should not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens have rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:16-18). Moses prayed, and manna and quails rained from heaven (Exodus 16). Jesus prayed and crumbs turned into loaves and fish into bowls (Mark 6:35-44). 

Oswald J. Smith, Pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto during the 1950’s, had some four hundred missionaries in the world and his reason was based on Jesus’ feeding the five thousand, but once and not as many times as we are being fed the gospel in Churches. It is true that we in the free world have been overfed and the oppressed world has been starving. The gospel has not been distributed fairly, not due to a lack of Christian messengers, but to the philosophical and religious resistance to Christianity. It simply grants too much freedom to the common man and threatens those in power. Jesus’ message stripped human interference between God and man. He provides the direct approach to God for man’s redemption. It is the leadership that shuts the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, according to Jesus  (Matthew 23:13). After Jesus offered thanks, everyone was participating in the blessings of answered prayer. As long as the boy held on to his lunch, no one was reaping any blessings. The moment Jesus took over, He broke the bread and divided the fish. He, then, passed the broken pieces to his twelve and they handed it down to the people. We are told that when they had all eaten, Jesus ordered that the leftovers be collected. To their bewilderment, each of the disciples ended up with a basket full of food. Now it was their time to eat and enjoy the blessings of the Lord.

This miracle was not what people should expect daily. It created the impression that there was more manna from heaven, and many people followed Jesus for that reason. Like the lad, we must bring something for the Lord to work with. Nothing begets anything. It is not what God can do, but it is what can we give that He can bless and multiply? It is good to trust our heavenly Father for our daily needs, and to hope that someone has brought his lunch, but is it prudent to venture out empty handed and expect to return fully fed? How wise were the people that followed Jesus into the desert without food. It has been estimated that more than ten thousand had assemble, yet one lad had sense enough to come prepared and was willing to trust Jesus with his lunch. What would Jesus have done without the boy’s lunch? If we do bring nothing to the Lord, we should expect nothing in return. William Carey, missionary to Burma preached this message, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God,” and he went himself as an offering to God against his own predestinarian supporters who believed that God could save the heathen without a cobbler.

We must become part of the blessings. God blesses through us. We are the instruments by whom He touches and feeds the sick as well as the hungry. And the Lord has no resume for the task. Even a small boy qualified. He became the tool by whom thousands were blessed. A father was rudely awakened by his little boy’ interruption during his daily prayers at mealtime. Day in and out the father prayed, “Lord, feed the hungry. Lord feed the hungry.” “Daddy,” blurted the lad, “Why don’t you take some of the corn out of your bins and answer your prayers? Why do you bother the Lord?” Yes, why do we bother the Lord when we ourselves are unwilling to share what we have? Many of our prayers sound as if we employed God. We tell Him constantly what we want. We moan and groan about our plight. We want Him to better our lot. And we want God to do it without any cost to us. We want that finished product. An old man was tending his garden, day in and day out. It became the envy of many a lazy and indifferent person. One day, one of these “Let God do it” citizens stopped and remarked, “The Lord has given you a beautiful garden.” “Yes, He did,” replied the owner. Then he added quietly, “You should have seen it when the Lord had it all to himself.” Our Lord was practical and He expects us to be likewise. We, who live in an age where passing the buck is the norm require brain surgery. The great surgeon has to remove from our brain the fallacy that someone up or down the ladder has to take care of our problems. When the surgery is over, we will look into the mirror and see the face that has always been accountable, my own. 

Our Lord did such a mental surgery on his disciples. They too wanted to pass the buck to others, but he showed them that this was their problem and that they had to come up with the solution. And in a way they did, by turning the boy’s lunch over to Jesus, and then reap the blessings of a basket each. In this prayer, Jesus demonstrated that much could be done with little, provided that the little comes from a child like faith. The disciples suffered from a disease called “Oligopiste.” We know it by the term, “of little faith.” Unfortunately, it was smaller than small. It was not even the size of a mustard seed. And in that sense, the disciples represent us. We ask, but we do not really believe that anything will come of it. We are like the woman who prayed that the Lord move the mountain from behind her home. In the morning, she quickly looked out and said, “I knew you could not do it.” James advised his readers that such a person should not expect anything (James 1:7).

From the beginning of time, man had a problem with the idea of being his brother’s keeper. This is even more so when it comes to sharing his food. After all, the universal maxim is, “He who does not work, should not eat.” But what if there is no work and one is physically not able to work? There are only two solutions and both are in our text. The Creator of all things could easily turn stones into bread. But that would deprive man of the managing position for which the Lord made him in the first place (Genesis 2:26-28). Man was to do the farming and God was to do the blessing. One cannot do without the other. Leo Tolstoy wrote, “God is he without whom one cannot live” (Wa.133). At the same time, He blesses and multiplies only that which we share with others. Jesus made this quite clear in the parable of the rich fool. This man had build bigger barns to store food for him and never lived to enjoy it (Luke 12:16-21). A proud farmer was once praised for a fine field of oats. “Yes!” he boasted, “If God Almighty lets it alone, it ought to be a bumper crop.” God did leave it alone by merely withholding the rain and that was the end of the crop (Kn. P. 23). 

In this prayer over food, Jesus was showing that is up to God to multiply and increase our meager resources. The Almighty wants to be present at our meals. Jesus believed that He was and so must we. We do not have to reason with Him; but we have to believe Him. He will bless the labor of our hands if they intend to feed those who are temporarily stranded. And this is where we have to use our human logic to convince our fellow men. A certain Rabbi had his logic thwarted on a Sabbath. He trudged home disheartened and disappointed.  His concerned wife asked, “What was your sermon subject that took so much starch out of you?” “Ah, Rachel,” he complained, “I tried to tell them that it was the duty of the rich to help the poor.” “And did you convince them,” she pressed? “I guess it was about fifty-fifty. I convinced the poor,” he replied (Ar.8).

A king invited all his rich friends for a celebration. He intended to show his appreciation for their cooperation. He supplied the food and the festivities. All guests had to do was bring a bottle of their best wine and pour it into a large barrel and draw and drink. Before they sat down to eat, the host asked them to draw from the barrel and raise their glasses in a toast. When their drink touched their lips, they realized that all of them had brought water instead of wine. Everyone had presumed that the others would bring wine. The Parables on feeding teach us that if we bring even a little, the Lord will turn it into sufficiency. He will not give us more manna than we can eat (Exodus 16). In contrast to the Parable on Feeding, Jesus had one on a “Rich Fool.” “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do. I will tare down my barns and build bigger ones, and there store all my grain and my goods. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'” “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).