I love a good rainstorm. With the right amount of rain, new life springs forth, washing away the old and ushering in the new. And today, we had a rainstorm. If you were walking out there with an umbrella, you’d have been soaked.
Watching the rain fall made me wish it could wash away an early morning mistake and give me a fresh start.
As I walked into our foyer that morning, I smelled smoke. Cigarette smoke. That’s not uncommon here in Europe, but where was this coming from? As I peeked out the window, I saw her. A bedraggled older woman, sat on our covered front porch, smoking and taking a break from her meager job of delivering ads to neighborhood mailboxes for the local grocery store.
Now in this moment, I would like to say the flesh and the spirit struggled for the driver’s seat. But to my shame and shock, there was no struggle. The flesh climbed right up and took control.
I opened the door and said in my second language, “You can’t smoke here. You must not smoke here. No smoking here.”
She replied, “Oh, well it’s raining and so I just stopped here. But it’s fine. Okay, okay, I’ll go.”
I shooed her off my covered doorstep and walked back inside.
As the day went on, the spirit slowly began to climb up in the driver’s seat and I was convicted. I should have brought her a cup of coffee, a warm cup of tea, or invited her in for conversation. The Lord put her on my doorstep because surely his servant would love and invite her in, maybe even tell her about him. But, no, this servant did nothing of the sort.
To my shame, I simply sent her away.
Though I succeeded in avoiding an awkward situation (in more ways than one), the Lord wasn’t pleased. In fact, my whole perspective on loving others was blurry at best. Had our five years on the field really affected my desire to love others?
My only solace in this whole terrible experience is found in Matthew, chapter 14. After a long day, the crowds are still following Jesus and his tired disciples. The disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away (and they think they have a good reason to send the people away) so that they can find something to eat.
Jesus, being as sharp as he is, doesn’t miss a beat: you give them something to eat. He knows. He knows they want to put their needs above the needs of others. They have what they need with Jesus, five loaves and two fish. They don’t need the crowd. So, please Jesus, send them away.
But this man—his whole ministry is outward looking. Jesus brings the all-satisfying joy into the lives of others and tries to get his 12 disciples to catch this goal. Jesus is busy healing people physically, forgiving their sins, providing food for them.
And he’s about to die for them.
But in this moment, his disciples want Jesus to send them away.
After a long hard year of personal challenges on the field, I find myself identifying with the disciples here, except that I succeeded in sending the woman away! My seemingly insatiable desire for “me time” had descended like a flood over my heart and I was swimming in my own selfishness.
Now, I understand, more than ever, about sending people away. I can’t work out my own salvation and enjoy the Lord with crowds of people around. Clearly, I prefer to spend my time in the forest, out in nature, pouring over the word. I have what I need with Jesus alone and I don’t need the crowds, or to share a cup of tea with a poor hard working woman on my doorstep, taking a break from the rain.
Or do I?
The comfort in this story is when Jesus doesn’t give up on his dumb-witted clueless disciples. But he takes their bread and fish, breaks it, prays over it, and then puts it back in his disciples’ hands. Maybe, just maybe, if they’re holding the bread and fish and distribute it, they’ll understand.
And what do they return with? 12 times the amount of satisfaction they handed out. Everyone ate and was satisfied and each one of them suddenly had a basket of extra bread. They stopped asking if he could send the people away. And they watched Jesus involve each of them in his mission of loving others. These 12 men needed the crowd of people to recognize that loving others opens us up to receive more of the satisfying presence of Jesus.
Jesus continued to work with them, and he continues to work with me. I’ve confessed to the Lord too many times about that rainy day. I’ve held onto that experience (and his grace) and made it a part of me.
And now, at the end of our long weeks, I watch our students come knocking. I’m tempted to hold tightly to “my time” but think of the rainstorm. And ever so quietly, I hear the Lord remind me to be about others, to welcome them in his name and watch for multiplication.
I’m watching for my baskets to be filled and my heart satisfied.
How about you? Do you identify with the disciples? Do you long for a fresh start? Has your time on the field tainted your desire and perspective on loving others? Gather your bread from Jesus, hand it out, and watch him fill your basket.