Among many of its ills, poverty is blinding. Need can grow to such heights that all one sees is hunger. Sad as this is for the millions who live in actual poverty, it is worse for those of us with full bellies. I have caught myself—more times than I care to admit—sliding from Mount Thankfulness down Not Enough Hill into Nothing Pit. Economic poverty is a fact. Mental poverty is a prison.
Our culture loves rags-to-riches stories, especially fantastical ones: geese laying golden eggs, lamp genies changing the hero’s fortunes, hidden treasures, a king’s sudden favor. All these resonate with us because our heavenly Father is the God who gave life to a lump of clay and crowned it king of the world. Adam moved from dirt poor to the wealthiest man on earth in a single breath.
Moses is a twist on this theme. His is a slave-to-princely-riches-to-rags-to-prince-to-riches story. Toward the end of the second act, after a rugged life of simple living and chasing sheep, he meets God in the burning bush. God offers him a people to free, a nation to lead. Moses looks at himself and sees an unqualified, stuttering outcast. “They won’t believe me,” he says.
Ever been there? Given an opportunity, have you looked at yourself and said, “They won’t take me seriously. I’ve got nothing to offer.”
The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” Exodus 4:2 ESV
Poverty of spirit reveals what we have and Who we need. Poverty of mind blinds us to what is in our hand.
Mark 8:2-4 ESV
2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.
3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Jesus sees the need. “These people have to eat,” he says. He’s determined to do something about it. “I am unwilling to send them away hungry.” (Matt. 15:32). The disciples focus on their own inabilities. “How can we feed these people?” They’re determined to see only desolation. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Why do we focus on where we are instead of who we’re with? How is it that our lack looms larger than others’ needs?
Jesus’ response is surprising to me. He doesn’t tell them, “Trust me, you know I can feed them.” What He didn’t do is exactly what I’m frequently guilty of. Someone comes to me with an impossible problem and my go-to is, “Trust the Lord. You know He can supply.” Jesus didn’t do that. I’m supposed to be His disciple. Why don’t I do what Jesus did?
Mark 8:5 ESV
And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”
“How many loaves do you have?” This sounds a bit like “What is that in your hand?” Overwhelmed with the demand, the disciples didn’t bother to acknowledge their supply. “It’s impossible. We have nothing.” But it’s not true. They had seven loaves.
Thankfulness requires inventory. How am I to thank God for what I have if I don’t bother to count what’s there? Somehow, it seems easier to see what I can’t get than it is to measure what I have.
How many loaves do you have? “But I don’t have enough for the mortgage!” How many loaves do you have? “I didn’t go to school for that!” How many loaves do you have? “I don’t know the right people!” How many loaves do you have? “I don’t have any talents!”
How many loaves do you have?
Matthew 15:36-37 ESV
36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
Jesus gave thanks for the loaves and fed the multitude. When we give God what we have, He multiplies it. When we ignore what He’s given us, He takes it away.
Matthew 25:25 ESV
So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.
Fear bankrupts the soul. Fear is at the root of poverty of mind. Refusing to see what we have—hiding what He provided—and refusing to invest it in His kingdom garners no commendation from the king.
Matthew 25:26-28 ESV
26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed?
27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.
In the kingdom of God, the poor in spirit—those rich in the Lord—get richer. The poor in mind get poorer.
Mark 8:7 ESV
And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.
What little we have with God’s blessing is always more than enough. Great wealth without His blessing never is. Poverty of mind doesn’t see the supply or acknowledge the Supplier; it only sees lack and want.
After feeding four thousand people with seven loaves and a few small fish, Jesus confronts sign-seeking Pharisees. Getting in the boat with his disciples, he warns them about Pharisee yeast. They look at each other, scratch their heads, and say, “He’s talking about yeast because we don’t have any bread.”
Mark 8:17 ESV
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?” Reading this, I’m tempted to laugh at their stupidity. I slap my forehead in solidarity with the Savior. “You idiots! Don’t you get it? How could you think He’s talking about bread?” Of course, when I do that, I forget I’m a sheep running around on all fours, eyes to the ground, bewildered by the strange creature on two legs who always seems to know where the good grass is.
Take another look at verse seventeen above. Jesus didn’t lead with, “After my confrontation with the Pharisees, how could you think I was worried about bread when I mentioned yeast?” He saves that for later. His disciples have a bigger problem with the Master than not understanding his metaphors.
“Why are you talking about not having bread?” No bread was an artifact of their poverty of mind. No-bread mentality was the problem, brought about through hardness of heart. They not only forgot what the Lord had done, they didn’t think of what they started with or what was left over.
Backing up is always a good strategy when Jesus gives us the don’t-you-get-it eye.
Mark 8:14 ESV
Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
They had bread! Jesus says, “Be on guard against yeast.” John turns to Peter, “Do you know what he’s talking about?” Peter shakes his head, points at Andrew, “You buy any bread before we got on the boat?” Andrew looks at Judas, “We got money, right?” Judas glares at James, “I told you to pick up lunch.” Thomas puts his face in his hands, “We don’t have any bread.” They all agree. “He’s talking about yeast because we don’t have any bread.”
Ever been there? I have. I’ve completely missed what Jesus was trying to teach me because I froze my heart around cold, hard facts. Certain of what I didn’t have, I couldn’t be bothered to count of what was there.
Mark 8:18 ESV
Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?
This from the same Jesus who said, “Seek and you will find.” Seeing and seeking both require looking. “Having ears do you not hear?” We need to listen to what He’s saying instead of hearing what we’re thinking. “And do you not remember?” And there it is, backing up when Jesus gives us the don’t-you-get-it eye.
Mark 8:19-21 ESV
19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”
21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
“I broke five loaves and fed five thousand and you wound up with a basketful of bread each.” I think of when the kids and I complain to my wife that she has no food in the house, only ingredients. Despondent, we forget the last meal we ate and its leftovers, sure only of our hunger.
Mark leaves them dangling on Jesus’ question. How about us? Do we understand? I thought I did. I have to admit now that I didn’t, not entirely. I’ve read my Matthew. I am aware that the disciples finally got that he was talking about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:12). And because my Bible is arranged like most, I had read my Matthew into Mark. I was in on it, the chuckling reader shaking his head at the hardhearted, hapless disciples. That’s probably how for over forty years, I failed to notice that the disciples had a loaf of bread all along.
What’s in your hand? When you see the giant, do you disregard the five stones in your bag? When you meet the hungry, does your lunch not count? When you do your budget, can you afford to tithe? Can you afford not to?
Too often, I’ve said I have nothing when faced with not enough. I am wrong on both counts.
2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
We used to call praying over our food “Saying grace.” Some still do, I’m sure. Jesus gave thanks over a few loaves and fishes and fed the multitude. His grace is sufficient. When we offer what we have into his hands, he graces it. And what he graces is always more than enough.