January 13, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 9:14-15 (NRSV)
For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down.
Like he did with his first disciples, Jesus calls us to take risks for his sake. This can be tricky, in part because we can fail to discern Jesus’s guidance correctly. But going out on a limb for Jesus is also tricky because sometimes things don’t work out as we had hoped. Yet Jesus is honored when we say “yes” to him. And, no matter what happens, he is able to redeem, to heal, and to prepare us for what comes next.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
This week I have been reflecting on a story from Luke 9, in which Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of thousands from just a couple of box lunches. In yesterday’s devotion we saw that Jesus asked his disciples to do something risky, something that might even have seemed foolish to them, so that he might work an impressive miracle. We wondered if Jesus is asking us to do something similar, something that requires bold faith as we trust Jesus to act through us.
Stepping out in obedience to Jesus is sometimes tricky. I’m not talking about the trickiness of trusting Jesus. Rather, I’m thinking about different kinds of trickiness that can hold me back in my obedience.
The first trickiness can actually be a reflection of godly humility and wisdom. I’m thinking of times when it seems as if Jesus is calling me to do something risky, but I’m not sure I have rightly discerned his guidance. I am all too aware of my own tendency to project onto Jesus my “stuff” – my desires, my ambition, my hopes. Just because I think Jesus wants me to do something does not mean I have rightly discerned his will. So my reticence to step out can be wise, pointing me to an extended season of spiritual discernment. It’s time for me to wait upon the Lord, to “get neutral” as my friend Terry Looper says, to seek counsel from wise brothers and sisters, to surrender my desires and agendas to the Lord. Of course—let me be clear—I can also rationalize my own reticence when I know clearly what the Lord wants me to do. So, again, discernment in a community is desperately needed here.
The second trickiness has to do with what happens when we step out in faith in response to the call of Jesus. Sometimes, as in the case of the miraculous feeding in Luke 9, things go swimmingly, just as we had hoped. But there are other times, times when we take risks for Jesus and things do not work out well—at least it seems to us that they haven’t. I think, for example, of a pastor friend who responded a few years ago to what he perceived to be God’s call to a new church. He truly sought God’s guidance and acted in obedience, moving his family, settling in a new community, and so forth. At first things seemed to confirm his willingness to go out on a limb for Jesus. But then, for lots of reasons, the limb started shaking. Before long, the limb was cut off. My friend wonders what happened? If he was obeying Christ’s guidance, why did things go poorly? Did he get it wrong at the beginning? Or are there times when, even if we act in faithfulness, things don’t work in a way that seems good to us?
If you put Trickiness #1 and Trickiness #2 together, you may appear to have good reason for not going out on a limb for Jesus. Isn’t it better to play it safe? I like safety as much as the next person, perhaps even more. But I know that Jesus calls us beyond our safety zone, into the realm of faithful and risky obedience. After all, consider his own life and ministry. It was anything but safe.
Moreover, when we truly step out in obedience to Jesus, he is honored. He knows the intentions of our hearts. He sees our desire to honor him and is honored. Our risky obedience is true worship. It’s an expression of genuine worship to our Lord.
Furthermore, I am convinced that if we don’t get it right, either in discernment or action, Jesus isn’t stuck. His promise of abundant life remains (John 10:10). Jesus is the human embodiment of the God who works in all things for good (Romans 8:28). So, when we go out on a limb for Jesus, sometimes the limb will be solid and, in time, abundantly fruitful. At other times we’ll fall off or the limb will be cut off. But in these times God is still with us. God is redeeming our mistakes, forgiving our sins, healing our wounds, removing our shame, teaching us lessons, and preparing us for what comes next.
Do you find yourself in a place of uncertainty with regard to some aspect of the calling of Jesus upon your life? If so, what are you doing with this uncertainty?
When you need additional clarity about God’s will for your life, what do you do?
Have there been times in your life when you have stepped out in obedience to Jesus, yet things have not gone as you expected them to? What did you do in response to this disappointment?
Are you doing something in your life right now that is risky, and that is your response of trusting obedience to Jesus?
Talk with your small group, your spiritual director, or a wise friend about how you go about discerning the call of Jesus in your life. See if there is anything you need to learn to do differently.
Lord Jesus, I am quite aware of my limitations when it comes to hearing your voice, to discerning your call. Sometimes I’m simply confused. At other times I project my desires onto you, claiming that you are guiding me when, in fact, I’m following my own wishes. Knowing this makes me hesitate when I sense that you’re calling me to something risky.
Help me, I pray, to be wise in discernment. Teach me to wait upon you. May I trust the brothers and sisters you have brought into my life to help me hear you well. And then, Lord, may I be bold in obedience.
I know that things will not always work out as I hope. This isn’t easy. It can make me hesitate. But, beyond this, I also know that you are working in all things for good. Nothing stymies you, Lord. Nothing is beyond your ability to redeem. So, help me to be bold in following you, confident in your goodness, wisdom, and grace. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Food for Five Thousand
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is the Executive Director of Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he is the principal writer of Life for Leaders and the program lead of the Third Third Initiative. Previously, Mark was the senior pastor of a church in Southern California and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. Mark has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,000 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark has taught at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Click here to view Mark’s profile.