When Alice and I made our first trip to the state of Andhra Pradesh, India in 2003, we brought with us a number of large pieces of luggage filled with important things we were sure we could not do without. Books, bed sheets, toilet paper—we didn’t stop to wonder how one billion people get by every day without these “essential” American products.
We soon learned. It’s easier however, to change shampoo than it is to change assumptions. For, along with our luggage, we also brought a fair-sized bag of dreams—with unwavering confidence in our ability to actually make a difference, and anticipation of a life filled with adventure. I was filled with hope for what lay ahead.
Years later, I find I have exchanged the attractive bag of dreams for a banged-up, simple but sturdy suitcase with a broken zipper. Our perspective has changed, and we have come to realize that our job is not difficult, but impossible. The reality is we simply don’t have what it takes to change hearts and families.
But not only is our task impossible, we’re asked to do it with lives that turn out to be actually quite ordinary. We still have to take out the trash. Budgets, sickness, arguments, making meals, etc. These all blend together into a very ordinary life. Even the adventure of life in India fades with time. I went with a vision of the possible and the extraordinary. Every day, I found myself facing the impossible and the ordinary. The slick bag of expectations meets the battered suitcase of life.
And yet I have hope—hope that is stronger today than ever before. Why, because my hope no longer rests on my own ability. It rests on Jesus. And as I look to Jesus, I see Him consistently accomplishing the impossible through the ordinary.
Look at the story of the feeding of the 5000 in Luke 9:1-17, and you will see where a long day of ministry found the disciples weary and wanting to send the people away. The crowds were hungry and the disciples didn’t have any food. But Jesus simply said, “You give them something to eat.”
Imagine yourself as one of the disciples, “Do you know how tired I am? This is impossible! We don’t have enough time or money. All we have is a little boy’s lunch. What good is that?” But Jesus took what they had, blessed it, broke it and then used His disciples to distribute the food in such a way that everyone left satisfied. In fact, not only did everyone have enough, there was abundance.
There was more than was needed. More than was asked for. The impossible seemed to be of no importance in His hands. Bread and fish. The ordinary transformed by God and used to accomplish the impossible. This is my hope. It rests in my belief that God, in the same way, can and will intervene in my impossible situations with extraordinary grace, making it possible to live an ordinary, run-of-the-mill life for the glory of God in a place like India.
This is what I understand to be the “sacramental life.” A life so saturated with the presence of God that the ordinary becomes holy and the impossible happens. It is a simple, every-day life in the hands of God, blessed, broken and offered to others.
And what is the result of this sacramental life? What happens when the ordinary stuff of life gets into the hands of Jesus and is then offered to those around us? The meal of bread and fish caused the crowds to proclaim, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)
Every day we walk out our front gates and face a multitude of harassed, helpless and spiritually hungry people who have nothing to eat. We hear Jesus say, "You give them something to eat," and so we offer the few small loaves of bread and fish that we have.
How many people can we really feed? I don't know. But if we are willing to pursue the sacramental life together, then I have every reason to hope that we may actually find ourselves feeding thousands, because we were first willing to be found in His hands.
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