Circumstances

John 6:1-15

For me, two themes emerge from our readings: 1) God’s provision: he graciously and abundantly feeds his people, and 2) Our response to his provision: If we live in faith, we are contented and hopeful, no matter our circumstances.

                                                                                                   

I heard a metaphor the other day that explained faith in very simple terms, and I think it fits today’s Gospel. It goes like this, “Grace is God saying, ‘Here is all the good stuff I have to give you.’ Faith is saying, ‘Thank you, I’ll take it.” When we respond in faith in such a simple way to the circumstances of our lives, we become contented, hopeful people.

 

The challenge for us is, many times, we’re like Philip and Andrew in the Gospel, giving voice to the hopelessness of the situation, giving voice to doubt and anxiety (This thing is never going to work out – we’re short on money, time and bread).  But as it is in our everyday lives, God had the solution in hand before they ever even knew there was a problem.

                                                            

In the responsorial psalm, we heard, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all of our needs.” Our eyes look hopefully to you, and you feed us in due season; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” We can infer from this psalm that we can find contentment in God’s provision.

What is contentment? Contentment means that my happiness is not dependent upon circumstances. “God’s grace is enough – he’ll provide for me – he always does.” But many times we get caught up in "when" thinking: "When I get a certain job ... When I can retire ... When I get the bills paid off, the mortgage paid off ... then I'll be happy!" Happiness in that case is contingent on some form of circumstance.
 

God says, "Be content in this moment.” The reality is, many times, once we get the job, or retire or pay off the house, we'll likely want something else. We’ll likely move on to the next thing that will make us anxious."

 

For me many times it’s time: “Boy, I’ve got a brutal week ahead. But once I get on the other side of Friday, I’ll be sitting pretty.  I’ll be set. My worries will all be behind me. And then I get to Friday, and another set of anxiety-producing circumstances arise, and I’m no more content than I was before.  I’ve failed to see God’s grace in my circumstances.

In First Timothy, we hear, "True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can't take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content."

 

When we are dependent on circumstances (persons, places or things) instead of God’s grace, we tend to be not very content.  Similarly, when we place our hope in circumstances (persons, places and things) instead of God’s grace, we tend not to be very hopeful.

 

If, for example, we place our hope in somebody who is unable to deliver on that hope, we're likely to be disappointed - not necessarily because they’re not capable or unwilling to deliver, but because we misplaced our hope. And if we do that a few times, we can actually lose our belief that hope is possible. Why? Because we’ve lost sight of the endless possibilities of God’s provision and goodness.

 

Very often in relationships we place our hope in the other person. And sometimes when we approach marriage, for example, overly invested in the hope that the other person is going to fulfill all of our needs (like an empty bucket waiting to be filled), and when they fall short, we get disappointed. And if it happens enough times, we become disillusioned. We see the possibility of hope as unattainable.

 

Again, “grace is God saying, ‘Here’s all the good stuff I have to give you.’ Faith is saying, ‘Thank you, I’ll take it.” Faith is the acknowledgement that circumstances (persons, place and things) are not where we place our trust. We ultimately, must place our trust in the Lord.

 

I saw a reflection recently given by an army dad who was talking about a time when he realized that he had misplaced his hope. He failed to place his hope in the Lord.  The army dad said:

 

“I've certainly been disappointed when I've placed my hope in things or in people. I mean, I can't even live up to my expectations that I have for myself, much less the expectations that I place on others. When our oldest son, Jack, joined the army, I made a promise to myself that if he ever got deployed I would fast one day a week for him—for his safety and for his spiritual well-being. But I haven't been faithful to it, and sometimes I get really disappointed in myself.”

 

“I have to remember” he said, “that when I place too much of my hope in things, or in people, or even in myself, I'm always going to be disappointed. There's really only one person in my life who never lets me down—and that's Jesus.” This man’s reflection reminds us of that simple refrain: “Blessed are those who hope is in the Lord.”

 

True happiness, joy and peace are not dependent on the circumstances of our lives. When we choose to let go of the anxieties we feel, and place our hope and trust in the Lord, he will guard our hearts, and direct our thoughts and our passions away from those external things we have been reliant on, and bring the contentment and hopefulness that are the hallmarks of the Christian life.

 

The thing is, we have more control over our level of contentment and hopefulness than we think. We are what we think about.  Our lives are the result of our thinking.  Many people hate their circumstances only because they’ve let them rule their lives.

 

One of the incredible gifts that God is constantly trying to increase in us is the gift of awareness. Have we allowed the Holy Spirit to whisper in our ears, allowing us to see with a little more perspective each day the abundance with which he has blessed us?

 

The battle is always in our mind, so we need to tend to it. Like a garden, we need to attentively pick and prune our thoughts in order to prevent overgrowth and chaos, and we need to fertilize our minds with prayer.

 

Being negative and worrying is relatively easy.  Being hopeful requires work. Trusting in the Lord demands a faithful commitment, but it is well worth it!

 

So as we go through this week, let’s prayerfully assess how we view our circumstances.  Have we let our sense of contentment and hopefulness be contingent on those circumstances, or are we seeing them increasingly through the lens of faith, where we simply say in response to God’s grace-filled abundance, “Thanks, I’ll take it? 

 

And so we pray today, “Lord, help us to simplify our lives. Strengthen our resolve to not let our circumstances rule over us. Help us instead to grow in our conviction that by holding true to your Word, not every day will be a walk in the park, but we will be able to walk with the assurance of the ultimate joy that you desire for each of us.” Amen!

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