The off-season. Summer months filled with anticipation and plans. Lazy thoughts of hunts old and hunts future. Our minds always seem to drift back into “what should have happened” while running stadium steps or putting in miles on the bike. Slight adjustments to our approach or technique take place in the off-season. Our minds are free to think, ponder, an analyze different scenarios while applying our responses to them in hunting fantasy world. The pounding of the pavement may prepare our bodies for the fall, but the games within our mind prepares our psyche’s for the real life chess game of big game hunting. The time of preparation, whether physical or mental, can drag at our motivation. Lets be honest, sometimes it is hard to get ourselves out of bed to put in the time necessary. Often, it requires the unexpected gift to stoke our motivational fires. This week, I received a box containing the tanned animal skins from last years trapping adventures. While expected, the timing of the delivery was unexpected and resulted in a shot of motivation where motivation was lacking. It was a reminder to WHY we do things that we do. Ministry has this same ebb and flow to it. Ministry, or working for the Kingdom, has an off-season. Like hunting, it is a time to rest, to think, to ponder and to get prepared for the next go around.
Sometimes, during the slow times, the good Lord above, rewards us with an unexpected gift. The gift may be revelation or simply compassion but the root of these gifts is always love. If we think about ourselves, I mean deep down inner sanctum self…we will find that our greatest motivation comes from receiving unsolicited acts of love. In John 4, when Jesus was resting next to the well. He ministered to a Samaritan woman, unsolicited, and promised her Living Water. That act of love resulted in her witness to the Samaritans of Sychar and many believed. In Mark 6:33-36 we read this story, “The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
The large crowds numbered 5000 men with women and children not included in the count. The total number of people in the crowd is a mystery. Jesus, seeing their need, realizing they were like sheep without a shepherd, had compassion on them and began to minister to them. We know the rest of the story, Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish. But lets not stop there with the story, the disciples also recognized the need and were overcome by the size of the crowd and implored Jesus to send them away. Jesus responded to the advice of His disciples in this way, verses 39-42, “And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied”
Even though the situation looked hopeless, even though the advice was to disperse the crowds, Jesus responded with an unexpected gift. By lifting the meager offering of five loaves and two fish up in blessing to Heaven above…it was enough. “All ate and were satisfied” says the book of the Living God. The text says they were all in a desolate place, which I presume means there weren’t eating establishments around. We can look at the parallel of this statement between the physical and the spiritual. Jesus uses the physical reality of “desolate place” to express a spiritual reality of our off-season. During the off-season, our motivation may be lacking, which means we are in a desolate place…spiritually. The unexpected gift is enough for all who come and wait on Jesus. The unexpected gift is spiritual food for a hungry soul. Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
The most unexpected gift of all is GRACE. Grace is a funny word because it is often defined by itself. Ask most Christians what grace is and you will get an answer along these lines, “It is a free gift.”
“OK…a free gift of what?”
“Well…a free gift of grace. It is receiving something we don’t deserve.”
“OK…what is this “something” that we receive, yet, don’t deserve?”
“Um…hold on, let me call my Pastor.”
The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”…notice how GRACE is not listed. Although Christians will be recognized by their fruits (Matt 7:15-20) we are not saved by our fruits. Ephesians 2:8 puts it very simply when Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”. A rather unexpected gift when we really sit down an analyze this, ponder this, and seek God through this revelation. GRACE is a free gift, GRACE is a gift given to us by God, but GRACE is also the gift of God…of God Himself. God gave Himself to us…and we call this gift GRACE.
“So…what is GRACE?”
“GRACE is God’s unexpected gift of Himself to us, in order that we may be immersed in Him. Completely covered in His presence that we may be recognizable to the world around us by the fruits of the Spirit. When the world looks at us, they see love, they see joy, they see patience, they see kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and they see men and women that exhibit self-control. They see Jesus Christ…they see GRACE.
Sometimes, during our off-season, the most unexpected gift from the Lord is reflection. Reflecting back onto the gifts we have already received. This reflection and the praise that follows, fuels are motivation and gets us ready for the next ebb or flow. For me…a reflection into GRACE, a most unexpected gift indeed…!