I delivered a message in church a few weeks away on a theme that most of us are likely to find relevant: “Gather up the fragments that remain so that nothing is lost or wasted”! (John 6:12) As the live recording did not come out, I rerecorded it this morning – which gave the opportunity to add an incredibly inspired piece of music that Jane Horsfall from Jersey wrote for Celtic Harp. Julia Herzog plays the recorder on this, as she also does on the second piece, which is by Vivaldi.
You can find the words below, but don’t miss out on enjoying the music!
As in our recent mini-series Put out into the Deep, we will be releasing this talk in sections. May this introduction serve to bring the Lord’s presence and perspective close.
Offering Jesus the fragments in our lives
I love Jesus’ directive to his disciples after the miraculous feeding of the 5000 to “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” This is the context the words were spoken in.
One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.
John 6:1-13 NASB
The episode is described in all four Gospels but alone of the gospel writers, John tells us that this happened when the Passover was at hand. Passover was the time when the Jews traditionally brought food — particularly lamb, bread, and blood — to the Lord in His temple, but what we see here has nothing to do with the physical temple but rather with the Lord Jesus, as God made flesh, bringing the Passover meal to the people of God – people who saw the miracle that He had done and were amazed. “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!'” (Jn. 6:14) In other words, they were starting to recognise that Jesus really was the Prophet who Moses had foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18.
God does work through signs – and if we see any sign of His leading, of Him beckoning to us as it were, we must be willing to follow it. But it’s worth saying that if this involves a major change of direction in our lives, He will often give several different strands of guidance to confirm it, just as many things were pointing Jesus’s hearers now to the fact that He was indeed who He claimed to be.
Having miraculously provided “manna” for so many people, Jesus went on, as John describes in the next chapter, to explain that He was Himself the true Bread from Heaven. All this was a foreshadowing of the Passover feast in the Upper Room one year later, when He consecrated the bread and instituted the Last Supper, breaking the bread into fragments and handing them around to the disciples saying, “This is My body broken for you.”
And then, after His resurrection, there would be that special meal on the beach we read about in John 21, which is the only other time we see Jesus having a meal of fish and bread with His disciples.
It is only John, too, who tells us that Jesus commanded the disciples to pick up the leftover fragments that remain and to put them in their baskets. I love the emphasis that nothing is to be lost or wasted. God is the great Redeemer – the past master in gathering up the scraps and fragments of our lives and turns them into a patchwork quilt of His own devising. I love the way He brings people and episodes from the past back into our life in just the right way at just the right time. He who inhabits eternity, where there is no such thing as time as we understand it, yet interacts with split second perfect timing to our timescale when He needs to.
Let me share a remarkable example from the suffering church in Russia that speaks of God finding ways to ensure that nothing was wasted from a seemingly highly fragmentary experience.
A pastor was witnessing to an atheist in a railway carriage, who became so incensed that he seized the pastor’s precious Bible and hurled it out of the window. We can only imagine the pastor’s dejection in that Bible-starved land. Some weeks later there came a knock on his door: not the dreaded KGB, but a group of workers asking to be baptized. The leader of the men told the bemused pastor how he had been working by a railway line some time ago when a book was flung out of a train. It was, of course, the pastor’s Bible, and the man had become a Christian through reading it! So too had the friends he had brought along. Who but God could have brought so much good out of such an unpromising episode? Let nothing be wasted!
The baskets people had with them served much the same purpose as our shoulder bags do today – they were used to carry provisions. They weren’t very large but Jesus was pointing here to the fact that the fragments were precious and not to be discarded. It is right that we pay attention to the small things in our lives – things that are not yet fully in place, and aspects of our lives which may even feel highly fragmented.
We are all familiar with the verse in Jeremiah when the Lord asks is anything is too hard for Me? (Jer. 32:27) But I love the way Amy Carmichael turns this verse on its head (it is often a powerful way to make the truth of a passage stand out) that there is nothing too small for Him either.
In today’s throwaway society there is something incredibly precious about the concept of “gathering up” the fragments that remain. We may often find that we have more than we need in some area of our life – the question then is: What do we do with the excess?
God loves to fix broken things in our lives and relationships. On a practical level, there may often be items we can repair and use again rather than just discard. The fact that God can, and does, provide more (by miraculous means) does not mean we should waste what we have. We are fortunate to have a local service, The Malvern Hills Repair Clinic, which services and repairs peoples items for free. We know one of the guys who works there, and how he gathers all sorts of fragments and stores every tiny piece away. For some people that would be useless hoarding, but Nick usually finds a useful way to put these fragments to good use – and he keeps them in good working order for the time that they are needed.
The word ‘gather’ reminds us of the importance of the ministry of a “gatherer”. (John 6:12: sunagagete – to bring together). Much of my public ministry has been spent gathering like-minded people to pray for nations, or to encourage them to see the value of doing so, just as nowadays it is to bring together themes for prayer or teaching.
Keeping alert to what we should do with the fragments in our life both spiritually and physically is all about imaginative stewardship. John Wesley urged his many converts to “Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” If we are to be wholehearted disciples, that is an excellent principle to bear in mind.
And so we need to be in touch with the Lord’s timing and leading. Is this a time for a careful stowing away or for a decluttering and a clearout? Or is the Lord saying, “Go deeper with what you already have and what you have been working on. Take it up and work on it again!”
I had a laptop once that no longer served me well; the temptation was to throw it away but it turned out to be just perfect for a man in Africa. Even more amazingly, I knew someone who, out of the whole continent of Africa, was about to set out on a trip to the neighbouring village and so was able to pass it on! It is as we wait on the Lord, and keep alert, that ideas for doing each other good come to mind.
I wonder what these fragments that the Lord wants us to gather up might correspond to in your life? Projects you have begun but not completed? People and themes you have been called to pray for that perhaps you have let fall to one side? Relationships that are far more distant than they need be, and which need “servicing?” It is so important to keep our friendships in good repair! And what we do outwardly must always be matched by what the Lord does inwardly, so that we don’t just skate over the surface of matters that the Lord is putting his finger on, but look to see what He is saying at a deeper level. It is when we seek the Lord with all our hearts that we find Him – in other words when we are really serious about it.
I’ve noticed that when people’s lives become fragmentary in the wrong way, it is often because they have cut right back on having a quiet time at the start of the day. As a result their whole life has become impoverished, and they are having to play catch up throughout the day. They are living on snatches rather like a swallow feeding on the wing. If life is so busy that for a time that is necessary all well and good – God understands entirely, but if that becomes the sum total of all we are giving to the Lord then we will swiftly lose our sharp edge. We are no longer living with our eyes on the unseen but are becoming too much this world centred.
May I encourage you to stay in His presence. If He speaks, then stay a bit longer and see if He has something else to show you. Let Him gather up the fragments and interpret them to you, and show you what to do with them next, and where to place each fragment. That means prioritisation – and He will show you where to place the emphasis from one day to the next.