“Matt, would you grab the rest of the groceries from the trunk of the car?”
The familiar words fell on me with greater irritation than normal because I was immersed in my favorite childhood hobby, sorting through my collection of sports cards. What I initially interpreted as a demand (and interruption!), however, was actually an expression of my father’s love for me, because his request was an invitation in disguise.
After delaying for far too long, I finally dropped the cards and made my way to the trunk, expecting to find eggs, lettuce, and cereal. When I finally fulfilled my duty, I realized that I had been duped — in the best way possible. Sitting in the trunk was an unopened box of 1986 Fleer Basketball cards. This may not seem significant to you, but my adolescent brain instantly knew that I was moments away from adding a Michael Jordan rookie card to my collection. I grabbed the box of cards and ran inside the house to find my father eagerly waiting to join in my joy. I will never forget the sweetness of those moments with him.
As the years have passed, I have come to believe that Jesus would have appreciated my father’s approach. While Jesus extends many invitations through plain and explicit language, the Gospel narratives also include invitations that begin in disguise. The pathways Jesus chooses to give us more of himself often begin with Jesus asking something from us.
Jesus, wearied by his journey, sits down beside a well in Samaria. Moments later, a woman comes to draw water, and she hears these words from Jesus: “Give me a drink” (John 4:7). At face value, this may appear to be a reasonable petition from a thirsty man. In reality, though, these words will open a bottomless fountain for a thirsty woman. His demand is an invitation in disguise.
She is surprised that Jesus would ask her for a drink. Her cause for pause is undoubtedly focused on the cultural, ethnic, and religious barriers that Jesus crossed by engaging with a Samaritan woman. As real as those barriers were, Jesus points her to the true reason she should marvel: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Do you see the invitation in his request? What starts as an appeal to get something from her becomes an amazing offer to be something for her.
What Jesus demands from her, he desires to give to her, if she would just ask and receive.
It doesn’t take long before the woman asks Jesus to give her this living water. She then leaves to tell her village about Jesus, believing that she has met the promised Messiah. Strikingly, she leaves her water jar behind, suggesting that Jesus has given to her the very thing he asked from her.
After a day of Jesus teaching the crowds about the kingdom of God in a desolate place, his disciples ask him to send the people away to find lodging and food. Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13).
Not sensing the invitation in his words, the disciples immediately feel overwhelmed by his demand. So, knowing they could never afford to buy dinner for this many people, they gather up the little food they have (a few fish and some bread) and put it into Jesus’s hands. Placing what they had in his hands allows them to participate in something greater than they could have imagined. They are about to experience, loaf after loaf and fish after fish, the marvelous reality that what Jesus demands from them, he desires to be for them, if they would just ask and receive from him.
Jesus has the masses sit down in groups, and after giving thanks, he begins to give food to the disciples to serve the people. The food continues to multiply until all eat to their satisfaction, and twelve baskets are left, each full of food. What a scene this must have been. When Jesus said, “You give them something to eat,” they barely had enough food for themselves. Now, when everyone had eaten, each disciple was left holding his own basket, powerfully demonstrating that Jesus had done for them the very thing he asked from them.
One cannot read the Scriptures without noticing the many demands that Jesus places on his followers. He gives commands like, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What are we to do under the weight of such demands? Do we engage in the futile attempt of trying to fulfill them on our own? Or do we recognize that these demands are invitations from Jesus in disguise? Jesus desires to be for us whatever he demands from us, if we will ask and receive.
We are meant to hear demands like Matthew 5:48 and place them back in Jesus’s hands, confessing, “I can’t meet your demands without you,” and asking, “Will you be for me what you have asked from me?” This exercise of faith is not only the foundation and hope of our standing before God, but also the grace we need for every circumstance we face along the path to glory.
The Christian life is full of demands. I face demands to be a sacrificial spouse, a present father to five children, a loving neighbor, and a faithful employee. I have a choice every morning: I can rush into the day attempting to meet the demands of Christ on my own, or I can call to mind that his invitations often begin in disguise. What life demands from me, Jesus desires to be for me, if I will ask and receive.
So, like the disciples with their few fish and bread, I start each day acknowledging that I don’t have what it takes to meet all the demands, but I believe that Jesus can be for me everything the world needs from me. This is the heart of what it means to live empowered by the Spirit of God. As Paul tells us, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). The Holy Spirit is ready to remind us of all that Jesus desires to be for us. Your daily needs are, in reality, divine invitations to experience more of him.