Something is Not Nothing

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A.W. “Grandad” Copeland was my great grandfather and one of the kindest and gentlest men I ever knew. Most kids don’t get the opportunity to know their great grandparents all that well, but I had twenty-one years with Grandad before he went home to be with Jesus. And if you were to ask any of his nine great grandchildren that had any time with him at all, each of us would agree that Grandad was always good for a buck. Without fail, any time Grandad was around any of us kids, he would reach into his back pocket, pull out his wallet, and give us some of whatever he had in there. Sometimes it was a one-dollar bill, other times it was a five. Occasionally he would give us a ten or even a twenty, but it was always something. 

Grandad never changed his giving habits with the kids, but as I got older, my perception of what he was giving me changed. The value of a one-dollar bill is different in the eyes of a five-year old than it is in the eyes of a teenager with more wants and desires and even a few responsibilities. As much as I loved Grandad and as touched as I was by his generosity, a five-dollar bill just didn’t garner the same excitement when I was eighteen as it did when I was four.

As we grow, our needs grow, and hopefully the vision for our lives and for our future grows too. That’s why a dollar in your hand today doesn’t do for you what it did when you were small, especially if that’s the only dollar you have. 

As we get older and the needs in our lives get bigger, we tend to develop the bad habit of minimizing what we possess. We start looking at what we have in the light of what we need, and very soon what we have begins to look like nothing at all. But I want to remind you that what you have is not nothing. It’s something. It may not be everything you need, but still, it is something—not nothing.

In John 6, we see a great multitude in search of Jesus. When Jesus sees them coming, He says to his disciple Phillip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (v. 5). 

Phillip answers, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (v. 7). Evidently Phillip is shocked that Jesus is even thinking about trying to feed these people. Essentially he says to Him, “We’ve got money, but it’s not enough to give everybody a little to tide them over.” Did you notice that? Though they had something, Phillip looked at it and compared it to what they needed, and then he decided that it was not enough.

Then Andrew, one of Jesus’ other disciples, says to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” (v. 9). Andrew looked at how much food they had on hand, then he looked at how much food it would take to feed the people, and finally he decided that what they had might as well have been nothing. Both of these disciples were guilty of looking at what they had in the light of what they needed, and it made what they had look like nothing. But two-hundred denarii is not nothing. It’s something. Five loaves of bread and two fish are not nothing. They are something. And as long as you are looking at what you have only in the light of what you need, it will also look like nothing in your eyes. And if you’re looking at what you have and calling it “nothing,” then that is proof that you are not thankful for what you have. 

Evidently Jesus did not look at the boy’s lunch and call it “nothing.” He took it, and the Bible tells us the first thing He did with it was give thanks. I know that five loaves and two small fish do not seem like much to be thankful for when you compare it to the needs of 5,000 or more hungry people. But you need to know that the miracle that took place in this story, the one you are so familiar with, didn’t occur until after Jesus had given thanks for what He did have. And you would have to add to the Bible to say that Jesus uttered even one word to the Father concerning the need at hand. All we know is that He gave thanks for what He did have, and what He did have began to multiply. 

If someone were to tell us when we were little kids clutching our one-dollar bills from Grandad that one day we would have hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of these dollars, we might not have known what to do with ourselves. But as we’ve grown, so have our needs and our visions. Believe me, if you haven’t already, you will one day soon be tempted to look at what you have, or better yet, what the Lord has blessed you with, and compare it to all that you still need. But as long as you look at what you have only in the light of what You need, what you have will look like nothing. And if you look at what you need only in the light of what you have, then what you need will look like everything! Clearly, the only option for us is to change the light we’re looking in.

Start by acknowledging that what you have in your hand, though it may seem small to you, is a gift from God. Be thankful for it. Be quick to acknowledge that only by the grace of God you have something, and that something is not nothing. So the question you must ask is, “If I’ve got something, and that something is not nothing, then what is that something?” I believe the something you have can be two things. It can be a seed, or it can be a start. I’ll explain.

In January of 2012, Sarah and I were impressed by the Holy Spirit that we were supposed to pay off our little home which would get us completely out of debt. We still owed most of the value of the home, and being young in marriage and in ministry, we didn’t have nearly enough in the bank to get it done. But instead of comparing the bigness of the need to the smallness of what we had, we looked at what was in the bank and decided that it was a start. We took a big chunk out of our account right away and put it towards the house. Then we started putting extra on it each month. Over the next several months, it seemed like extra money was coming to us from every direction; and in just six months, we were halfway there. But then in June, it all seemed to slow down, and I began to put myself under pressure to pay off the house. Where’s the money going to come from? I thought. How am I going to pay this thing off when there’s still so much more to go? At the end of that summer, we made two decisions that I believe were key to accomplishing what God had instructed us to do. 

We began by looking to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” There was only one person at that time that owed us some money. We had offered to loan them what they needed, which was a pretty big chunk of change for us and one I would have loved to have been able to apply to our debt. But instead of demanding that they pay us, we chose instead to forgive the debt and treat it as a seed into their lives. 

Around that same time, I went before the Lord and told Him that I would not be bringing up the house in prayer ever again. If He wanted to talk about it, He was going to have to start the conversation. I’m not sure I knew what I was doing at the time, but I can see now that I was casting the care of our debt freedom onto Him, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made. At the end of September, two very big and very unexpected checks came to us on the same day that completely paid off the balance of the house. In nine months, the Lord took us from being six figures in debt to totally debt free! 

If we had looked at what we had in the bank in the light of what we needed, we would have been tempted to see it as small and insignificant, and we may have been tempted to say that it might as well have been nothing. But what we had wasn’t nothing. It was something. Though that something wasn’t enough to do the whole job, it was enough to start. Sometimes just starting with what you’ve got is a demonstration of faith, and it is enough to give God something to respond to. He has given you a calling and a vision for your life, but He doesn’t expect you to be the perfect fulfillment of it by 8:30 a.m. Monday. He just wants to see that you have faith enough to start moving in that direction. 

As you take stock of what you have in your hand, go before the Lord, and find out if there is a seed in there that He wants you to sow. I’m so thankful now that we forgave that debt and treated it as a seed. I am confident that it was the door of access that was opened to God and allowed Him to work so miraculously in our lives. Never underestimate the value of a seed.

You have something, and that something is not nothing. It may seem small, but seeds always are. It may not be enough to get the whole job done, but is it enough to get started? Never again look at what you have only in the light of what you need. And stop looking at what you need only in the light of what you have. Look at both in the light of the Word of God, and you’ll see that what you have is bigger than you think, and what you need is smaller than it seems.