A friend recently asked me if I enjoyed spending time in downtown Wilmington. My immediate response was “downtown means work, tourists, traffic, etc., so no, I’d rather be somewhere else.” In the moment, I was tired and had just worked a long day at the church, but I could tell that my response took her aback. As a native Wilmingtonian, she loves to go downtown and experience the culture at the heart of Wilmington, like the weekly street fairs, the museums, the riverfront, carriage rides, music festivals, the Battleship, and Thalian Hall, just to name a few.
After talking with my friend, I realized that I might need to change my approach. Yes, when I usually go downtown, I am going to work, but our church building is just one building among the many blocks that constitute the downtown area. I’ve also experienced and participated in many of the cultural opportunities that our downtown area has to offer, but that wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. In that moment, I could only see the mundanity of my life, instead of the many ways that God blesses me every day.
Jesus’s followers often had difficulty appreciating the everyday blessings in their lives too. In Matthew 6:25-27 as part of his “Sermon on the Mount,” he admonishes his audience for approaching the future from a sense of scarcity: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Just like me, the people were focusing on the wrong things. Instead of looking around and seeing the provision that God already provided, they only saw the problems in their life and looked to Jesus to provide more for them. Later, in Matthew 14, Jesus lives out this lesson when he feeds the five thousand. Once again, just like me, the disciples approached this problem from a position of scarcity. But Jesus was confident that there was enough. According to verse 19, Jesus, “taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, gave thanks and broke the loaves.” After they distributed the food to everyone, there were even twelve basketfuls of food left over! But when does this miracle truly happen? Was it when the disciples distributed the food, or was it when Jesus gave thanks and blessed the food? Maybe the lesson here is not that Jesus can perform miracles, but that we should, like Jesus, be confident and content with what has already been provided. Maybe I need to learn this lesson by being content with the beautiful workplace and the beautiful city that God has provided as my home.
This Fall, Anna and I are a “host family” for an international student named Falco from Bavaria, Germany. We have enjoyed learning about Falco’s home, but we’ve also enjoyed showing him some of our favorite places in Wilmington. For our first dinner with him, we got takeout from “Zocalo’s,” our favorite restaurant in town. A couple weeks ago, I took Falco downtown to my favorite lunch spot at “Slice of Life” and then we toured the Battleship North Carolina. As an electrical engineer, he especially loved learning about the intricacies of the battleship’s weapons systems, radar targeting, driveshafts, and electric turbines. Just like most North Carolina schoolchildren, I had toured the battleship multiple times, but through Falco’s enthusiasm and excitement, I learned to appreciate this marvel of technology in a completely new way. Falco taught me an important lesson that day, to never lose my sense of wonder, even when I’m experiencing something that I’ve done before, or when I’m in my own backyard. The next time someone asks me about the Wilmington downtown area, I hope that I’ll look past the busy traffic and irritating tourists, and that I’ll remember Jesus’s lesson of thankfulness: to appreciate the beautiful, marvelous city where I am blessed to live, work, and play.
By: Steven Thomason, Minister of Traditional Worship