Thursday, May 04, 2017

An Unexpected Discipline - Plenty

There are perils to plenty.  Wait!  It's America:  we are full to the brim with the desire to be overflowing with plenty!  Even if we come through times of having less, we not only hope for plenty, but see it as a blessing of God to have plenty.  God is also bountiful in his language to us about provision and plenty.  He has given us the whole world!  There are perils? 

There is an inherent discipline awaiting us in plenty.  And the greatest discipline is in our relationship with God.  We rarely forget God in our place of need, hurt and loss, but in plenty is where the test really comes.  The testing of our commitment, obedience and focus really comes in the lap of plenty and not in the pit of need.  

In which are we most hungry for God?  
In which do we seek after the purposes of God in our lives? 

The apostle Paul speaks well of the solution for our lives in both areas.  "Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned to be content in whatever state I find myself.  I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty.  I have learned to be content in whatever situation I find myself, whether with a full stomach or empty, whether in plenty or little." (Philippians 4:11, 12)

How does he do this?  How many of us "hunger" for more (food, goods, power, status) whether we are with or without! Luckily, in verse 13, he tells us how contentment is achieved in his life.  It's a verse that is often used completely out of context, but Paul is making it clear about what drives his contentment:  "For I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."

Essentially, he is saying that satisfaction in life cannot come from life itself.  Plenty is not the answer.  It warps.  It passes. It can never "fill" our truest need, which is for Christ himself.

In the Old Testament, God knew the Israelites would struggle with the good and plenty he was going to give them in Canaan, their land of promise.  It was their greatest expectation of God - that he was going to give them land teeming with abundance.  And he wanted to give it to them. Yet he understood there would be a discipline in finally getting to have and hold that land of plenty.

Just before they enter through the river Jordan, Moses gives God's message of plenty laced with a message of warning in Deuteronomy, chapters 7-9.  He reminds the Israelites of the promises of God which were going to be fulfilled for them in Canaan - plenty, productivity, proliferation.  Yet, with each there were parallel reminders.  Food isn't everything.  Real life comes from God.  Don't confuse the gifts with the Giver, the provision with the Provider.

He warns them.  Don't forget so as to disobey him, as in to get off track of what is right living.  Don't become proud and forget God, and to think this plenty had been achieved on their own power.  Don't worship things instead of God.

He then instructs them about the discipline needed to live with plenty:

     1)  To remember what God had brought them out of.  To remember the miracles God had worked to bring them this far.  If they had any power and possibilities, it was God who had given them.

   2)  To retain humbleness and not elevate self over others and over God himself. 

   3) To trust God, especially in view of the feelings of self- satisfaction, self-sufficiency and self-dependence, which can arise with plenty. 

     4)  To bless the Lord for what He had given.

It's an interesting thought to contemplate what it means to bless God.  Doesn't he have it all already?  To bless is to kneel before God, to salute and praise him for the blessing you received.  God wants to join in the joy of the blessing.  He doesn't just intend to be available to save a bad day or even to receive a note of gratitude, but to join the glory of the riches he provides.  Why else does God have such a history so as to "encamp" (abide) with his people historically and presently? He wants to join in the meal, the fellowship, the peace, the comfort.

This is the discipline of plenty.  To place yourself in right position to keep God first and foremost when you are in the greatest place of comfort and ease.  It doesn't mean to deny yourself the plenty, but to use it rightly as a platform for keeping God and his advancing kingdom first in your life.

Shakespeare has an interesting take on living in plenty: "Contentment is a crown few kings enjoy."  We are surely heirs in the kingdom.  Let's enjoy the privilege and be content with the good gifts of God, whether little or much.  

Paul has a piece of guidance to give his young mentor, Timothy, about contentment, "Godliness with contentment is great gain."*  This statement causes me to consider how to hold the qualities of God together with the abundance of my life today.  How do I develop and pursue God's standard for my life within the great gift of plenty? 

*(1 Timothy 6:6-10)

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