Friday, October 19, 2007

The abundant life...

Terry Rayburn has recorded another excellent program for Grace Walk Radio this week. In this week's program, entitled "Is The Abundant Life Only For Heaven?", Terry brings up too many great points to discuss here (so I encourage you to listen to it - it's about 14 minutes). But part of his program really goes along well with thoughts I've had for a long time about God's supply for the Christian. We modern day western Christians think of God's supply, and His "blessings," in terms that are so different from many people in other parts of the world.

While flipping through the TV channels a few weeks ago (part of my blessed, abundant life, right?), I came across a program that is essentially a "Christian" version of American Idol. The contestants are all Christians, and it all has to do with Christian music. The winner that night spewed all the usual Christian jargon. Stuff like: "I just know God has blessed me." "I just know that God was with me in this all the way."

Well, what about the losers? They're Christians too. Has God not been with them? Has God not blessed them?

And then tonight I just happened to catch part of a show called "The Next Great American Band" (from the producers of American Idol). Well, one of the bands in the contest was known as the Clark Brothers. I was truly amazed at their performance. Turns out that these 3 brothers are members of a family with a total of 11 siblings. They described their father as a traveling evangelist. The lyrical content of the song they performed was definitely "Christian." The three judges could not say enough great things about them, and they moved on to the next level of the competition with no problems. Well, you know where I'm going with this. The brothers said they felt "blessed" about being given this opportunity to move on to the next round.

So my question... Is this what it means to be blessed by God? To have the opportunity to win competitions? What if a Christian enters a competition and doesn't win? Is he or she still "blessed?"

Well, back to Terry's program. Terry speaks of a friend of his, a retired physician, who had just returned with his wife from a trip to Malawi, a country in Africa. This retired physician was well-qualified to compare the differences between the medical help that was available in the United States with the medical help (or lack thereof) that was available in Malawi. In this physician's home town here in the U.S., there is a hospital with two hundred beds and more than six hundred physicians. Over 200 of these physicians are specialists. But the hospital he saw in Malawi had several hundred beds... but just ONE physician.

It's reported that 14.2% of the population in Malawi has HIV/AIDS. Almost 100,000 people per year die from AIDS. The people of Malawi, according to this physician, eat maize three times a day, mostly made into a form of grits. 6% of the people of Malawi have electricity. And basically, the people have very little opportunity to do anything about this way of life.

"And yet," says Terry, "there is a vibrant Christian community in Malawi." See, this community of Christians is not relying on what we understand as blessings and prosperity in order to have an abundant, vibrant Christian life.

So, who's got it right? Us or them? Are we "blessed" and living in "God's supply" because we have all our physical and material needs met? What if we can't come up with the mortgage payment this month? What if we pray hard and we still don't receive our "need?" What if little Johnny has holes in his shoes but we can't afford to buy him a new pair? Are we only living in God's supply if someone comes along and gives us money to buy a pair of shoes? As per my last post, is that really what Paul means by "my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus?"

What if we're working hard to spread the gospel, "laboring more abundantly" than others, as Paul said he was, by the grace of God, and yet we find ourselves hungry, shipwrecked, beaten, naked... etc, etc. Have we missed the supply of God?


  1. Joel,

    I don't know if I know the answer. Certainly God can and does bless us materially. Maybe we have a wrong notion of what a need is. We could take the stance (and I have in the past) that if God didn't give it to us then we didn't need it. I don't think that explanation satisfies me completely. Our bodies need food. Does that mean that God is a liar if we die of starvation in a prison cell because shared the Gospel in China?

    Maybe the person that won the contest and the person that didn't are both blessed by God, but in different ways. The person that won is blessed monetarily and the one that lost is blessed by being drawn to a closer walk with God.

    I remember being told by different people at different times not to pray for patience because the way God gives it to you isn't very pleasant. It certainly would be a blessing to have patience, but at the same time do we view the process God used to give us patience as being part of the blessing? But how can we separate a blessing from the hand that dispensed the blessing?

    So I guess that in my view there are two sides to the coin. We need a recalibration of our idea of what a blessing is and what our need is. I think that the only thing that we really need is Christ and everything else, even our lives, are considered loss for the sake of the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus.

    In Christ,

  2. Those are great thoughts, Gary. We hear stories of Christian martyrs throughout the ages, and for the most part I don't think we can relate to how they viewed the abundant life, if that's what it meant. Paul had learned contentment no matter what his circumstances, and from that point of view I believe he lived more abundantly than the richest of the world's richest people today.

    I like your thought about recalibrating our idea of what a blessing is and what our need is.

    I'm certainly not in a place where I'm going to deny that a person with an abundance of material possessions has been blessed by God, but I'm just in an ongoing process of thinking and rethinking through all this...