Abundant blessings

When was the last time you were overcome with gratitude for the blessings in your life? When was the last time you paused and let that gratitude sink in, maybe with tears in your eyes, or with your hands clasped and head bowed? That was my experience last weekend when my husband and I drove to the southern tier of New York State to visit a friend and lead the discussion at her church’s Sunday School. John and I drove north along the Delaware River, then cut west across the Poconos and northwest again along the Susquehanna River to Spencer, NY, where my friend Sabrina is the pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church. Sabrina cooked us dinner and we caught up on the events in our lives. We stayed overnight at the delightful Slice of Home Bed and Breakfast, then I led the Sunday School scripture reading and discussion, and John and I worshiped with the congregation. Everyone was warm and welcoming, truly displaying their gifts of hospitality, music, and praise. Sabrina has been the pastor there for about 18 months and her boundless enthusiasm is reflected in those around her. It was a joy to spend that time together in that way.

The scripture verses we explored together were Luke 5:1-11, Jesus calling his first disciples. It tells of Simon and his fellow fishers sending all night on the water and catching nothing. After hearing Jesus teach about the Word of God and instructing Simon to let his nets down into the deep water, Simon and his companions, James and John, catch so many fish that their nets start to tear and their boats nearly sink. In the midst of this magnificent abundance Simon falls to his knees and declares his unworthiness! He sees no reason to receive this good fortune. Jesus, however, is confident that no mistake has been made. Jesus even promises more – that he will make Simon Peter, James, and John fishers of people. They will see and perform miracles that will lead others to Christ, and will restore relationships with God. I doubt that Simon Peter, James, and John understood what Jesus meant but they followed him anyway.

Their willingness to leave their nets and boats – at the height of their careers thus far! – and follow Jesus seemed remarkable to us and I reflected on the fact that God asks us to be willing. If we are willing then we will be equipped for the journey along the way. We don’t have to know things fully or be experts in order to step out on our journey. God doesn’t expect or require our perfection, just our willingness to be open, to learn and grow, and to share our gifts. We also need to be willing to accept gifts, especially the gift of God’s abundant grace. Simon Peter resisted the abundance of the catch at first, but Jesus ignored his protests and basically said, “You think that was good? You’re going to be catching people!” Simon Peter moved past his resistance and accepted grace.

My homework assignment for the group was this: to look for instances of abundant blessings in your life and observe your resistance to those blessings. Maybe you will be blessed with an offer of help, or forgiveness, or an offer to share in someone else’s good fortune. Will you resist, feeling unworthy? Will you resist, not wanting to feel as if you are in someone else’s debt? Or will you accept the offer, the gift, the blessing, or the forgiveness, feeling and accepting the love that is at the heart of it? I pray that you will let the love in. I know it’s not always easy to let down your guard and let in the grace. God’s love is a gift, given freely, and given through broken, imperfect people like me and you.

Loving God, I praise you for the blessings in my life and for meeting my resistance with abundant grace. Amen.

Saving the good stuff

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.’” Exodus 16:4

I was really happy with a devotional I had written and I thought I’d post it to my blog. Then I thought of the devotionals I had committed to writing for a publisher and I wondered about copyright issues. If I posted it here I might not be able to send it to the publisher, so maybe I should hold onto it and save it for that purpose. The problem with that, however, was that the essay wouldn’t be published for almost a year. Was I really going to wait that long to share it? Waiting really meant that I wasn’t confident that I’d have more good ideas to write about. A lack of confidence had me thinking about saving the “good stuff” in fear of a future scarcity. What if I couldn’t write more essays that I was happy with to send to the publisher?

Fortunately, my faith teaches me that God’s inspiration and grace are not finite resources. I do not have to live with a mindset of scarcity, but can live with a belief in God’s abundance. Like the Israelites who were given their daily manna and quails, I can give of myself each day and be confident that the well of inspiration will not run dry.

Are you saving your good stuff (love, talent, money, time), fearful that if you share it with others you may not get any more in the future? At Thanksgiving we are reminded to give thanks and share our abundance with others, but at other times of the year (or even the next week!) that mindset slips away. With repeated practice can we change our minds and our habits. We can do so by surrounding ourselves with stories of faith, remembering acts of bravery and good will carried out in the face of ill will, and giving thanks for the daily blessings and grace we receive.

Oscar Hammerstein wrote the following lyrics and they remind me to be generous in sharing: “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it – A song’s not a song ’til you sing it – Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”

Happy Give-thanksing to you!

Lord, give me the confidence to live with faith in your abundant grace and love. Amen.