“I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b
I know something about abundance. After all, I am Italian. There used to be a commercial for spaghetti sauce on television years ago, where some Italian actress would say at the end: “Abbondanza.”
We Italians are all about abundance. We had an abundance of people. We never had a family dinner without at least three card tables and a piano bench added to the dining table. My grandmother’s favorite quip was “We squeeze!” We learned to eat spaghetti while keeping our elbows flat against our rib cage. Getting up during a meal usually involved crawling under the table.
We had an abundance of food. My mother believed that you were a failure as a cook if you didn’t have at least 50% leftover—she was not a failure. There were usually so many dishes they didn’t all fit on the table. My mother sat nearest to the kitchen, so she could get up and refill dishes more easily. In fact, I’m not sure that she ever sat down.
We had an abundance of love, laughter, tears, anger and sheer volume. My family did everything big.
But guess what? Jesus did too.
I sometimes wonder if Jesus wasn’t a little bit Italian. His first miracle was changing water into wine. But he didn’t just make enough wine, he made too much—nearly 200 gallons of the best wine on the planet.
And when he fed the 5000, he didn’t provide enough bread to feed everyone, he provided too much. There were 12 baskets left over. When he told Peter and the gang to “let down their nets” (after they had been fishing all night and caught nothing), they hauled in not just “enough” fish but a boatload, literally: 153 to be exact. It cracks me up that John gives the exact number, just to prove how WAY TOO MUCH it was.
Jesus, in short was really too much. This Too Muchness is a sign of his extravagant love, a Too Much love that at times can swamp us, make us breathless with wonder. Abundance. It’s a beautiful thing.
So why do we so often feel as though we are not getting enough? Why aren’t we experiencing this abundance in our own lives all the time? How do we turn our Not Enoughness into Too Muchness, Jesus style?
One of the things you notice about those Bible stories is that every single one of them started with nothing. The wedding hosts weren’t just running out of wine, they had run out. The 5000 weren’t running out of food, they had no food at all. The fisherman had spent the entire night fishing and had caught—nothing.
So maybe that’s the first clue. If you want Too Much, start with Nothing. Not just running low, running on empty.
Years ago I read Jill Briscoe’s book, A Little Pot of Oil. You remember that story? The widow went to the prophet Elisha saying her husband had left her massive debts and she couldn’t pay the creditors. They would soon come and take her sons as slaves. Elisha asked her what she had in the house—she told him there was nothing but a small jar of oil. Elisha told her to collect some jars from the neighbors and pour out her little pot of oil into all the jars, and they would be filled. And they were.
So there’s the second clue. In order to get filled, we first have to pour out, become empty, if we aren’t already. This is not easy. Nor is it always voluntary. I can’t tell you how many times God has forced to me to come to the end of my rope, to throw up my hands and say, I’m done! I’ve got nothing! Good, He says. Now I can do my thing.
But at least I am in good company on that score. Before the Israelites could experience the abundance of the Promised Land, they had to spend a long time in the desert, experiencing an abundance of nothingness. And it took forty years. Let’s hope we get the message a little sooner, right?
Psalm 31 says, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.”
You bestow in the sight of all. Every one of those miracles of abundance was witnessed by many. Look around. Do you see abundance of good things in the lives of others? Those who fear God and take refuge in Him? Isn’t that all He requires: not how much we do, but how much we trust?
God is storing up good things in abundance for us. That’s a promise. It may not be an abundance of money, or health, or children, square footage, or TV screen size. We don’t always know what form that abundance will take. But one thing is for sure—with Jesus, it always means an abundance of love.