Thursday, May 6, 2010

God's Extravagance

I've a Bible in which I've marked, noted, and underlined different passages. Some of my underlined passages are in Ephesians.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us (Eph. 1:7-8)… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints … the immeasurable greatness of his power … the working of his great power (Eph. 1:18-19) … the boundless riches of Christ (3:8)… the wisdom of God in its rich variety… (3:10).

And another passage:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (3:20-21).

I’ve noted beside 2:10 that the original Greek word for “manifold” (poluroikilos) means “many-colored.” Imagine God pouring his grace, ladling his grace to us in huge, generous servings, and we come back for more and more! Alternately, imagine God splashing us, splattering us with great colorful heaps of blessing. Psalm 23 provides a similar image of abundance: the overflowing cup. What a relief that was to discover: God’s grace is so much more than a warm feeling, so much more than rules to keep. Grace is more than even the help that we seek when we’re desperate: God’s grace is abundance, riches, and excess. Similarly, Jesus promised us abundant life: excessive life, outpouring life.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

The Greek word perisseia means “abundance” and “overflow.” The word alludes to the feeding of the multitudes, a story which, interestingly, is the only miracle (besides the resurrection) that is told in all four gospels (Mat. 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13). Other important stories—the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the raising of Lazarus, the angelic appearance to the shepherds, and others—are not similarly repeated in all four. But the prevalence of this miracle alerts us to its importance; the life Jesus bestows is never stingy and grudging, and is certainly never earned.

Part of our spiritual growth is “plugging into” the abundance of God’s grace and finding confidence in the assurance of God’s love, favor, forgiveness, and presence. Just as a child needs demonstrations of love from a parent, or a lover requires reminders from the beloved, so we need expressions of God’s love. Miracles in our lives can serve, but so can certain scriptures, like these words originally addressed to the Hebrews but applied to us, too.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”
(Isa. 43:1b-2)

Here is a favorite verse in Luke:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:6-7).

And these underlined verses:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the
child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
(Matt. 7:9-10).

Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7)

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

For if we have been united within him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Rom. 6:5).

I love the story of Peter’s imprisonment in Acts 12:1-17, partly because it gives me confidence amid my own spiritual inadequacy. While he languishes in jail, Peter's friends pray for his well-being. Then Peter is miraculously released. He goes to his friends’ house, but they won’t let him in; they say he can’t be him! Apparently the friends didn’t expect their prayers to be answered! It's true that sometimes our prayers aren't answered the way we think, or we pray and things still turn out badly, or our prayers are answered, but over the long haul. But sometimes are prayers are answered, and we feel startled that God has acted so abundantly! Why would we ever think God counts on the adequacy of our prayers and motives? God can answer prayer in surprising ways in spite of the shortfalls of our belief.

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