Jesus says: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
The theme of this study is Abundance.* Each of the 8 sessions will be connected by this theme – What does it mean to live the good life? What does it mean to have enough? What does it mean to have abundant life?
Part of the reason I settled on this theme is because we live in one of the wealthiest societies in human history. And being here in Ancaster, we live in one of the richest communities in Canada. Yet we also live in a time where we are increasingly aware that even here in Canada this abundance is not being spread around equally – in fact many are falling behind while others are becoming much wealthier. We also know quite well that increasing material prosperity does not necessarily lead to happiness, and in fact often seems to lead to less happiness and contentment.
Another reason is that as a church we are in the midst of experiencing a season God’s Abundance – both in the Access Project as well as in a feeling of renewal and hope here in the church. This raises questions of how we can continue to grow as stewards of the abundance God has given us, both in terms of material things but also the spiritual blessings we have been given.
Each session is designed to be self-contained. If you can only make it to one, or a few you won’t be lost. Each session will be connected to the others by the common theme of Abundance, but each one will look at a different aspect of this theme.
For this initial session I want to introduce a basic question that I’ll be touching on in most of the sessions. “Is there enough for all?” “Do we live in a world of abundance or scarcity?” “Does God give his blessings abundantly and to all?”
But before we get into this big question, I want to ask how it applies to our own lives. Ask yourself: In your life do you feel like you have had what you needed to live a good life? Have you been given more than you need? Do you feel like you’ve struggled to have enough to get through life? Has this changed over time? How did you feel when you were younger? How do you feel about having enough now?
One of the great themes of the Bible is that the God of Israel and the God revealed in Jesus is a God who provides for his people. In the great story of the Exodus the people of Israel experienced blessing after blessing as God freed them from slavery in Egypt, led them safely through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. God provided them with enough every step of the way.
One of my favourite stories from the Exodus is the story of the Manna, or Bread from Heaven. Read and reflect on Exodus 16:1-36. What stands out for you in this story?
One thing that stands out for me is the question of trust. In spite of all that the people of Israel had seen God do for them so far they found it hard to trust that he was going to provide for them in a new day. How are we today when it comes to trusting God for “our daily bread” and the other things we need in life?
The other thing that stands out for me is that some among the Israelites did come to trust in God’s abundance – those who only gathered enough manna for one day for their families, who didn’t try to hoard it, and trusted God would provide for the Sabbath day. They were looking at the world and God through the lens of abundance. Others tried to gather as much as they could, tried to hoard it over night, and go out to find more on the Sabbath. They were looking at the world and living through a lens of scarcity. Both groups experienced the same blessing of manna and quails every day, yet each saw God and the world quite differently. So one question I ask is are we living our lives today through the lens of abundance and trust, or through the lens of scarcity and self-reliance?
Some other questions to consider: What is appealing to you about the image of God providing enough for everyone among the people of Israel? What is challenging (think about how no one was allowed to have more than others)? How does this connect with the world we experience today?
With the coming of Jesus we see a movement from God’s promise to provide his people with enough, to the new world of his Kingdom where there will be an overflowing abundance for all people. We see this in the well known story of “The Feeding of the 5000” which appears in all four Gospels. Here we see Jesus take the old story of the manna in the wilderness and but move it into the new and more abundant world of the Kingdom.
Read and reflect on John 6:1-15. What stands out for you in this story?
How does it connect with the story of the Manna (notice that John tells it happened during Passover when the Exodus story is remembered by Jews)? What is similar to the story from Exodus? What is different? Do you find hope in the fact that Jesus provides not only enough for all, but that in the end there is more than twelve baskets full left over when all have eaten their fill? What might this suggest about the blessings Jesus gives us, and the blessings he allows us to share with each other (like the boy with his loaves and fishes)?
Now so far we have been talking mainly about material things. There are of course other goods and blessings in life. Indeed having our physical needs met is almost never enough for us to have a good life.
Read on a little further to John 6:25-27. What do you think Jesus means by “food that endures for eternal life”? What kind of bread or food do we spend most of our lives working for?
*This study is adapted from Abundance: Living Responsibly with God’s Gifts by John W. Peterson published by Abingdon Press in 2001.