What does an abundant life look like?

One thrashing rainy night came a knock on a door in an impoverished fishing village. The door opened to reveal a huddled woman who had lost both husband and son in the French civil war. She had come all the way from Paris seeking sanctuary with this poor peasant family recommended to her by a mutual friend.

“Babette can cook,” the simple letter of introduction read. These were poor people but they took her in and cared for her, sharing their monotonous meals of codfish and gruel.

Twelve years went by. Then one day Babette received a letter from Paris, informing her that she had won 10,000 francs in a lottery. What a reversal—from pauper to princess!! Soon after, Babette asked if she could prepare a real French dinner for her benefactors in the village.

In the next weeks, boat after boat docked at the village unloading exotic provisions. When the evening arrived, the austere villagers were astounded at Babette’s resplendent table. She offered course after course of delicacies—turtle soup, stuffed baby quail, the finest champagne.

The exquisite meal worked a magic on the dutiful but dour villagers. Gradually they loosened up, forgave one another their grudges, enjoyed each others’ company and went home singing, something they had not done together in years.

After the meal, someone found the exhausted Babette in the kitchen and asked, now that she was a wealthy woman, when she would be returning to Paris. She told them, to their surprise, she was not going back. “What about your 10,000 francs?” they asked in amazement.

Babette looked up and told them she had spent all her winnings, every last franc, on the meal they had just devoured. Babette now revealed that before she had to flee the city, she was chef at the Café Anglais, the most famous restaurant in all of Paris. “Don’t be shocked,” Babette said to them, “10,000 francs is what a proper meal for twelve costs at the Café Anglais.” (I first heard this story in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace.)

Such grace is shocking. It takes our breath away. Babette had all the choices 10,000 francs could bring—yet for 12 years she had experienced grace herself and she became shockingly grace-full in giving back.

Babette’s feast is an example of an abundance mentality.

Those who realize the immensity of grace they have received can be graceful in giving . Click To Tweet

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

What Is True Wealth?

An interesting article in The Guardian newspaper, “There’s more to Britain’s wealth than its Bank Balance,” speaks of money in ways we are not used to hearing. 

It is a truism that money has no value in itself, only in what it allows you to buy. Money is only a proxy for wealth, and a deeply imperfect one at that. Real wealth consists in what we are able to own or consume, not in the size of our bank balances. Real wealth therefore grows when we can have more of, or better of, the things that enable us to live well. We are truly enriched by warmer houses, better medical care, healthier food.

The author makes a good point. Money can indeed provide some of the goods and services that contribute to living well. But not all!

What makes a person “wealthy” is often found in things money cannot provide: relationships, purpose and meaning, inner peace.

The article concludes, “what matters most is giving people the resources they need to live better, which doesn’t necessarily require giving them more cash.” While the article does not move beyond physical needs, it’s obvious that many of the resources that make us “healthy, wealthy and wise” (as Ben Franklin put it) are not financial.

Money ≠ Wealth

The Bible warns us that accumulating money does not secure true wealth:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)

My wife Marilyn had a poignant experience of this, as many others in our age group have experienced or soon will. She cleared out her family home in Iowa after her parents passed away. After she returned from this trip, we were talking about her parents’ accumulation over their lifetime. What do you do with it? She shipped a few things from Iowa to California where we lived: some dishes, a few wall-hangings, her Dad’s favorite chair. But all the rest of it was loaded up by an auctioneer who predicted it might bring a few hundred dollars after his expenses.

Now, her folks were solidly middle class—they had lots of nice things. When I visited her home for the first time after we began dating, I remember I was impressed with all they had.

As they purchased these things over the years, I’m sure many were special to them. Yet Marilyn’s comment was, “How sad that two lives could come down to just this stuff, most of which no one will ever care about.” Then she added, “It’s really true what the Bible says, ‘don’t lay up treasures on earth’…”

As this passage continues, the next words from Jesus offer a real spiritual jolt:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” (Matt. 6:24)

This word “Mammon” is a curious one. It’s not just another word for money, although it’s often translated that way.

Mammon is actually the name of a rival god, a spiritual power. That’s why many Bible translations capitalize it. New Testament scholar Dale Bruner writes this about Mammon in this familiar passage:

The god Mammon is left with his pagan name to remind us that he is a spiritual force who works with tremendous attracting power to draw us into his orbit of influence and out from under the exclusive service of Christ. 

For we will do almost anything to succeed. And since one of the major badges of success is the possession of fine things or money, we will often find ourselves in the train of the worshippers of Mammon.

These are sobering words. Whatever we say about our faith in God or following Jesus, in 21st century American culture few things more profoundly shape whether we are actually trusting God and following Jesus than how we handle our money.

An Abundance Mentality?

What is this abundant life Jesus keeps talking about (John 10:10)? So many are searching for an abundant life today, including a good many of us.

It is a life that rejects the notion of that life is a zero-sum game—that for some to have more, others must have less. It is a life that believes at its core that there is more than enough for me.

God has more than enough grace and mercy for me—therefore, I can be vulnerable with God about the ways I have fallen short and trust that I will be forgiven rather than think I’ve always got to be proving myself worthy of forgiveness. And because I’ve experienced God’s generosity in my forgiveness, it’s far easier to forgive others.

God has more than enough love for me—therefore, I can focus my love and attention on others, trusting that my reservoir of love will always be replenished.

God has given me more than enough talents and abilities to have a satisfying, significant life—therefore, I can focus my talents and gifts on others as well as enjoying them for myself.

God has given me more than enough resources to keep body and soul together—therefore, I can be generous and even sacrificial in sharing my money with my church and others in need of what I have in abundance. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have brought this home to us.

God gives you and me the opportunity to each pull up our chairs to God’s feast.

As we recognize the abundance of God’s feast in our lives…we will reject all the false zero-sum gods like Mammon. As we, like Babette, become grace-full…we joyfully share all we have with others.

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