For a while now I’ve felt God pressing into the places of my unbelief that He is faithful and will provide for us in all circumstances (you may remember this post from this past winter).
About a month ago, at a friend’s suggestion, I looked into the life of George Mueller. I began with a small book of excerpts from his diary. I tucked it into my purse to read on the bus, but was soon gripped by account after account of God’s provision. Sometimes the provision came just in time (money the day rent was due, bread as the family prepared to sit down for dinner) and sometimes it came as soon as he prayed. God provided money, food, material items, workers and supplies for the orphan home he founded, physical strength, and even a vacation. All without Mueller expressing his needs or desires to anyone but God. Now I’m working my way through a biography of George Mueller by Roger Steer. Every time I open it, I’m challenged by the account of this man who was so enthralled by the sweet mercies and graciousness of God that he trusted Him to provide for every need, large or small. I can feel it shifting the paradigms of my heart.
This shifting kicked into high gear a couple weeks ago when Dave Blackwell spoke at the Boiler Room about the abundance of Jesus (you can listen to his talk here – do it). He began by sharing a story about when an uncle of theirs came to visit and took them out to dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant on the plaza. When Dave opened the menu, he immediately went to the cheapest item on the menu – the fish sandwich. He was all set to order it when the uncle asked if they liked crab legs. When they answered that, sure, they liked them, he proceeded to order several pounds of crab legs. And from then on, if they even so much as mentioned that something sounded good, the uncle would call a waiter over and order it. This uncle’s generosity was so extravagant, far beyond the fish sandwich that Dave would have chosen for himself.
Then Dave retold the story of the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:5-13), a situation where it would have been impossible for the disciples to give even the barest minimum, even just a mouthful, to the multitudes. Yet Jesus supplied as much as they wanted and then some – twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone had eaten their fill. Then came the story of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), where Jesus provided the equivalent to about six hundred bottles of wine, because He cares about the celebration and the details. He wanted to show His glory, to challenge the disciples with the reality of His overflowing bounty. He wanted to reveal the character of the Father, the extravagant giver.
I recognized myself in Dave’s description of “the fish sandwich kind of people,” the ones who settle for the cheapest thing they can get, the bare minimum of what they need. Not only do I literally order the cheapest item on the menu when I go to a restaurant, but I’ve locked the highest bar of my expectation of God’s provision on just getting by with the basics. I even remember a time, shortly after I graduated from high school, when I classified myself as “working class poor…those people who work and work and work but only barely make ends meet. They are the people who drive junkers or walk because they don’t have a car at all. They aren’t homeless or starving; they just never get beyond the basics of getting by.” (from my journal, October 4, 2005). Even more recently I’ve often felt a nagging weight of fear that it’s all up to me to work hard, to earn my way, to make sure we get by. This leaves no space, no expectation, for the abundant, extravagant generosity of the Father.
So that afternoon I began confessing this wrong mindset towards God and asking Him to reveal more of who He is, more of His goodness, faithfulness, and provision. Over and over the prayer broke out of me: show me. Show me. Please, Abba, show me.
And He has.
First it was through boxes and bags of things sent home with me from work as we cleaned and packed up our classrooms: a whole pack of computer paper, several jars of peanut butter, ice cream (the same day that Derek had mentioned a little wistfully how good ice cream sounded), apples….and hundreds – yes, hundreds – of mozzarella cheese sticks. I brought home four gallon-sized Ziploc bags full of them and we threw away more besides that. I gave them away to the interns, to friends, to neighbors, to the kids, and still there were more than we could eat ourselves. (Derek joked that it was kind of like in Exodus when the Israelites were set free from slavery and left carrying the riches of the land with them).
The next day we finished packing the last of the classrooms. As we gathered up our things to leave, I noticed the schoolyard garden, still full of vegetables, and asked if we needed to do something with it. My boss, flustered with the final details of packing everything, said that she’d pay me a little extra time if I stayed to clear it out. So I recruited a friend from the Boiler Room and we spent a couple hours chatting as we cut vegetables and tugged out weeds. In the end, we brought home four large grocery bags full of fresh, homegrown vegetables: kale, collards, red potatoes, beets, onions, and cilantro. I gave some to the teachers and staff at the school, sent some home with the friend who helped, passed some on to the interns, and still had more than we could eat (we’re still working our way through the collards in particular). That evening I made a meal almost entirely out of vegetables from the school. As I washed the dishes afterwards I suddenly realized that I was experiencing the abundance of Jesus that Dave had talked about that Sunday, the abundance that I’d asked God to show me.
Since then my awareness of God’s provision has only heightened, even in the little things. I had an interview at the library (the day my job at the after school program ended, I came home to find the e-mail asking me to come in for an interview). The day after my job ended, I began to nanny once a week for the Blackwell boys (they even offered me an extra day this week, just in time to pay next month’s rent).
And on Thursday I had been thinking about how we’d need to look for another bookshelf when we move because two out of the three that we’re using right now belong with the house. That evening we took the kids down to the park and there across the street, half buried in a pile of junk that someone had cleaned out of a house, sat a gorgeous solid wood bookshelf, with inlaid wood designs, a row of little drawers, and a deep, rich finish. Immediately God reminded me of how I had been wishing (not even praying, just wishing) for another bookshelf that morning. And there He had provided it, not with a bare minimum plywood shelf but with a solid, beautiful piece of furniture. Now it sits in the living room, waiting for the day when we have our own place. Periodically I go over to it and run my hands over the wood, maybe tug open one of the little drawers, and am struck again by the goodness of my Abba in the way He cares for us.
As I learn to recognize God’s provision in these things, gratitude spills out more and more freely. And with that recognition and gratitude come a gentle swelling of faith to ask and trust in the good plans of God for our lives. I’m reminded of something that Dave said, that God is not adverse to giving physical things because we can see and touch them and they act like a switch, turning on revelation of what God is like. This is still a work in progress, but as we walk into summer, I feel like the switch is turning on and the waves of God’s goodness are washing over old fears and mindsets more powerfully than ever before.
“As for me I am poor and needy, yet the Lord takes thought and plans for me. You are my Help and my Deliverer. Oh my God, do not tarry!” – Psalm 40:17