“No, you can’t always get what you want,
No, you can’t always get what you want,
No, you can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need.” – Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Yes. I just quoted the Rolling Stones.
The chorus of this famous song holds a lot of truth. Try as we might, we don’t always get what we want. If we’re honest, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. We work hard. Try to be kind. Take care of our families. Pay the bills. Shouldn’t we get what we want? We’re playing by the rules, after all. Shouldn’t our figurative cups be overflowing?
When we think of the abundant life, we assume that it will be filled with all the things we want. The wants may not be extravagant. A nice home, good relationships, a steady income, no debt. They might be wild and imaginative, like the desire to travel the world or have a painting hanging in a famous gallery or museum. Or they might be somewhere in the middle, like a cool car or a book contract.
Thing is, God is less about what we want and more about what we need.
Don’t misread that sentence. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17) and He delights in giving us those good gifts (Matthew 7:11). There are many times when God blesses us with something that we want because He’s a good and loving Father. Yet if we look at the big picture, the Lord doesn’t allow us to have or do something that is outside of His will. He is not a vending machine, to use the cliche, concerned only with dispensing our desire of the moment. His will in the life of a believer is to make her more like Christ (Romans 8:29) and if the disposable income readily available for the purchase of new shoes every few weeks isn’t going to make her more like Christ, then, well…
You do the math.
Again, don’t misunderstand. I don’t at all believe that God inflicts suffering and hardship on His people willy-nilly. He doesn’t use our longing for red ballet flats or a new set of chisels as a source of entertainment. He doesn’t see what it is that we want in life and then go out of His way to make sure that the opposite happens. As a wonderful and kind God, He showers us with goodness, but within the context of making us more like Jesus.
2 Corinthians 9:8 opens up the concept for us:
“God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.” (HCSB)
Graces oozes in fantastic measure from the Lord, pouring out torrentially upon His people. He makes sure that we have absolutely everything that we need – and this is a greater blessing than having everything we want. Think about it. You may not being having filet mignon for dinner tonight, but, if you have access to the Internet and can read this right now, chances are good that you’re not going to be hungry. Is a fancy meal every single time you sit down really better than a satisfied stomach? Is the food you eat what matters, or is the fact that you get to eat?
Because here’s the thing: This verse, which talks about grace permeating your life and all your needs being met, stands in a very specific context in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Take the time to drink in every word of the chapter:
“Now concerning the ministry to the saints, it is unnecessary for me to write to you. For I know your eagerness, and I brag about you to the Macedonians: ‘Achaia has been prepared since last year,’ and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I sent the brothers so our boasting about you in the matter would not prove empty, and so you would be prepared just as I said. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we, not to mention you, would be embarrassed in that situation. Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion.
Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. As it is written:
He gave to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.
Now the One who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. They will glorify God for your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with others through the proof provided by this service. And they will have deep affection for you in their prayers on your behalf because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.”
God blesses that we might bless. He provides so that we might provide for others.
The abundant life isn’t about big houses and nice cars. It’s not about extravagant vacations, millions in the bank and a wrinkle-free face. It’s got nothing to do with age or class or gender or race. It’s about being like Jesus. The One who had no home (Luke 9:58). The One who set aside all of His glory and riches (Philippians 2:5-11). The One who took up the role of a servant (go here for a list of the many references regarding Jesus’ servanthood). The One who ultimately hung on a Cross, enduring great pain and humiliation. (And, praise God!, the One who rose again).
This same Jesus took a couple of fish and five small loaves of bread and made a feast for thousands (John 6:1-12). A feast made of fish and bread. Not exactly food for a king. Yet He both blessed and provided for the crowd by meeting their needs with this simple fare. They experienced abundance because God touched them all with His compassionate, inventive caring.
Let’s take the fish and the bread we need – and share it with others.
In that is abundance.