Living from the overflow
Scott Esposito pulls me aside before we meet with a dozen world racers.
“I’m going to do the cup analogy again. I hope I’m not boring you to death with that one.”
As the volunteers who will be spending a month with us huddle around, Scott holds up a half filled cup of water.
“Your lives are a lot like this cup. When you spend time with God in his presence and receiving his love, you are getting filled up.”
Scott pours a little more water from a pitcher into the cup, filling it to three quarters.
“When you are serving and working and ‘pouring out’ to others, your cup is getting lower.”
Scott empties some of the cups contents onto the pavement. A girl in the back who was half asleep from the Nicaraguan heat is now paying attention.
“Most people try to do their best to spend enough time with God that they can give to others, but they are missing the point..”
At this point Scott imitates a server at Applebee’s and empties the pitcher into the cup. The excess water spills out onto the ground. Scott is excited.
“The key to loving people well is that you would be serving out of the overflow. You spend time with Jesus and let him love you and fill you up until you can’t help but go out and love others.”
Smiles flash around the circle. At least some of them get it. I have heard the illustration before but I am still convicted every time.
Which is more important? Faith or works? Well, it is faith in the work of Jesus that saves you. That faith leads to works. Seems like subtle nuance of words but it has caused centuries of people to seek to be saved by their good deeds.
Which is more important, receiving God’s love or sharing it with others? You can’t share what you haven’t received. It is absolutely vital that the primary emphasis is on receiving the love of God. Only then can you go out and share it in a way that is meaningful. Without this you will have wrong motives and burn out.
The death of the superhero mentality
In the book Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning writes “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
As someone who shares the love of Jesus in another country, it can be easy to fall into a box. It might read foreign aid worker or missionary or youth pastor. This box is dangerous because you can quickly find your identity in what you do and not in who you are.
Deep, deep love and devotion to Jesus drives people to the corners of the earth to follow him. As the years go by, those same people can let their gaze break from Jesus and instead get caught up in the day to day tasks. Accolades from home and two or three years under their belt in another country and now they are talking more about Jesus than they are talking to him.
The best blessing anyone in this position can receive is the complete destruction of all sense of effectiveness. Many volunteers experienced this when they were sick and in bed for weeks during the world race. Long term missionaries have felt this when the people they have been investing in for years skip the country or turn their back on God. Sometimes the very best place to be is broken and feeling worthless. It’s at the very bottom of the barrel that the gaze is brought back to Jesus.
I have been serving in Nicaragua almost 3.5 years. A few months ago I asked God why he brought me here. He told me that it was for me. He wanted some things to happen in my heart. I don’t know if I would have encountered the depth of dependence and intimacy with God any other way.
Talk about humbling. Suddenly my grandiose dreams of empowering locals and making disciples who make disciples are all left gutted. Nothing that I do really matters in the end as much as what he has already done for me. When I am with him, I see all the world in a different light. Everything shrinks in importance compared to his love. I am scrambling just to figure out how to better receive it. Only then am I able to love others, forgive, serve, and have patience.
The superhero mask is stripped away, God points me to the mirror and shows me who he made me to be. His unchanging love for me makes me secure and joyful to be a servant. Nothing else matters after that point. If I win everything or lose everything. If I think I’m a success or a failure. If I leave the world changed or unchanged. Nothing equals the undying fact that I am loved. It consumes me. This is what it means to live out of the overflow.