In a recent conversation with some dearly-loved brothers and sisters in Christ, the topic turned to whether going to church filled our cups. Not long into the conversation, I noticed that the terminology had changed and we were no longer talking about what filled our cups, but what filled our buckets.
I’ve also noticed that, although a cup is technically eight ounces, the people who put the markings on coffee pots consider a reasonable cup of coffee to be five measly ounces. The smallest coffee cup at the local convenience store is twelve ounces.
Apparently, the number of ounces required to satisfy our morning craving for a warm, dark, rich, caffeinated beverage is somewhere between five ounces and “just keep pouring.”
Our spiritual needs are much greater.
The ache in our souls in the absence of real and true meaning, in the absence of the love of others and the love of God is the source of endless pain and heartache in our world. Alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, broken relationships, and all kinds of suffering grow deep and strong in a spiritual vacuum.
Indeed, if our spiritual needs could be measured in ounces, they would easily fill buckets.
As Christians, we believe that there is no greater love than the love of God as given to us in Christ Jesus. Paul writes about the measure of that love in Ephesians 3:18&19
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (NLT)
Paul writes as if the love of Jesus has not just the ordinary three physical dimensions, but four. He says the size of that love is beyond our comprehension. He says that it completes us.
So, why do so many people walk into church on Sunday morning –or worse yet, walk out after all is said and done– feeling spiritually empty? And how can some people, who have attended the very same event, walk out feeling spiritually fulfilled and closer to God?
I believe the answer is in our concept of church, and one of the symptoms is referring to church as a “service” like a plumber or an auto mechanic provides. Take a look at a description of what church looked like for the apostles:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity– all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47. (NLT)
There’s an overwhelming sense of joy in those passages. There’s a sense that the Church was devoted to worship and prayer and praise and loving each other not just on Sunday morning, but all the time. Sunday wasn’t a service, it was the culminating event of praise for all the miraculous things God was doing each and every day, all day.
Now, I know that we do not live in the first century with a bunch of apostles who are healing the sick and curing the lame with signs and wonders all around us all the time… or do we?
We, in point of fact, do live in such a time. There are medical miracles all around us. There are signs and wonders abounding in every direction we look. Life spans are far greater than they ever were. Infant mortality in the time of our great grandparents was as high as 25%. It’s now less than 1%. We can share the Gospel with people on the other side of the world almost instantaneously for fractions of a cent. My grandmother faced shortages during the Great Depression so severe that she could not bear to throw out a single morsel of edible (make that semi-edible) food. Today, one of my generation’s biggest problems is morbid obesity.
I could go on.
But I understand that when the toaster burns your pop-up pastry you were going to eat in the car on the way to work because you don’t have time to sit down and eat breakfast and the microwave won’t shut off like it should so the coffee boiled over and the kids are crying and you’re going to be late for work again…
When all that is going on around you, a Bible verse telling you to think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable can be a life-saver –or a grating annoyance. (That’s from Philippians 4:8 by the way.)
I don’t know about you, but I am the devil’s easiest target when I am rushed and harassed and pushed. The cure seems to be allotting myself the time to do things and not succumbing to the temptation to add other things to the list that “absolutely have to get done.” That means saying “no” to some things I know I just don’t have time for. That means not getting sucked into some dumb TV show and going to bed at a reasonable hour so I can get up at a reasonable time where I am not rushed.
If we were to stop and really think about it and meditate on all our blessings in a quiet time of prayer reserved for the Lord, we just might come to the conclusion that our buckets are indeed filled to overflowing and we are blessed far more than we ever realized. Jesus frequently made the time to be alone with His Father.
If we were to find the time to really listen to the lyrics of the songs or the words of the teaching on Kinship Radio we just might come to the conclusion that God is indeed worthy of praise and worship. We might just find joy and peace and an abundant and full life in those hectic days.
If we were to approach our lives, our jobs, and all we do as a ministry in service to others and to God as part of His plan, rather than as a fulfillment of our own plans, we might just find that following Jesus works a whole lot better than telling God our plans and asking Him to rubber-stamp them.
If we were to find the time to read our Bibles and pray that the Holy Spirit would open our hearts to what it really said, our lives –and the world– would be changed forever.
And then, when we step into church each Sunday, if our intent was not to walk in with an empty bucket looking to fill it with “three gallons of Jesus, please” from the local Jesus Service Station, but to pour out our praises to Him, we might just find that, surprisingly, we cannot out-give God and we end up with a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over poured into our laps (Luke 6:38) such that it may just overflow and bless those around us.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Psalm 23:5 (NLT)