I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. – Philippians 4:12
Many years ago, my friend and yet-to-be-discovered comedienne Frances once said in relation to this scripture in Philippians, “I know how to abase real good. I’m trying to figure out how to abound.”
When I recall her facial expression coupled with a peculiar mix of North Carolina and Atlanta inflection as she delivered her decree, I still have a deep belly laugh. Though Frances is a few years older than I, we were in similar phases in life as single, professional women. She was establishing herself as a freelancer and building her brand, while I was a temp working jumping from on assignment to the next. (Okay. Maybe our development wasn’t that similar at the time.) Still, what we had in common was firsthand knowledge of hustle, struggle and a strong acquaintance with what Paul calls ‘knowing how to be abased’.
We were and are not unique in that regard. Millions of Americans are one paycheck (or one health calamity) away from homelessness and whether they realize it or not – whether we admit it or not – we have mastered the art of living meagerly and presenting it as a life of abundance.
Yesterday Marshall was called up by Pastor Roger Mensah, whose church we were visiting in the Crags. His once sizeable congregation has now dwindled to less than a dozen, due mostly to “poaching”. Churches spring up in townships like the Crags like moss after rain. Instead of seeking the lost and bringing them to Christ, self-ordained pastors entice church attendees to join their flock, usually lured by the gifts of a good keyboard player. In Africa, the power of keyboard player/worship leader is second only to the pastor. The Holy Spirit comes in fourth.
Anyway, it was in this cozy setting that Marshall discussed the idea of always moving forward; not giving up the ground you’ve gained in the process of your advancement whether it be in prayer, business, etc. Philippians made its way into the discussion and as pastors are wont to do when this scripture comes up (in my experience), he dedicated a fair bit of time in explaining why we must be content in all things, focusing more on living humbly. It makes sense, since most of the world lives in poverty. We condition people to be comfortable with their modest lot, and nowhere is this message more perfected than in the church. I believe that this is why people go absolutely crazy when they unexpectedly find themselves in possession of an unexpected windfall or life changing blessing.
When Frances said, “I’m trying to figure out how to abound”, I took that as a two-fold statement of hope.
1) God, put me in an elevated financial position; one I’ve never been in before.
2) Let me prove that I can be trusted to be content in that position, never taking or using more than what I need.
Or simply put, being a good steward of God’s resources.
The image the Holy Spirit showed me in that moment to explain the idea further was a buffet – Golden Corral, more specifically. For those who are unfamiliar with GC, it is a massive restaurant filled with any sort of food, dessert and drink you can think of. Diners pile their plates with fried chicken, steak, fish and pork, and then trek back to fill two more plates with an assortment of pastas – a veggie or two – and sugary desserts. For years I’d feel sick any time I was forced to dine at Golden Corral and I finally understood why: It’s an environment governed, punctuated and spurred on by gluttony. There is simply no reason for any one person to eat that much food at one time. It was the simplest metaphor Holy Spirit could show me, that being how would the average person conduct themselves if they were given free reign to anything they wanted. Would you exercise the same self-control as you did when you had to ration your portions? At Golden Corral and similar buffets, almost everyone chooses excess…because they don’t know how to live in environments of abundance.
This idea extends to other scenarios as well. Men who chase after women don’t know how to be content with one partner; ruthless businessmen cheat people out of money with the aim of swelling their bank accounts; people seek out shaky relationships for the benefit of collecting friends like dolls… When one fails to understand how to abound, it becomes a harder’s spirit – and hoarding only ever leads to ruin.
My personal prayer is that as I seek God’s hand and face that my character will be developed enough to handle new promotions. For years, I honestly thought I had this trait fully formed, perfected even. I’ve been cocksure that I could handle anything thrown at me. It’s easy to be confident when your previous day looks like that next. However the previous 10 months have been a season of testing. I’ve been given great hope and been robbed of it in waves, ways and cycles that are unfamiliar to me: because these waters are unfamiliar to me. Yet through it all, I am humbled and grateful that I have a Master Coach to see me through. If I can’t miraculously walk on the water, He’s taught me well enough to swim. That’s more than enough.