One of the best things about reading the Acts of the Apostles is that it feels relatable — especially when life takes our quaint little idols of comfort, independence and control and knocks them off the shelf into a million pieces.
Every so often, I am under the illusion that I do not have any of those pesky idols anymore. Then, an unexpected crisis or a small hiccup in my day reveals to me how much trust I have put in myself versus the trust I should have put in God. It is in these moments that I realize how tempting it is, like the apostles at the Ascension, to acknowledge God’s kingdom in my life only when it aligns with my earthbound concepts of providence (cf. Acts 1:6). But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Here are a few ways the Acts of the Apostles helps us understand what it means to live in God’s abundance.
1. Spiritual abundance is the fruit of faith, not the result of control
As he rose into the heavens, Christ blessed his disciples and told them to look for the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. Of course, they had expectations of abundance! They had survived the crucible of the cross, evaded charges thus far for the disappearance of Jesus’ corpse, received the consolation of his appearances, and now were charged with a mission. They had put in the hard work and would now receive a reward for their faithfulness. However, God’s abundance generally does not look or feel like the blessing we expect.
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After the Ascension, the disciples celebrated with one another in prayer as they waited for the promised power to come. Patience for God’s timing is important, but God also allows us to grow into vocations by our initiative. Peter said it was time to appoint Judas’ successor, and after prayer they chose Matthias by lots. Sometimes, we are tempted to wait on the Lord’s blessing with inaction. We may even call it discernment, but we are uncomfortable moving forward without knowing all the pros and cons of the options before us. However, Peter knew true discernment was looking at scriptural truths and applying them to current needs with prayer. He had the humility to know that God, not he, knew who was chosen, but that it was his calling to lead the other disciples out of inertia (cf. Acts 1:15-26). Sometimes, God’s abundance only becomes apparent after we take a step forward in faith.
2. God’s abundance is often internal not external
Soon after, on Pentecost, the same breath of God (ruah, in Hebrew) that rushed over the first Creation and inspired the first human form with life penetrated the shuttered room and filled the hearts of the gathered disciples with new grace. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are an essential expression of the difference between a merely secular “good life” and a supernatural life in union with Christ. The disciples, and all baptized and confirmed Christians from that point on, were brought into the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1-3 and given access to wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of God (humble reverence). This is the internal abundance available for each of us. As we live out the theological and cardinal virtues, these gifts are activated and are deepened with our developing relationship with the Spirit.
The trouble with hidden gifts and unseen abundance is they are often misunderstood or even ridiculed. When the apostles emerged from the Upper Room at Pentecost, they proclaimed the story of salvation humbly and boldly and were understood in every tongue. While some of the crowd was amazed, others assumed they were drunk (first thing in the morning!?). Later, some of the disciples were arrested for healing a cripple. Both times, the disciples refused to succumb to an instinct for self-preservation or take off their spiritual lenses and see the abuse as truth. Imagine if the disciples got sidetracked defending their linguistic or healing abilities and forgot to witness to the Gospel? The world will always prefer a short-term sensation to a long-term relationship, yet we are spiritual marathoners and must keep the less popular, heavenly perspective.
3. God’s abundance is not the absence of pain; it is the ability to persevere despite it
Abundance is not the absence of difficulty. In fact, often we experience the most pain in the area where God desires to give us our greatest abundance. Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand points out that Christian hope is not the same thing as mere optimism or “robust vitality.” Rather, “this sense of security must collapse and depart, so as to clear the ground for true confidence in God.” In Acts 2, when Peter proclaims that we will be saved from apocalyptic disasters and our enemies, freed from the danger of hell, forgiven if repentant, and kept apart from a corrupt generation, he is also affirming that we will indeed face forces natural, diabolical and human that hurt us. As we fail and sin, we find ourselves ever and again in need of a savior. Suffering and encountering our own poverty and weakness is an invitation into the stable at Bethlehem, onto the crest of Golgotha, and into the abundance of a resurrected God.
4. Abundance (even an abundance of overwhelm) is God’s way of prodding us into community
Sometimes God does seek to give us an external abundance here in this life. Within the first five chapters of Acts, the disciples attempted to meet the spiritual and corporal needs of more than 3,000 newly baptized persons who distributed their wealth and began to live in common. Thanks to their charismatic gifts of healing, everywhere the disciples walked the sick were brought to them. Sometimes, our abundance is more than we are equipped to handle. At times I have looked with surprise at God when he brought a new soul into our vivacious family. “My hands are already quite full, God!” He replied, “It’s OK. Mine are not.”
The disciples soon realized they needed helpers and ordained the first deacons (cf. Acts 6). We, too, are called to serve and to ask for help in our communities when our “cup runneth over.” An integrated community living in charitable self-gift to one another is another form of Christian abundance. In our weakness, we are better witnesses to the glory of God. In our vulnerability, his abundance can surprise us by being totally outside of our myopic, human calculations (like the angel opening the jail in Acts 5:19).
When we learn to see with God’s eyes, we can embrace hard things. We must ask for the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit to be made manifest for us in challenging and even seemingly impossible moments. When the apostles are mistrusted, whipped and publicly ridiculed, they rejoiced because they saw the glory of being allowed to suffer in some measure as Christ did (cf. Acts 5:41). Do we praise God when we suffer? This reliance on someone omnipotent beyond ourselves and our human structures of support is the source of the abundant Christian spirit that confounds and converts the world.
Dear sister, when you see an opportunity for relationship with God in every hardship, then you have found the key to the peace that passes understanding, and that is abundance indeed.