Faithful, Hundredfold Multiplication

Whenever I read or listen to the accounts of Jesus taking just a few fish and barley loaves and feeding upwards of perhaps 20,000 men, women and children, I can’t help but wish that I had been there to see that event firsthand (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). “Surely,” I tell myself, “had I actually seen this take place with my own eyes, any and all remaining doubts I have about the person and work of Christ would have vanished at once.” Worse, perhaps, is that I can continue to kid myself like this even after reading that this was most certainly not the response of those who actually were on hand to witness this miracle (John 6:30-42).

On July 23rd, I passed up 14 years of sobriety without even taking notice of it. That complete lack of attention to this particular milestone is somewhat unusual. When it finally dawned on me that the “anniversary” date had gotten by me, it felt like I had failed to give the appropriate yearly response of gratitude. I mention this not only to give all glory to God for His mercies in my life, but also to point out how easily forgetfulness tends to overtake us. I had temporarily “forgotten” about God’s great work in my life and, therefore, neglected to praise Him for all He has done for me in those intervening years. “How many other things,” I began to wonder, “have I carelessly failed to recall…as well as give thanks for?”

I received at least one answer to that question last week, as I met with a group of guys to discuss the topic of accountability structures; how to build them, how to use them and how to maintain them. What’s really interesting about this is that in the week leading up to that meeting, I had really pressed on all of the guys to “do their homework” and get some stuff down in writing. I made it abundantly clear that anything remotely resembling “Yeah, I got it all right here in my head!” was not going to be a satisfactory response.

How ironic, then, that I failed to take my own advice and get a few things down in writing myself, as if being the facilitator of the group exempted me somehow from co-laboring in the task at hand! Fortunately, I arrived early to our meeting and found a dry-erase board that I could use to start sketching some ideas out. It was in the process of hurriedly writing down the names and (for lack of a better term) “functions” of several trusted people in my own accountability structure that the goodness and mercy of God in my life washed over me anew.

At the very bottom of my chart – circa July 1997, the onset of my sobriety – I had exactly two things going for me: 1) I wasn’t dead yet (though I very much deserved to be), and 2) I had made a decision to trust God that He would provide for me as I sought to maintain sobriety and grow in my relationship with Him. In short, my accountability structure in 1997 consisted of “God, trust and a commitment to surrender.” That’s it.

Turns out that this is enough for God to begin His work in our lives (Psalm 51:17). As I hurriedly sketched out the friendships and relationships that have contributed to my maintaining sobriety, it dawned on me that I was able to write out the names of 25-30 trusted individuals without even breaking a sweat or thinking about it all that much. Even as those names (and “functions”) spilled out of me effortlessly, it was obvious that I had neglected quite a few additional folks who have been willing, at various times, to come alongside and assist me as I sought to shake off the old nature (Romans 7:7-25) and live in light of the truth of Jesus Christ. As my wife and I like to say, it was very much “an embarrassment of riches.”

The sketch of my accountability structure began to look more and more like a wheel, with multiple spokes coming out of it, along with the names of friends and loved ones who helped me as I struggled (and continue to struggle) down the narrow path (Matthew 7:13). I had a “spoke” in place for Acquiring Wisdom, another one for Counseling, Accountability/Sobriety, Medical Advice, Prayer Support, Bible Reading, Mentoring, Legal Assistance, and Growing in Grace. Each spoke brought the names and faces of at least three or four people immediately to mind, though I did not have time to write them all down.

Some “spokes” that I neglected to draw on the board but have reflected on since that meeting would include Emergency/Crisis (can’t believe I missed that one!), Parenting Help, Financial Advice, Encouragement, Reality Check and so on. I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that had I bothered to spend 30-45 minutes on this chart ahead of class time, I could very easily have had upwards of 100 or more people listed who, at various times over the past 14 years, have stepped in to help me restrain my temper, abandon foolishness, confess my shortcomings, repent and accept the forgiveness offered in Christ.

Working through this simple exercise “for the benefit of others” had the net effect of proving to me how faithful God has been to me over the course of 14 years, providing as it were a front-row seat for me to witness Him “multiplying loaves and fishes” today, right now, in my own life. As I trusted Christ and sought to unpack the bitterness and anger that had nearly consumed my soul just prior to July of 1997, God slowly brought others into my life, and then gave me the ability to actually trust those individuals as I slowly learned to also trust Him.

Had you met me a month or two after the enslaving power of sin had been broken in my life, you would have been “treated” to an individual who really struggled to have any sort of relationship at all; I’m almost certain that I still have my “Question Authority” t-shirt from back in those days. In fact, one of the maxims I lived and died by circa 1997 was, “Trust no one.” So, for someone like me, having even one person who was considered worthy of my trust, or even worthy of giving them a fair hearing, seemed beyond impossible. “People, after all, are all horribly flawed. The church, too, is a fairly-messy collection of jacked-up sinners. Why, for Heaven’s sake, would I consider entrusting anything about my life to anyone?” Such are the thoughts of what many would call “a baby Christian,” still struggling with relentless self-focus, completely unable to grasp the meaning (let alone the application) of grace.

My point in all of this is simply to testify that it is undoubtedly the miraculous, multiplying work of the Spirit that I find myself surrounded not only by people who willingly enter into relationship with me…but that I have been sufficiently “renewed” that I am a person who is now capable of being in relationship with others.

At our meeting last week, I took pains to remind the other guys in the room that the relational riches I enjoy today as a member of the Body of Christ did not all get put in place overnight. We are, after all, talking about a period of 14 years, with only 10 of those as a member of a Bible-believing church. And, as I have said, I did not always fully cooperate with God’s good plan for exhortation, rebuke, training and growth (2 Timothy 3:16). Still, as I stepped back from the dry erase board to acknowledge the hundredfold multiplication God has done in my life, I had to take a breath or two. How dull and slow of heart (Luke 24:25-27) I have been, how foolish not to have seen how He has been performing a miracle right in front of me, multiplying and adding. An embarrassment of riches indeed.

Psalm 98:1-3 (ESV)
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

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