There once stood a lone mountain in the middle of the desert. The region was arid and desolate, making it very hard for anything to grow there. Now, this mountain was tall and majestic, reaching high into the sky until its very top was concealed by the clouds. The peak was covered with snow, which partway down mingled with the hot desert air, causing the snow to melt into a cool river flowing down the side of the mountain. This river was not large, but it was the source of life for the village below. People would come to the river to drink and find relief from the harsh desert heat. The cool water from the river also nourished its banks, creating fertile ground in which to grow food for the people of the village. The people did not understand where the water was coming from, and because of this, they grew fearful that one day the water might run out. They created an intricate system to dam the river and divert its water throughout their land into cisterns. Once one cistern was full, the people would simply dig another cistern. The small village could never possibly use all of the water they were storing, but they continued to create more and more cisterns to store the water. Over time, the unused water in the cisterns grew stagnant and contaminated by bacteria. The people would then simply empty the water into the desert, where it was swallowed up by the hard, cracked ground. Each morning at sunrise, the people of the village would gather at the base of the mountain to give thanks for the life and sustenance it would provide for the day. And at each meal, the people would take time to recognize that every morsel of food was a direct result of the mountain’s constant provision.
Several miles away from the mountain stood another village with inhabitants much like the first village. Children. Men and women. Young and old. This village, however, was quite different than the first. There were no sunrise gatherings to celebrate life and sustenance. No words of thanksgiving or gratitude. Rather, in this village, there was only sorrow and despair. For though this village was situated within the reach of the mountain’s cool refreshing river, its life-giving waters never quite made it. The banks had run dry long ago, just like the hope of the people in the village. They knew what the mountain was capable of, but unfortunately, they just never had the good fortune to experience it. The sad reality was that the stagnant water that was wasted on the desert floor was always meant for them. The river, however, had been deprived of its very existence: to flow from one place to another, bringing with it life and provision.
I’ve been thinking a lot about blessings lately. I hear it quite often:
I feel so blessed.
We have so many blessings to be thankful for.
God has really blessed us.
Certainly this is true. I think of my own life and it would be a tragedy to say that everything I have is simply a result of my own strivings. I am blessed in many ways and this fact is important to acknowledge. But is that it? Are we simply blessed in order to “keep our cisterns full” or is there a greater purpose for our blessing?
Enter Abraham. Before he was the patriarch of the nation of Israel, he was simply a man that God asked to do the unthinkable:
Leave everything you know and go to a place that I won’t reveal to you until sometime later on.
What God said to Abraham next, however, would make all of the difference.
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.
God was asking Abraham to step out into the unknown, and he was prepared to bless Abraham for his obedience. To live in God’s blessing- this is a beautiful thing. But we have missed a critical component if we stop here.
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Gen 12:1-3)
God’s intent to bless Abraham was always paired with his intention to bless the whole world. As far back as I can tell, God’s sights have always been on blessing all of creation. The blessing of Abraham, and later Israel, was meant to flow through their banks downstream to the rest of the world.
And this is God’s intention for each of us. Theologian Miroslav Volf said it this way: The flow of God’s gifts shouldn’t stop as soon as it reaches us. The outbound movement must continue. Indeed, in addition to making us flourish, giving to others is the very purpose for which God gave us the gifts.
Blessed and blessing go hand in hand. We are blessed, certainly, but now we live to be a blessing, for blessing was never meant to live in cisterns. It can’t. Rather, we must allow blessing to do what blessing does: flow from one place to another.