Recently, I went to Israel. I floated in the Dead Sea. I walked along the Jordan River. I baptised somebody in the Sea of Galilee. For those who don’t know the history and geography of Israel’s main water system, there are mountains just north-east of Galilee, and every year their snowmelt flows out of springs, which become little rivers, which end up in the Sea of Galilee (or Lake Tiberius). From there, the water flows out of Galilee into the Jordan, winding its way down to the Dead Sea. Then it stops.
The reason the Dead Sea is, well, dead, is because salts from all the mountains and rivers seep out over the centuries. Those salts travel into Galilee and then out again, but when they get to the Dead Sea, they’ve nowhere left to go. So they just pile up there. The water evaporates, and all that’s left is the salts.
One of the surprising things I discovered about the Dead Sea is that it’s quite rich – the salts aren’t just sodium chloride, but contain lots of other wonderful minerals. When I went to the Dead Sea, people were lathering on local mud. I did too, all over my skin, and it tingled. The problem isn’t that the salt there is bad – it’s really terrific – the problem is that there’s simply too much of it.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a lake. We sit at the foot of a vast mountain, and from its springs pulsates a voice – sometimes a whisper, sometimes a scream – saying, “Take… take… TAKE!” And we do. We take so much. We get so used to taking, that we start to think that it’s all we’re made to do. So when for some reason we can’t take – the new gizmo gets lost on its way from Amazon, or whatever – we feel something is impeding who we think we are meant to be.
We run the risk of becoming like the Dead Sea. Precisely because we become so rich, we can become dead. But when we realise this, and start to try to stem the flow of all this stuff coming at us from the mountain, it is actually really hard. The rivers build up pressure, and the voices become louder, “Take… TAKE… TAKE! I SAID TAKE!” Consumerism is a tough habit to break. Because taking feels so good – this is good stuff we’re taking. But our problem isn’t that it’s bad stuff, it’s that there’s too much of it.
Jesus grew up near Galilee. Much of His ministry was done there. He was baptised in the Jordan. And maybe it was in seeing the in-and-outflow of that water-system that He said:
“Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matthew 10:08)
The healthiest Christians I know are those who love to give. They have learned the lesson of the Galilee, releasing itself into the Jordan. The pulsating “take!” is matched by a pulsating “give!” It’s what Jesus did His whole life. He gave Himself to death.
Now, giving is not without its problems. There is of course the danger that you’ll give and give and give, until you’re tired and spent. If the Galilee just kept the Jordan flowing, without the mountain springs, it would dry up rather quickly. It is also true that some of the unhealthiest Christians I know are those who loved to give! They forgot the first part of Jesus’ statement: “Freely you received.”
What’s the difference between receiving and taking? Receiving is profoundly relational, because you only ever receive a gift. Gifts only come from somebody else. That somebody can be your family, your friends, your church, and ultimately God Himself. To receive a gift is both great for you, and great for the giver, because it helps them flow. It also encourages you to flow, too. Jesus once described Himself as life-giving water. He flows. He pulsates. Jesus received His life back from His Father. And He’s been giving people that life ever since.
So, receive. Give. Receive. Give. Freely. And flow.
What a wonderful and insightful thought on consumerism. Thank you.