When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. - Psalm 142:3 (NIV)
Blessed be the God who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Two-year reading texts: Psalm 108:6-13; 1 Samuel 13; John 1:43-51
Paul's somewhat-confusing praise of God (consoling us, so that we can console others with the same consolation with which we are consoled!) reminds me of a very useful image often used by a church friend named Joe. Joe would talk about the need for "filling our tank," receiving God's blessings, taking time to care for ourselves, resting, spending time in whatever refreshes and renews us spiritually. And then, with a full tank, we pour out that same care for other people. Joe reminded me, and others, that it's not good to let our tank run dry, nor is it good to sit around with a full tank when that fuel could be put to use for others.
I think Joe's image gets close to what Paul is talking about, and I like it because it's simple, visual, intuitive, relatable, and useful. We watch the gas gauge in our cars, and we know it would be bad to run out. We realize that the same fuel is used by everybody else too, and we can sympathize with somebody whose tank is getting low without a chance to refuel.
Two main differences come to mind. One is that we have to buy the gas we put in our cars, and whenever money gets involved, we think of things as a commodity. Buying gas becomes part of a transaction where we trade our time and effort for money, then trade some of that for gas. We could say that we've earned our gas. Not so with God. Everything is a gift. Pure grace. Every day, God's blessings come fresh and new, and we can receive them if we make ourselves ready and willing.
The second difference is that with gas tanks, we usually don't have to think about anybody else's tank. It's up to them to earn their own money, watch their own tank, and stop and fill up when they need. It does happen, but i's rare, that I've been called on to buy gas for somebody else who really needs it. Again, it's different with God. God often chooses to make blessings real in human lives by choosing somebody else to bear the blessing. My spiritual tank has been filled countless times by the love and care and kindness of people all around. That kind of fullness isn't meant for me to hoard. Instead, when my tank is full, I'm able to provide all kinds of love and care and kindness for others too.
So instead of a transaction, the filling and emptying of our spiritual tank is part of a relationship where God's love is poured into our lives, and then poured out into the lives of others. It's an act of faith to let our tank be emptied for someone else, trusting that God will refill it and that we won't run dry. And it's humbling, and beautiful, to experience being part of something where we don't have to earn or buy what we need. We're receivers of a wonderful gift, and even better, we're privileged to become givers of the same gift.
God of grace and abundance, thank you for your many blessings and consolations. Guide me in how to rest in you and let my tank be filled. And show me how you would have me pour out my tank in service to someone else, so that they might also be blessed and console.