March 2020 was the month Covid became centre-stage and everyone had to work out how to live in the ‘new normal’ of lockdown. The week before lockdown Authentic Media released my new book, Overflow. Not the best timing, one might think. And yet, on reflection, perhaps it was great timing.
The title Overflow summarises a philosophy – a way of thinking. It’s reflected in a lifestyle that values giving over taking; kindness over selfishness; courage over fear, and vulnerability over shame. It’s a can-do mind-set, seen particularly in the church of Antioch, based on an understanding that we are, and we have, more than enough. At its heart is God: our good Father, revealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit – the God of overflow – who rather than being short of resources instead graciously pours out his presence, power and provision, and invites us to be kind and generous like him (Luke 6:38).
The idea of overflow first got hold of me after I heard US pastor Bill Johnson say five simple words: ‘fulness is measured by overflow.’ Those words arrested me. You see, for many years I’d prayed for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but I’d often wondered how to know if that had happened, and what the outcome should be. Johnson’s simple words helped me answer that question: they overflow. What is inside spills out.
I began teaching on overflow in 2017. We then adopted it as our vision theme at The Belfrey at the start of 2018, and I preached on it throughout January and on two further occasions in the year too. I knew it was on God’s heart, partly because whenever I taught on overflow, I heard its sound – literally! Throughout January 2018 the cistern on an upstairs toilet in our home was broken, so the water overflowed, back into the pan. It first broke just before I spoke on the subject and although we called a plumber, it was not fixed until a few days after the end of my teaching. So throughout the month I was teaching on overflow, I would wake up and smile as every day I heard the background sound of overflow. It felt like the Lord was getting my attention. Then some months later, on the morning I was to speak again on overflow, I got up early to use the bathroom. We have two toilets upstairs in our home and during the night the other had broken like the first. I chuckled to myself as I could hear – again – the distant sound of overflow! The third time I spoke on overflow was later in the year. It was a wet drizzly day. A few minutes before speaking I was in my office praying, and the rain outside turned heavy and came down in a sudden deluge – very strongly and intensely. I looked out of the window and noticed the down-pipe of the building opposite couldn’t drain quickly enough due to the volume of water. The result was a dramatic waterfall cascading from the top hopper, which I recorded on my phone. I’d never seen that drain do that before, or since. It was yet another picture of overflow! And the timing was incredible!
God’s timing is always perfect. That’s why I’ve changed my mind on the timing of the release of the Overflow book. A few months ago I’d have said the timing was unfortunate, or even a mistake. But now I wonder if the timing was just right. Yes, it got rather lost in the mix of greater proprieties of people and of the world, in the crisis days of 2020. Churches and Christian leaders – the main audience for the book – were naturally concerned about moving to online platforms, how to care for the vulnerable and look after those in need in their community. I could see why wanting to read about overflow got pushed into the background! But on reflection, maybe the background is where the book was always meant to be, for overflow is a background philosophy.
The concept of overflow is not the main thing or the immediate concern or the top priority. Rather overflow is a way of being. A missional mindset. An apostolic approach. Many would call it a ‘value’. As such it is often unseen. In fact those who live for overflow might not even be able to describe it very well. But it’s there. It’s influential. In the background.
So maybe it was ok that the book got rather lost in the pandemic. That’s where overflow is meant to be: present, but often unseen in the background. Bring it to foreground, and if you’re not careful it can be turned into something it’s not meant to be – like advocating the prosperity gospel, or thinking that bigger is better, or that those who struggle for resources lack faith. Those things are unhelpful and untrue, and they’re not what overflow is about. Rather, overflow is about believing that we are made to change the world through generosity; that as God gives, so we should give too. Simple as that.
Thinking about overflow has been such a help to me, which is why I wrote the book. It’s a book which I hope is really beneficial to all who read it, but it’s not a foreground book. It’s meant to be a background book.
Because overflow is not life. It’s the backdrop to life.