“ … as we Americans grow more and more wealthy, money is a kind of narcotic for us. We hardly notice our own prosperity or the poverty of so many others. The great contradiction is that we have more and more money and less and less generosity.” –Walter Brueggemann
Do you recognize these symptoms?
- More negative than positive things come from your mouth or mind.
- A sense of anxiety that you don’t have enough (time, money, love).
- Inability to make progress in your work or your relationships.
- A sense that your own situation or the condition of the world around you is without hope.
These are signs of a scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is a disease, a life so focused on insufficiency, lack, and need that your life is no longer fully your own. A Christian with a scarcity mindset struggles with a deep-set belief that there is not enough, and there will never be enough. Scarcity thinking develops over a long period in a person’s life. Our personal histories and experiences can all factor into a mindset of limitation. Once a scarcity mindset takes hold, it can become a stronghold that competes with God’s message of abundance.
Ironically, international studies of happiness now indicate that people in the developing world, where resources are scarce and poverty is very real, enjoy a greater sense of abundance and true happiness than do we who reside in the wealthiest nations. Theologian Walter Brueggemann likes to remind us that, “ … as we Americans grow more and more wealthy, money is a kind of narcotic for us. We hardly notice our own prosperity or the poverty of so many others. The great contradiction is that we have more and more money and less and less generosity.” We have what has been called “a love affair with ‘more.’” And more is never enough. Yet we were not created for scarcity. Indeed, the Bible begins with a liturgy of abundance. God creates what Professor Brueggemann has called, “an orgy of fruitfulness” – plants, animals, fish, birds, and humankind – in such abundance that God keeps declaring, “It is good, it is good, it is very good!”
Yet, by the end of the Book of Genesis, the people of God have nothing. They live in captivity as slaves of Pharaoh. And Pharaoh owns everything. Yet, even in captivity, the people of God multiply. Then, in the ultimate expression of generosity, God delivers the people into freedom and begs them to form their lives according to God’s economy of abundance – bread enough for this day – and not to be conformed to the mindset of scarcity that convinced Pharaoh that enough was never enough. God’s people were once again being created for abundance!
I believe the great question facing the Church is whether our faith allows us to live in a new way. We are the descendants of those people God brought into freedom, to a new way of living with one another and to live trusting in God’s ultimate generosity. Jesus said it succinctly: Don’t be anxious because everything you need will be given to you. And Jesus was saddened when those who sought his advice, such as the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-26) who asks, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life,” and then turns away when he doesn’t like the answer. The cost is too high. Possessions or eternal life? Let’s stick with the devil we know!
But what if we truly want to change our mindset? What if we’ve begun to recognize that accumulating more and more has not brought us happiness? What if we’re tired of living with a constant sense of anxiety? What will help?
I think the key lies in the first biblical story – a liturgy of abundance, an orgy of fruitfulness. Each day, we can regain our equilibrium by engaging in a litany of thanksgiving. If necessary, list the things for which you are grateful: friends, a home, the ability to read and seek wisdom, the blessing of an education, forgiveness offered from someone whom you’ve hurt. Now offer this list to God with a deep sense of gratitude.
Secondly, make a sacrifice of thanksgiving – not merely the time it takes to acknowledge your own blessings, but also the discipline of being a blessing to someone else. In other words, enact and imitate God’s own willingness, abundance, and generosity in someone else’s life.
Lastly, become a tither in all things. Give beyond your comfort zone. Give the biblical standard of 10% of your time, your talent, and your precious money to God’s dream of a world that flourishes for all people. Givers are less anxious than those who protect their hearts, their money, and their precious time.
Try this prayer:
Gracious God, in the busyness of my day, I sometimes forget to stop to thank you for all that is good in my life.
My blessings are many and my heart is filled with gratefulness for the gift of living, for the ability to love and be loved, for the opportunity to see the everyday wonders of creation, for a mind that thinks and a body that feels.
I thank you, too, for those things in my life that are less than I would hope them to be. Things that seem challenging, unfair, or difficult. When my heart feels stretched and empty, still I rejoice that you are as near to me as my next breath and that in the midst of turbulence, I am growing and learning.
In the silence of my soul, I thank you most of all for your unconditional and eternal love. Now help me to be as generous as you are, O my God. Bless me each day with a capacity to imitate your generosity. Through Christ, and through the gift of your Holy Spirit, I pray. Amen.