Are you Committing the Sin of Living in Scarcity?

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
(Joh 10:10)

There is a prosperity gospel out there that is – no matter how you slice it – wrong.  The prosperity gospel teaches that whatever you want (as long as it doesn’t break any of “God’s rules”) is what God wants to give you.  Your job is to believe hard enough that God will give it to you.  This just isn’t how God works!

Abundance

Abundance!

However, the prosperity gospel is not the same as living in abundance.  Jesus’s disciple, Matthew, was big on abundance.  Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that Jesus called Matthew to follow him while Matthew was still sitting at the tax collection table where he collected taxes from his fellow Jews and gave them to the Romans occupying Jerusalem.  He was a hated man among the Jews – a traitor who took their money and gave it to their oppressors.  Perhaps he had many stories of the chosen people of God living both in abundance and scarcity.  Perhaps this dichotomy between the rich and poor was something that plagued him and something he needed to explain.   Twice in his gospel, he records these words of Jesus:

“For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mat 13:12 and Matt 25:29)

These verses are stern warnings.  The followers of Jesus are to live out of the abundance of God not in scarcity.  And yet, so many times we choose the way of scarcity.

Scarcity in Guiding our Children:

How many times have I heard parents tell their children not to pursue their dreams because their dreams are too risky?  They want to be an artist, but it’s too hard to be successful.  Don’t try.  Become an accountant instead.  Please don’t teach your children to live in scarcity.  Teach them to pray, to know God’s plans for them, and to pursue them with vigor!  Do everything you can to help them achieve God’s plans for their lives.

Scarcity in our Health:

An elderly doctor friend of mine was in a car accident.  The car hit him and crushed him – basically cutting his body in two.  He was alive when he shouldn’t have been.  He was even talking and coherent when he arrived at the hospital.  He could hear the doctors’ voices telling his daughters that they were going to do surgery even though there was no real hope of saving him.  He called the nurse nearest him over and said to her, “I want to talk to every doctor who will be present for the operation.  Can you gather them over here?”  They came to his bedside.  He said to them.  I want you to operate using all you have ever learned as if I am going to live – not as if I am going to die.  I don’t want you in the operating room if you have no hope.  Then he prayed for them.  He insisted that they operate on him out of their abundant training not out of fear and scarcity.  He lived!

Scarcity in our Churches:

Perhaps your church has a need.  Ours does.  We need an elevator for the elderly.  We need a priest focused on families.  We need to refurbish our organ.  And we need to pay off our debt.  I have so admired our vestry and priests who have chosen not to live out of scarcity.  Out of deep prayer they have discerned God’s vision to supply these things.  And in the midst of an economy that says you are crazy to do a capital campaign, they are doing just that.  The staff was the first to make their pledges with generous hearts! The rest of us are following.  They could have chosen the way of scarcity, but they chose abundance instead!

Scarcity in our Denominations:

I met with one of my old seminary professors recently.  He has been watching how different denominations have handled the economic recession.  Being a seminary professor and teaching future ministers, his view has particularly focused on how denominations treat their seminarians.  He said some denominations are turning away those who believe they are called into ministry saying there is “no place for them to minister.”  When the truth is, there is a huge need for ministers in all denominations, but no money to pay them.  These denominations are living in scarcity.  His words were that “they are in hospice mode just making themselves comfortable until they die.”

But he has noticed that other denominations, instead of turning away those God is calling into ministry, understand that God is miraculously raising up new ministers to serve in a time just like this!  These denominations see this as a miracle.  These new ministers are inspiring congregations to give more. They are finding creative ways to finance their educations and ministries.  They are willing to live on less – because less is more when you have the honor of serving God!  Some are even willing to work without pay taking on outside jobs. These denominations are inspired – giving more and outgrowing their buildings.  They are not in hospice; they have chosen abundance.  And they are seeing God provide.

Scarcity in Practicing Sabbath:

A single mom was terminated from her job when the company downsized.  For a few days, she was overwhelmed with the fear of not being able to care for her young son.  She had been working so hard for so long and was exhausted.  She needed rest and renewal.  So she began to pray.  In her prayers, she laid out her savings account and severance package before God. She started out with, “God how do I make this last as long as possible until you give me a new job?” Oddly and unexpectedly, God clearly spoke to her telling her to take some of the money and her son and head to a cabin in the mountains for a couple of weeks of rest.  Strange thing for a mom to do who is worried about the future. But she did.  She practiced Sabbath during this time and return renewed and ready to search for a job.  She found one that included a raise.  She also negotiated a week extra vacation every year.  She practiced abundance and not scarcity.

Scarcity in our Country:

Isn’t it scarcity that we practice when we don’t provide health care for all who need it? Isn’t it scarcity when we don’t pay living wages so everyone can provide for themselves and their families?  Isn’t it scarcity when we turn away immigrants instead of embracing them?

“For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mat 13:12 and Matt 25:29)

Practicing abundance is very different from practicing the prosperity gospel.  Living abundantly is the mark of the Christian.  This teaching requires that we discern the way of Jesus and live into his abundance – which will look different for each of us. We live in the sure hope that God will provide for whatever God calls us to do.  And once we know the will of God, we move forward without looking back. Do we know all the steps along the way?  Of course not.  But we know that Jesus firmly told us to live abundantly.  And we trust him.

Dear God, Help me see where I am living in scarcity and transform me into one who lives in your abundance!  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

*****

April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

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