Perspective of Abundance

Read Exodus 16:11-18

There exist many times in life when two opposing views present themselves. These views are usually based upon our perception. Is the glass half full, or is it half empty? This question is often quoted to show the concepts of pessimism and optimism. We also eventually realize that life generally resides somewhere in the middle of opposing views.

In the familiar passage for today, we see this challenge of contrasts. The Israelites are seeing their lives solely from the perspective of what they do not have. This perspective leads to complaining and an amnesia in regards to all which the Lord has given them. God shows the people abundance in quail and manna. They had all that they needed, and an abundance remained.

We can often have a perspective like the Israelites. We look at the world around us, complaining about all the things we do not have. Quickly, we can forget what we have thanks to the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord. All of which we truly need is provided by our God, and there is an abundance to share with others. Let each of us strive to achieve an attitude of abundance. If we succeed, it might just lead to less complaining and more gratitude.

Scarcity Versus Abundance

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21 (NIV)

During my professional career, I have attended many conferences and even helped plan a few. One of the challenges for conference planners is making sure there is the correct amount of space for the number of people who attend. This requires making projections and estimations. A colleague of mine used to always comment when we were in a room too small that the planners did not properly plan for success. Another way to look at situations like this is an attitude of scarcity versus an attitude of abundance.

The attitudes of scarcity and abundance are visible in the passage from Matthew today. Confronted with a resource supply issue, the disciples recommend that Jesus send away the crowd. They tell him that having only five loaves of bread and two fishes is not enough to meet the needs of the people. The disciples are focused on what they are lacking, an attitude of scarcity.

Jesus has a completely opposite analysis of the situation. When addressed by the disciples, he responds that they should take care of the people’s needs. In Jesus’s view, the disciples have everything necessary. When the disciples are unable to see the abundance of their resources, Jesus steps in and demonstrates this reality.

Like the conference planners and the disciples, we can easily fall into the trap of adopting a scarcity viewpoint. As we attempt to evaluate needs and then balance those against our perceived resources, we can tend to identify why something will not work instead of why it can work. We must be practical yet that does not mean we have to limit possibilities.

Another key factor which is present in Jesus’s example of an abundance attitude is the God factor. The God factor is the certainty that God is able to take what we have available and use it to meet the needs which are before us. Initiating this factor is possible through prayer and trust. Prayer is our communication of the need of which we are aware. Trust is belief that God is able to provide for the need. When the God factor is put in play, we discover we have abundance.

Enough?

When is enough enough?

This seems to be a question which infiltrates all aspects of life. The onset of consumerism since the Industrial Age has led to a viewpoint that a person can never have enough. In the Spring 1955 edition of the Journal of Retailing, Victor Lebrow who was a marketing consultant wrote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms.

Victor Lebrow

The added desire for instant gratification to this consumerist approach to life has created the dynamic of scarcity. People often look at life and say that “we do not have enough to…” A feeling of scarcity leads to hording, greed, and even violence as we strive to protect what we have or get what we do not have. Yet, perception and reality do not always align.

As a Christian, I am not immune to this battle for “enough.” Throughout the Christian Bible ample verses and stories speak to this dilemma. One is  found in the Hebrew Scriptures located in the story of the Hebrew journey from Egypt to the promise land. The people had been complaining to Moses about not having enough food to eat and how it was so much better back in Egypt. Moses was tired of their constant whining and blaming him for their plight. He decided to take the matter up with God and God made a promise to provide plenty of food for the people each day. You can find this story in Exodus 16. God did provide manna (a flaky substance) and quail every day. Clear instructions about the collection of this food were given:

Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.

Exodus 16:16

No one is to keep any of it until morning.

Exodus 16:19

Initially the results turned out wonderful.

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

Exodus 16:18

Yet, the fear of scarcity set in and so…

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 16:20

Jesus also tried to deal with this battle of scarcity dduringhis ministry. He incorporated the idea of having enough for each day in the prayer which he taught his disciples, a prayer which today is known as the Lord’s Prayer… “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

From these examples, we come to see that we are provided with exactly what we need each day. We actually have an abundance of what we need. Now this may not mean we have everything which we want but there is a clear difference between “want” and “need.”

Yet, we tend to live in the attitude of scarcity and not one of abundance. We say things like…

“If I only had more time, I could get my work done and volunteer.”

“If I only had more money, I could pay my bills and give to support those with food insecurities.”

“If I only had more (fill in the blank), I could (fill in the second blank).”

According to Sentier Research as quoted in an article on seekingalpha.com, the median income in the United States in June 2018 was $62,175. Compare this with the country of Burundi which had a median income of $730. Some would have to argue that a majority in the United States could not claim scarcity in income. All of us know that money alone is not a gauge of abundance. Similar examples can be identified in other measurable aspects such as material goods, opportunities, skills, education, and environment. This is not intended to say that individuals in the United States which lack this abundance are not present. Median means that there are many who are below the numbers listed above. Nor am I arguing that there should be guilt associated with abundance. My point is when we adopt an attitude of scarcity, we tend to forget the abundance which is available to us.

This attitude does not confine itself to our personal lives. Our corporate experiences are infiltrated by this attitude as well. It seems natural since if we as individuals focus on scarcity, the groups which we are members of will also look through the lenses of scarcity. Whether it be government, organizations, or even the church, comments and approaches linked to a view of scarcity seem to be the modus operandi. A long list of reasons why something cannot happen is much more common than a list of ways to make it happen.

An attitude of scarcity results in us saying why we cannot do something. An attitude of abundance shows us why we can.

I encourage each one of you to adopt an attitude of abundance. See how this might change your perspective on life and thus, your life as a whole.