The Abundance Dilemma
During my college and seminary days as a young twenty-something, I gave little thought to abundance or wealth. I went to school, both undergraduate and graduate, completely financed by my thrifty and frugal parents. Two part-time jobs, one being at a church, gave me plenty of disposable income. I had a car. I had means. In short, I often took my privileged life for granted. Being an adopted only-child bred me for a life that expressed little gratitude and even smaller generosity.
During those strange formative days, I gave little of my own money away utilizing the skill of deflection quite well. Why would I give money back to my church or anywhere else if I was already on the church payroll? Does receiving require giving? What I failed to see in those days was something that would become more and more real to me over time. I suffered from an abundance dilemma which is aptly described by C.S. Lewis.
“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
It took a great deal of time, challenge, and outright push to shake me loose from my wrongly held convictions about generosity and gratitude. I find that when I am disconnected from sense of gratitude that generosity begins to wane. At times, I find I still look upon generosity as task rather than a joy. God is still working on me.
So much of fear and anger of these polarized days may stem from the abundance dilemma. Income divides are growing. The role of privilege and power continue to expose the vast chasms in our social and cultural order. I wonder how the fear of a shifting culture sparks fear in those who are the “haves” and ignites hope in those who are the “have-nots.” Fear of loss is a powerful force that makes the abundance dilemma feel more like an unsolvable enigma where the best solution is to simply ignore it.
The followers of Jesus are called to engage this dilemma head on. Jesus speaks to the dilemma itself when he tells us that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 10:25) That is a dilemma!
We must first consider all the ways we are rich and then begin the slow process of doing what appears impossible. Embracing a life of gratitude and generosity are the keys. Where and how have each of us expressed thanks today? How has our generosity created thanksgiving in others? (2 Corinthians 9:10-15) These simple starting questions can open a door which leads us out of the abundance dilemma into a different kind of abundance. It is the abundance of joy.
With Joyful Grace,
P.S. Our church begins a new four-week series called “The Abundance Dilemma” on Sunday, October 16. Watch each Sunday here on YouTube or in-person at First Free Methodist Church in Seattle, WA
Rev. Dr. Craig Brown