Do you live with a mindset of scarcity or abundance?

Bonita Shields, MPM, is vice president for ministries, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Columbia, Maryland, United States.

How much more money would you need in order to have “enough”? According to research, the magical number is $10,000. However, after many of those people who said that $10,000 would be “enough” received raises, they were asked the same question again and said that $10,000 more would be enough. Bottom line: they never had enough, no matter how much they had.1

During the COVID-19 crisis, many people have lost their livelihoods, savings, or financial security. However, what the $10,000 magical number illustration shows is that, whatever our circumstances, we often focus on what we do not have rather than on what we do. Rather than believe God has blessed us immensely—and continues to do so through crisis after crisis—and then express gratitude for those blessings, big or small, we often talk and live as if we never have enough.

What difference would it make in our personal lives if we were to look through a lens of abundance, focusing on what we have rather than what we do not?

A mindset of scarcity

This lie that we do not have enough, that God is withholding from us—just like in the Garden of Eden, when Satan made Adam and Eve think that they did not have enough, that God was withholding from them a fruit that was “good for food . . . pleasant to the eyes, and . . . desirable to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6)2—is insidious. It is subtle. It sneaks inside of us, in various forms, when we least expect it.

For example, we might hear: “I don’t have enough ability.” It sounds so humble, does it not? Actually, it is one of the most faithless statements believers make.

During Sabbath School class one morning, the teacher asked the members, “What are you good at?” How would people respond? No one did. As we sat there in silence, I decided to break it. “I’m good at writing.” I thought that was a safe one. I was a writer and editor with the Adventist Review at the time. I had to have a modicum of ability for that role. Nevertheless, the silence continued. You would have thought I declared myself Maya Angelou.

Finally, Jean3 responded, “You know, Donna is really gifted at decorating.” Then, Donna said, “You know, James is excellent at woodworking.” And so it went.

Do you see what happened? They were willing to affirm others—which is a good thing—but they were unwilling to share how God had gifted them. They confused humility with a denial of our God-given giftedness.

I have also been challenged by this concept anew during COVID-19. It has been so inspiring to hear and read about people who have found ways to minister to others from home. One person from my church sent out cards of encouragement; others have been making masks. Some are doing yardwork for their elderly neighbor; others are working at local food pantries to distribute food.

Sometimes we hear, “I don’t have enough money.” I have worked throughout the church structures for more than 33 years. As a local church pastor, I remember thinking, “If only the conference would give us more money at the local church, we’d be fine.” The conference staff often say, “If only the union or division would give us more money, we’d be OK.” And the division looks to the General Conference for more money.

No question, many of these needs are real, and we should regularly reevaluate our distribution of God’s funds throughout His church. But even after funds have been distributed, there is never enough. “We need more!” is the cry from the scarcity mindset.

Our generosity reflects the type of God we serve. Our generosity impacts how others view us as believers. Our generosity reflects whether or not we believe God’s Word.

Make no mistake about it, many of our members, churches, and conferences are struggling financially during this crisis. Many conferences have had to lay off people. However, our God is bigger than COVID-19. When we view life through a lens of scarcity—we never have enough—it reflects on the character of God. It tells the world that our God is not greater than a virus. It tells the world that our God is insufficient to meet our needs. It tells the world that since our God is not generous, we cannot be generous with others.

A mindset of abundance

In contrast to the mindset of scarcity, there is the mindset of abundance. I am not talking about abundance in the sense of acquiring more stuff. That is consumerism. Rather, I am talking about living our lives with the knowledge that God can meet all our needs—physical and emotional.

A mindset of abundance is rooted in the belief that we have enough. That we are enough. It does not deny our legitimate needs. What it does is operate from a stance of gratitude for those things that we do have. When we have this mindset, that we have an abundance, we are ready to share it with others. When we view life through a mindset of abundance and live generously, it reflects on the character of God. Our generosity reflects the type of God we serve. Our generosity impacts how others view us as believers. Our generosity reflects whether or not we believe God’s Word.

This is not to say that we mindlessly give of our resources of time, abilities, and finances to those who will misuse and abuse them—or that we must succumb to the pressure to give to those who do not need it, or that we must fall prey to the consumeristic mindset of our society, which says you are not generous if you do not give “stuff.”

Being generous can take place even during a crisis. Being generous not only with our finances but also with our time, talents, praise, grace, forgiveness, and acceptance reflects the generosity of our God.

Generosity: The new evangelism

Generosity has been called the “new evangelism.” Chris Willard and Jim Sheppard write, “Generous behavior is the best validation that Christians believe what they profess about God, faith, the Bible, and eternity. This practice of generosity is authentic and becomes magnetic to people who do not accept the Christian faith.”4

If generosity reveals to the world God’s character, and one cannot be generous living in a scarcity mindset, how can we learn to live a life of faithful stewardship through the lens of abundance and “enough”?

1. We receive graciously (“We are enough”). We have such a difficult time receiving gifts from others—even with receiving the gift of salvation. It takes humility to receive and not feel obligated.

At Christmas, when someone gives you a gift, more often than not, do you say, “Oh, thank you for your thoughtfulness and generosity,” even though you might also think, Oh my, how can I get them a gift in exchange for this one in a way that they won’t realize that I’m giving them a gift only because they gave me one?

Have we learned to receive from God in gratitude rather than refuse to receive because we cannot repay Him? When we are able to receive blessings from God in gratitude without feeling the need to pay Him back, we can operate from a mindset of abundance and generosity and then can cheerfully return to Him what is rightfully His.

2. We return cheerfully(“God is enough”). Returning to God what is rightfully His—whether returning praise for His generous gifts to us, returning a gift of increase through tithe, or returning from our gift of time through observing Sabbath—is not a legal transaction. It is a relational transaction. Returning to God what is rightfully His involves the release of control, letting go.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel speaks about this letting go: “To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”5

As we experience this releasing, this letting go of control, we find that we can manage what we do have. We find that we do have enough.

3. We manage faithfully (“We have enough”). Do we have enough time to share with others? Do we have enough talents to share through service? Have we embraced God’s grace so that we can share it with others? Do we have enough financial resources to share with others?

Statistics tell us that 70 percent of US households would have difficulty if only one paycheck was delayed.6 Meanwhile, about 25 percent of US families spend more than they earn.7 It is difficult to be generous when you are oppressed by debt. Faithfully managing one’s finances first blesses you and your life, which, in turn, allows you to bless someone else’s life. Billy Graham stated, “If a person gets his attitude about money straight, it will help straighten out almost every area of his life.”8

4. We give generously(“God has enough”). A beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, “Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar’s need. Why give him gold?” Alexander responded in royal fashion, “Copper coins would suit the beggar’s need, but gold coins suit Alexander’s giving.”9

What suits God’s giving?

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood’ ” (Mark 12:41–44; see also Luke 21:1–4).

Many came and gave out of their abundance, but they were giving from a scarcity mindset. The widow gave from her poverty. She had every reason not to give. Some would consider what she gave a pittance. Some would have told her that she did not have enough to give. But she gave from a mindset of abundance. She had enough.

Like Jesus

“ ‘ For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ ” (John 3:16). We give to be like Jesus, who gave of Himself. We give to fulfill our mission to reach a lost world. We give to show the world who our God is and that He is more than sufficient to meet our needs—and theirs. Whether we have $10,000, or less, it does not matter. What matters for us is to be like Jesus, who can meet all our needs—and then some.

  1. See, for example, Mattie Kahn, “The $10,000 Salary Jump That Will Actually Make a Difference in Your Life,” Glamour, April 9, 2019, https://www.glamour.com/story/the-dollar10000-salary-jump-that-will-actually-make-a-difference-in-your-life.
  2. Scripture is from the New King James Version.
  3. Not her real name.
  4. Chris Willard and Jim Sheppard, Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), chapter 10 description.
  5. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951), prologue.
  6. American Payroll Association, “Survey Finds Majority of Americans Live Paycheck to Paycheck,” Cision, PR Newswire, September 10, 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-finds-majority-of-americans-live-paycheck-to-paycheck-300915266.html.
  7. Research from the Association of Young Americans and the American Association of Retired Persons. See Liz Stevens, “What Percentage of Americans Spend More Than They Earn?” Best Money Moves, Oct. 3, 2018. https://bestmoneymoves.com/blog/2018/10/03/what-percentage-of-americans-spend-more-than-they-earn/.
  8. Billy Graham, Unto the Hills: A Daily Devotional (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 141.
  9. “Generosity,” Sermon Illustrations, http:// sermonillustrations.com/a-z/g/generosity.htm.

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Bonita Shields, MPM, is vice president for ministries, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Columbia, Maryland, United States.

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