Lessons from Scarcity and Abundance
Whether plenty comes first or last, there are always vital lessons to learn. The apostle Paul puts it as follows: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12).
When scarcity comes before abundance, it is meant to teach us the worth of the little we have. It may teach us that life can be sustained by the little there is. When abundance comes before scarcity, it is meant to test our wisdom if we understand that plenty can be for a season. Isn’t this the wisdom behind the saying: Make hey when the sun shines? This proverb counsels us to take advantage of the opportunity—in terms of timing—but it can also imply sparing when the supply lasts.
If we have a divine perspective over things, we will be in a position to understand from the alternation of abundance and scarcity the paradox of how much the little can be worth and how worthless the much can be. Little is not little if the Lord Jesus is in it; much is not much if the Lord Jesus is not in the mix.
Not all stewards get the privilege of graduating from the school of scarcity. A fully baked steward is one who has experienced scarcity before coming into abundance. Scarcity teaches us not to be wasteful and that is a lesson we should take with us into abundance. During scarcity, a steward learns to endure trials. During plenty, he has the opportunity to learn to resist indulgence and shun wastefulness. If our conscience is alive and active, it doesn’t take long to realise that plenty doesn’t come alone. It comes in the company of temptations that urge us to indulge. If we give in, that is when we begin to overspend on luxuries today and lack what to use on the necessities tomorrow.
During plenty, we should be able to manage the delicate balance between consuming, investing, sparing and sharing, among others. The time of plenty provides an ample opportunity to save for investment.
And don’t forget that there is a positive relationship between abundance and laxity. Pride is also another by-product of abundance. And when we talk about abundance here, we are not only referring to material things. The abundance here includes talents, grace, spiritual insights, etc. The apostle Paul, for example, talks about the messenger of Satan, a thorn in the flesh that the Lord allowed him to carry in his body to keep him humble. Due to the abundance of revelations he was given, there were chances that he could become conceited (see 2 Cor. 12:7).
Paul was a learned man who could easily mistake the revelations he had to be the work of his intelligence and academic achievements. Often, we tend to forget that we owe it to somebody else when success comes our way. One of the main characteristics of a steward is his awareness that he neither owes it to himself nor owns what is in his possession. He is conscious of the fact that he owes it to the One he will ultimately give an account to.
Speaking through Moses, the Lord God reminded the children of Israel how He took care of them in the wilderness—a time of scarcity. He counselled them what their attitude ought to be when they finally enter the promised land where they would experience abundance.
“Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.”—Deuteronomy 8:16-18.
A man came to Jesus and asked Him to arbitrate between him and his brother who refused to share the inheritance. In response, Jesus sounded to decline to arbitrate between them but told them a parable of a rich man who had a bumper harvest.
“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
“And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”—Luke 12:13-21.
At the beginning of this chapter, we applauded Joseph for advising Pharaoh to see to it that they stored something for the anticipated hard times. I also noted that we need to store not only when we anticipate hard times. It may look contradictory to bring in the parable that painted as a fool a man who set out to store his harvest so that his needs would be taken care of for many years to come. It is important to emphasise what C. P. Hia wrote (Our Daily Bread 16-3-2012) that the man was not referred to as a fool because he wanted to build bigger barns to store his bumper harvest. It would have been essentially foolish of him to leave it out in the fields where inclement weather would spoil it.
The man was considered a fool because the abundance of his harvests made him forget that he owed his life and times to God. He was also a fool because even when God spoke, he never heard it, or if he did, he ignored it. Otherwise, if he heard God spoke, he could have repented. Whether we have stored things for many years to come, we must still remember that we are not the masters of our destiny. This means therefore that when we save, we are not just saving for ourselves. We can be rest assured that we may be saving for our progenies, friends or even strangers. Another problem with the man was that he was laying up treasure for himself. He was thinking only of himself.