Monday, September 2, 2013

The Counter-World of Thankfulness

Walter Brueggemann describes the narrative of abundance, in which Jesus has invited us to participate, as made of up thankfulness, contentment, generosity, and peacefulness.  This counters what Brueggemann calls the narrative of accumulation, which starts with an ideology of scarcity that leads to anxiety, selfish accumulation, monopoly and, ultimately, violence. I believe thankfulness is the key to the practice of the narrative of abundance, and the eradication of the narrative of accumulation.

Thankfulness leads to contentment.

This becomes obvious to all who practice it. When we take the time to "count our blessings," our eyes are opened to the abundance with which God has blessed us. Anyone can take part in this. Anyone can see it. From the saddest part of the ghetto to Park Ave in New York City, all who practice thankfulness will realize abundance, and will find themselves in the hammock of contentment. Scarcity says "there is not enough"; thankfulness says, "look how much there is!" Scarcity says "I need!"; thankfulness says "I have." An ideology of scarcity results in dissatisfaction; thankfulness results in fulfillment.

Thankfulness leads to generosity.

Because thankfulness opens one up to abundance; because it emphasizes how much one has rather than what one is lacking, thankfulness naturally leads to generosity. Scarcity leads one to anxiety, in which one does not have enough and must acquire more. This anxiety leads to accumulation; all eyes are on the needs, desires, and interests of one's self. Thankfulness is the opposite; in causing one to realize the abundance one is subject to, the contentment one experiences as a result will inspire a sharing of the abundance. When one realizes abundance, one realizes that there is all that is needed and more; thus, there is enough for others. Contentment and gratitude naturally inspire generosity. Try it.

Thankfulness leads to peacefulness.

Recently, my small group engaged in a night of thankfulness. We went around the room and all said 1 thing for which we are thankful. Then, we went around again and said 2 things. We worked all the way up to 8! Inspired by all the thanksgiving, we decided to go around the room and say what we're thankful for about all the others in the room. All of us together shared in the abundance, and this resulted in a peace that simply could not be surpassed. The recognition of abundance and the practice of generosity will always lead to peace.

If you find yourself engaging in an ideology of scarcity, in which you think you do not have enough, in which you focus on your needs and how you are going to acquire them, practice thankfulness. This will open your eyes to God's abundance and will lead you to contentment, generosity, and peace.

I cannot imagine a more powerful, more easy-to-use weapon against all the negativity of evil.
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matt. 6:24-33)
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Phil. 2:3-4)
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Phil. 4:6)
"Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; That [my] soul may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to Thee forever." (Ps. 30:11-12)
"Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." (I Tim. 4:4-5)
"In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thess. 5:18)
"Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph. 5:20)
"Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Col. 3:17)  
What are you thankful for? (Please share in the comment box)

Like what you're reading? Listen to Walter Brueggemann's 5-part lecture on the narrative of accumulation vs. the narrative of abundance here (episodes 255, 254, 253, 252, & 250). For an overview, go here.

3 comments:

  1. This is such a great approach to thankfulness, but you are right, people naturally gravitate their focus toward scarcity by focusing on what is wrong, what we don’t have and how we can get our way and yet we must work to redirect the thought life to that place of abundance. However, I think we see many trying to duplicate this in our world of spiritual dryness through modes of pop psychology and pseudo positivisms, but they are nothing short of superficial replacements of true thankfulness. Rather, it is living in humility, awe and hope of Christ’s past work and present workings. This cannot help but produce a heart of intimacy, admiration and thankfulness.
    So, in the name of abandoning the ideology of scarcity: (1) I am thankful for the new addition God is blessing me, my wife and our family with next month; (2) I am thankful for the grace to be completing the undergrad portion of my education this year; (3) I am thankful for the new friendships and relationships God is bringing into my life.

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  2. I think I really needed to hear this today. Being new to home ownership often causes me to lean towards the ideology of scarcity and the accompanying anxiety, but hey I'm new to home ownership! That alone is reason to be thankful, and I would be stupid not to think more on the side of thankfulness. Not only that but our bills continue to get paid! So, the thankfulness continues on.

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    1. That is wonderful to hear.
      Not only is the practice of thankfulness self-perpetuating, but it's also contagious.

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