Part One – Scarcity and Abundance
I was recently at one of my favorite coffee shops, named Reverie. On one of the walls they have written, in large letters:
REVERIE: A STATE OF BEING PLEASANTLY LOST IN ONE’S THOUGHTS
My first thought was, “I don’t want to be lost in my thoughts, I want to be pleasantly lost in the thoughts of Jesus.” I have come to believe that the primary work in Christian spiritual formation is seeing and knowing the world (God, creation, ourselves, life’s meaning, etc.) as Jesus saw it. The scholarly way of saying it is “living in the noetic environment of Jesus” (Mark McIntosh). The simple way to say it is, “To know reality as Jesus understood it.”
Dallas Willard put it this way: “The process of spiritual formation in Christ is one of progressively replacing . . . destructive images and ideas with the images and ideas that filled the mind of Jesus himself. Spiritual formation in Christ moves toward a total interchange of our ideas and images for his.” It is clear from Paul’s epistles that what we think about, what we set our minds on, is crucial in our formation. The two verses that best describe this are these:
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2)
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5)
What does it mean to set our minds on “things above,” or to have the “mind” of Jesus? It is a new way of perception. It means to see reality as Jesus does. Paul uses the word “above” to contrast that which is “below,” which is to see reality from a human perspective “being conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).
So how does this world think? And how does Jesus think? That is what I hope to write about in this blog, and in several to follow. Today I want to write about the scarcity narrative of this world, and the abundance narrative of Jesus, and how the decisive shift in thinking come from the Cross.
In the mind of the world, there is a limited amount of the things we need. Think of a pie. There are only so many pieces to a given pie, so if you take a piece I have less for me. If you and others take several pieces of the pie, I may not get any. Thus, I will need to scratch and claw and fight to make sure I get my share of the pie. This is the mentality that is at the core of warfare. It is also at the core of all sin. The early church theologian Evagrius Ponticus (345-399 AD) taught that the scarcity narrative was at the root of all the 8 Deadly Sins (pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust and vainglory). For example, because of scarcity, I will be envious of someone who has something that I do not, or more of something that I do.
In contrast, when we examine the gospel stories we see Jesus living from entirely different view of reality. In them we see Jesus behaving as if he were from another world. Which he actually is. But it is a world accessible to us. It is the reality of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Jesus knew that the world is actually God-bathed. He had a clear vision of a good and beautiful God who is right here with us, able to provide what we need when we need it. In the economy of the Kingdom of the heavens, resources do not diminish upon their bestowal. There is more than one pie. In fact, pies are in endless supply in the Kingdom of God.
This is why Jesus told us not to worry. He knew that for the person who loves and lives with his heavenly Father, the world is a perfectly safe place to be. Heaven is here, now. God is with us. Of course, we cannot see it in the literal sense, but the most essential aspect of our lives are almost always invisible. For Jesus, as Dr. Willard has written, we live in “a world filled with a glorious reality, . . . a world that is beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.” Jesus knew this with absolute certainty, and he demonstrated it in his actions.
When the wedding celebration in Cana has ran out of wine it looked like the party was over. Not to Jesus. He turns water into wine and the revelry continues (John 2:1-10). Oh, and it is the very best wine anyone had ever had. One day when Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee he looks behind him to see 5,000 hungry stalkers. Jesus tells his disciples to feed them. They (thinking from below), say, “We don’t have the resources.” Jesus said, “Tell them to sit down. What do we have?” “A few loaves and fishes,” the disciples replied. So Jesus takes what they have, gives thanks, and feeds the entire lot. Oh, and there’s leftovers (John 6:1-13).
The wonderful opportunity to which we are invited as apprentices of Jesus is to have the mind of Jesus. We are invited to see reality as he does. Jesus saw clearly that the power of the heavenly realm was easily accessible. In order to make this shift we will need the Holy Spirit to assist us: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). In our current condition, dominated by the below thinking to which have grown accustomed, our minds have been enslaved to the narrative of scarcity.
In the realm of scarcity our isolated selves will have to extract our needs from others because we do not know how to receive them from God. Jesus never thought in terms of scarcity, limitation, fear, or lack. He thought in terms of provision, abundance, and excess. So, if we are to put on the mind of Jesus we need to engage in some heavenly reverie. Think on these things:
With Jesus, we can do anything that is right and good, no matter how seemingly impossible.
With Jesus, we will never run out of what we need.
With Jesus, we simply cannot lose.
With Jesus, we will never die.
I challenge you to take ten minutes and simply think about these four realities. Get lost in these thoughts. Ruminate, contemplate, and reflect on them. This is how Jesus saw reality. And so can we. We just need to practice heavenly reverie. Instead of being pleasantly lost, you will become pleasantly found.
Dr. James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notably The Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.