You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
–Psalms 65:8-11 (NIV)
The first time I saw a passionflower I very nearly tripped over my own astonishment. There was something unaccountable about that firework of purple— an unnatural, extravagant beauty. It was the only bloom in an otherwise untended scratch of dirt, and it seemed to be staging a cheerful rebellion against its uninspired surroundings, as if enjoying the irrational pleasure of hurling splendor into the world.
I think the Psalmist captures some of this excessive beauty as he describes the tendency of God’s creation to give beyond our accounting. Indeed, throughout the Bible, metaphors for God consistently raise the image of the abundant feast: bountiful harvests, overladen tables, overflowing cups. I suspect we need these reminders of God’s abundance, because in the lifecycle of growth and decay, we tend to fixate on deterioration. We never quite seem to have enough, and we worry that what we do have will slip between our fingers.
I don’t want to ignore the real problem of poverty in the world. But I do want to take seriously the notion of a divine provider. I want to understand what abundance looks like, how it reaches into my life and calls me to respond. How it demands that I loosen my grasp on my material, intellectual, and spiritual possessions.
Divine abundance is hard to accept. It is no easy thing to believe that as long as God is at the center of my being, there is nothing missing from my life. The truth is, it is easier to keep a perfectionist’s account of what I don’t have. And of course, a job in academia feeds this mentality with its push toward performance, so that I often measure my work by what I have left to accomplish. I develop, in other words, an attitude of scarcity about my physical and intellectual life. And yet, the Bible insists that God’s abundance means that all my provisions are already given. And so the first thing that abundance calls me to is simply to adopt an attitude of plenty, to take my eyes off of what I lack.
But more than this, abundance also calls me to give. In fact, by definition, abundance means that I have not only enough, but more than enough. There is an excess in God’s provision that must be either wasted or shared. Far from ignoring the problem of scarcity or poverty, God’s abundance demands that we answer it, by recognizing and giving what overflows in our lives.
What I have to give changes now and again, depending on my season of life. But I think this might be the point: to be continually on the watch for what is growing around me. I like thinking about giving this way, because it also helps me understand how I fit into the larger community of Christ-followers. What I lack, others surely have. And what I have, others might need. It fosters a sense of hospitality in me to know that my plenty is for the good of those around me.
But perhaps the thing that strikes me most about generous abundance is that it is self-propagating. As Christ reminds his followers in Luke 6:38, what we give returns to us, “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” (NIV). Our own generosity floods back into our lives, as abundant as the beauty of a passionflower.
Where are the places of abundance in my life? How can I give from those?
Thank you, God, for your abundant world. Let me open my eyes wide enough to see the beauty that surrounds me. Let me learn to recognize and give from what I have, so that I can learn to respond to your provision with generosity.
Jayme Yeo has a PhD in English from Rice University and joined the English department of Belmont University in 2013. She specializes in seventeenth-century British devotional poetry, early modern political culture, and affect. Her current book project explores the affective and political dimensions of religious experience in early modern poetry. She teaches classes on British literature and academic writing, including one class that integrates poetry with community service and political activism.