By Laura Stephens-Reed
“Give us this day our daily bread…”
As the sole proprietor of my clergy and congregational coaching practice, I have a love-hate relationship with money. The constant monitoring of income and expenses reminds me that I am a businesswoman, even as I approach the services I provide as ministry.
The onboarding of new coachees seems to ebb and flow with the seasons of the church year, but costs of living are no respecter of the liturgical calendar. It is easy – too easy – to get swept up in a scarcity mindset when I compare my PayPal account with my stack of bills. What if my aging car breaks down? What if the Dow keeps dropping and my Roth IRA bottoms out? What if I get sick during this apocalyptic flu season and the doctor copays pile up? (I am good at coming up with worst-case scenarios, as you can see. This is an essential talent if one is going to take up the mantle of scarcity.)
Of course, I know that this way of thinking is contrary to scripture. We worship a God of abundance. A God who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers more majestically than Solomon, even as neither the sparrow nor the lily earns its keep through its own works. A God who provided meat and bread for the grumbling Israelites each day of their forty-year pity party in the wilderness. A God whose love overflows into the river of life that slakes our thirst, not just now, but for eternity.
I wanted – needed – this intellectual belief to translate into a spiritual shift, so a few months ago I began incorporating the following into my nightly prayers: “Thank you for today’s bread. I pray that you would provide bread for tomorrow.” It was a good first step for me, taking time to be grateful for the tangible ways God had sustained me that day. But the prayer was still tinged with strain, as if I couldn’t fully trust that God had the next day covered.
One night I was going through my prayers, admittedly in an unfocused way, when I accidentally reversed the order of my usual appeal: “I pray for daily bread, and I thank you for daily bread.” Something was instantly different in my body. It sounds like such a small change, but in praying for provision and then thanking God for it, I was acknowledging that God had my today and my tomorrow in God’s compassionate and competent hands. My faith factor ratcheted up a few notches through the divinely-inspired rearrangement of a few words.
I believe that most of my spiritual setbacks have stemmed from the temptation of the scarcity mindset. Is there really plentiful food and shelter to go around? Are there sufficient opportunities for meaningful work? Can the important people in my life spare enough love for me? And what about the ever-elusive resource of time? Are there adequate hours in the day to get things done? When these questions start swirling, my stomach tightens, my world shrinks, and worry keeps me from looking too far beyond myself.
I wonder if scarcity is our collective spiritual crisis as well. Right now we are wrestling in our country and in our churches with questions about who’s in and who’s out. As we make budgets at each level of every institution, we default to asking, “what do we need to cut?” As the Doomsday clock creeps closer to midnight, we ask ourselves whether we can ever be armored enough against attack. These mindsets are the ingredients for a war to determine the survival of the fittest, not the peace of God’s reign.
And so this Lent I want to challenge us all to flip the script. To ask ourselves what we really require and what others who are also made in God’s image need. To trust that God knows our circumstances. And to pray for daily bread first and then thank God for the provision we have benefitted from and will experience tomorrow. We can offer this advance gratitude with confidence, because even as we make that hard journey with Jesus to the cross, we already know the victory he attains on our behalf with the good news of Easter.
“…for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.