As we ring in the New Year, it is natural to think about what we need more - and less of in our lives. Weeks of holiday shopping, gift-giving, and feasting tend to leave us thinking about losing weight, tightening our budgets, and creating a better work-life balance. Every year, we resolve to break from the cyclical patterns of excess and self-criticism, but somehow in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we forget the old adage “too much of a good thing” and indulge to the detriment of our waistlines and wallets, not to mention our spiritual health.
One need look no further than the nearest gym to see this cycle at work. Visit a gym on January 2nd and you will see it packed with out-of-shape patrons desperately trying to work of that holiday weight, but come back a month or two later, and the crowd dwindles significantly. We turn to fad diets, extreme exercise plans, fancy budgeting tools, and self-help books, desperately trying to manufacture a breakthrough in our lives, but it is almost always in vain. Our plans are thwarted almost as soon as they begin, and we resign ourselves to an inescapable cycle. We fight our addiction to over-consumption with self-loathing and restriction,l but it is a losing battle.
The biggest problem with this yearly cycle is that we fail to recognize the spiritual ramifications of our focus on consumption. Whether we are overeating or crash-dieting, overspending or penny-pinching, we are focusing on the wrong things to bring satisfaction and meaning in our lives. We live in a culture of excess, and so we assume that the natural struggle is to either spend or hoard our abundance, but neither excess nor self-focused discipline are God’s design for us.
While few would argue that greed, obesity, and insurmountable debt are God’s intention for our lives, strict asceticism isn’t the answer either. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV) Jesus did not die for us to be miserable any more than he died for us to selfishly consume everything in sight. So if God’s design is for believers to have an abundant life, how does abundant life in Christ relate to the over-abundance of modern consumerism?
The key to this problem is the subtle difference between abundance and excess. Abundance is a state of plenty that brings blessing, while excess only comes with a new set of problems. Abundance is shared, excess is wasted; abundance comes in the form of blessings that we can never have too much of - love, peace, hope, and joy, while excess only provides more of that which will never satisfy.
As Christians, we have access to spiritual abundance in Christ, and God promises to meet our physical needs (see Luke 12:22-34, Philippians 4:19,) but the cycle of excess only causes us to accumulate temporary things that do us no good in the long term. Ultimately, we need to recognize the abundance that we already have in order to be freed from the excess that weighs us down. Only freedom in Christ can lead to freedom from the cycle of excess. When we submit to God and embrace His spiritual abundance, we are free to give and love with abandon
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifullywill also reap bountifully. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” -2 Corinthians 9:6,8, ESV