Oct 8, 2008

How should we live in the face of economic anxiety?

The question we are all dealing with is how to live well in these economically anxious times. According to the latest statistics by psychologists, eighty percent of Americans are anxious about the economic outlook and worried about making ends meet. That is a staggering number of people. Unfortunately, the news is not any different for followers of Jesus Christ. Everyweek I pray with people who are on the brink of a nervous break-down due to economic pressures. Many among us are dealing with job losses, house-value depreciations, and diminished or vanished incomes. Those in their 50s and 60s are seeing their retirement savings disappear over-night. Just yesterday, a dear seminary professor shared with me his own anxiety... his 401 K is now far much less than it was 15 years ago even as he approaches retirement. I believe that Jesus gives us a clear blue-print on how to live anxiety-free. Here are five principles that we find in Matthew 6:19-34 that if we pay attention to, we can live joyfully and worship God authentically inspite the goings-on: First, Jesus warns us to EXPECT SUDDEN COLLAPSE of earthly economic securities: Although we always hope and pray that our investments will flourish, Jesus tells us to expect sudden melt-down and disappearance. He warns that earthly investments are vulnerable. Thieves will break in and steal or moth and rust will nibble away on them. Many of us are all shocked to learn how Wallstreet CEO thieves have been actively stealing the public's funds. We are seeing how the moth and rust of economic mismanagement is leading to bank collapses. It should not be surprising to believers. Jesus said these things are bound to happen. If we place our hope and full confidence in humanly managed systems (capitalism) we are bound to be disappointed. Expecting shifts and disappointments is realistic and saves us from unneccessary anxiety when our investments suddenly vanish. Most importantly, it helps us to invest our time and treasures wisely. Secondly, in view of expected sudden melt-down Jesus calls us to INVEST DIFFERENTLY. He calls us to prioritize the investment of our time and resources around the Kingdom of God. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (v. 20). Some of us may have stopped giving to charitable causes, ministries, and churches due to our fear and panic. But Jesus reminds us that this is the best time to invest in the Kingdom of God. The measure of our trust in God is our generousity in times of anxiety. With open hands we should receive from God all that He wants to give, believing that He wants to give us alot, and with open hands give it away, believing that we cannot outgive Him. Jesus clearly calls us to demonstrate our strength of relationship and confidence in God through our continued generosity. Thirdly, Jesus calls us to REFOCUS. By drawing attention to our eye's influence over our overall well-being, Jesus calls us to refocus our view and perspective. "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." What have you been focusing on lately? What have you been talking about and with whom? Clearly, what we focus on affects our overall health. If we are solely focused on Wallstreet, we will no doubt be depressed. But if we focus on God, then we have no reason to worry. Jesus warns us against letting the darkness out there overwhelm us in here. The tragedy is not that there is darkness out there. The tragedy is that we, His followers, should let the darkness out there encroach on our inside. Symptoms of darkness on the inside are precisely what we are seeing in 80 % of Americans: anxiety, panic, depression, anger, resignation and despair, etc. "If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (v. 23). Fourthly, Jesus calls us to REMAIN LOYAL TO GOD. The Old-Testament concept of loyalty to God embraces the idea that Israel was to look to God as their sole provider and reason for prosperity. It was the reason behind God's command for them to take a day of rest (Sabbath) each week contrary to their pagan neighbors who worked seven days a week. It was a re-affirmation that they were not a self-dependent and self-made prosperous community. God was their source of wealth and well-being. Rather than rush to save ourselves by taking on more working hours or second and third jobs at the expense of our spiritual health or families, we should re-affirm our confidence in God and pledge ourselves afresh to Him. We should stop trying to save ourselves apart from God's plan and seek His wisdom on how to channel our investments. If you watched todays news, you know that all the recent attempts by government and the Fed chairman to bail out Wallstreet or to cut interest rates is landing in a bottomless pit of sorts. I can be as bold here and state that the American government's current approaches in seeking an economic solution are anti-God and will fail. My wife Suzanne points out to me that God is attempting to get our attention. But so far, we have remained self-focused. The solutions being pursued are totally fear-driven and anthropocentric in nature. No one seeks God. No, not even one. As God's people, His call for us is to stop trying to save ourselves. Have you prayed about your current situation or your future? What is most important to you? Is it your 401 K? I assure you if it is, that as it goes down so goes your future with it. "You cannot serve God and mammon" Jesus warns (v24). Finally, know that GOD CARES for you. Therefore stop worrying. Worry and anxiety do not add to our lives. They take away from our lives. Jesus assures us that God is watching over each one of us to provide for us all of our basic needs. He may not necessarity indulge our wants (a whole new topic for later) but He wants us to know that He will take care of our needs. He does it daily for birds, beasts, and plants. He will do it for you. --------------------------------------------- Several months ago I gave a message in the four worship services at Westwood Community Church titled: How then do we live in the anxious middle? (July 22nd 2007). I said that for those who are followers of Jesus Christ, we have the advantage of faith and divine companionship in our experience of the anxious middle. We are confident about a good ending pricisely because God, the one who holds the beginning and the end of our story, is with us and for us. I urge you to click on the link, scroll through the topics and listen to this audio for your own encouragement as it is relevant to our current state of affairs.