Monday, December 29, 2008

Hope in These Uncertain Economic Times

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Phillipians 4: 12-13

Each day, I see emails or other writings from people who are struggling financially. Yes, times are hard for most families now. In the emails and blogs, I often read how the struggles are affecting the families. They are very worried about everything from their employment, losing their home or car, and just making the utility payments. Many of the emails come from those who read my blog. They read about our lifestyle and tell me that they wish they had thought about living that way before all the struggles happened. For some reason, they feel we are untouched by the economic issues. We may not be as affected as those with huge debt, but we are affected in some ways.

I often think on the stories I have read in the Bible about the times when the Lord stepped in and brought about change in His people. If I may, I have to go on memory here as I have been unable to read the Bible in nearly a year due to my vision. I wanted to say that there were times when the Lord's people were doing very well. They were living a life of plenty and had riches. It seems that each time they reached that position in their lives, it wouldn't be long after that they would start to forget the Lord and that the riches they had came as blessings from Him. They built up idols that had more importance to them than the Lord. They were puffed up with what "they" had acheived of their own efforts and work. When they would reach this point, the Lord always stepped in. The people had to be humbled and reminded of the Lord and from Whom their blessings came from.

Over my adult years, I have watched how society in general has become. I am speaking in general terms, please take no offense for what I am saying , I say with love. I have watched as many families are consumed with the ideas of having the best of everything. They want a large home, new vehicles, and the newest version of anything that catches their eye. They have convinced themselves that they "need" these things and are willing to get into a deep debt to obtain them. Credit cards have been a downfall to many families. The convenience of being able to get what they want on a whim has gotten out of control. People, in general, have forgotten what it is like to save up for the expensive things. They want it now and buy it on credit with little thought to what their payments will be like.

Many parents are feeding this example to their children in heaping spoonsful. The child asks for the newest video game system or other equally expensive entertainment and the parents give it to them. As soon as a newer version of that gift is on the market, the kids are asking for it because they "need" it. Often the system that they already have is still sufficient, but the child sees only that there is a newer version that is better. That gift that was given is no longer viewed as being acceptable. The same goes for clothing. I remember one family who's daughter was obsessed with having jeans of a particular label. The family was not wealthy. They had to save up to give each child a school clothing budget of $150 for buying their clothing for the new school year. This daughter used over half of her budget on a single pair of jeans! The mother then spent a large portion of the son's budget on the daughter so that she would have enough new clothing to start off the school year. The son was left with enough money for a single outfit that certainly did not come from the mall, as his sister's clothing did. The daughter's whim and desires came before the true needs of her brother. She was raised without the knowledge of the difference between a need and a want. Nor was she taught to show love to her brother by being sensible with her own budget so that he would have what he needed also.

Over the last month, I have watched on the Freecycle group the wanted ads. People were doing their Christmas shopping through Freecycle. Normally it wouldn't bother me at all. This time it did. I saw ads from people asking for laptop computers, game boys systems, a Wii system, iPods, and other such items that are very expensive. They seem to have forgotten that Freecycle was originally set up as a way to keep unwanted items out of the landfills. One ad said that they "needed" a DVD player for their 18 month old. The ad that really got to me though was a woman who had been through a house fire. Insurance had paid for the home but not the contents. She was asking for furniture. She went on in her wanted ad to say that she would like 3 TVs, and gave a list of solid wood furniture she also wanted. The last thing she stated was that she wanted pictures of the furniture you offered her, which would give her a chance to pick and choose what she wanted. I am sorry for her. She is in need of prayer. She has lost everything in a fire, yet she still is not humble enough to want only the necessities. She is instead wanting donations of furniture and furnishings of the quality that she had prior to the fire. She is a prime example of what I am writing about. Because she had the items once, she feel entitled to have them again even though she cannot afford them herself.

This brings me back to my original point. Whenever the Lord's people became too prideful in their wealth, He allowed them to be put into a position of becoming humbled again. Today, we are seeing families (and governments) that have allowed over spending of their financial resources to get out of control. Families and governments are living beyond their means in an effort to have it all.

I don't see the financial struggles and hard times as a punishment from the Lord however. I see it as an opportunity for us to be humbled and reminded of where our priorities should be. It is up to each of us to decide if we are going to use this as a time of reflection on how the Lord may be using this in our own lives or are we simply going to panic and blame the Lord for our struggles. The Lord is loving and does nothing to cause us harm. While His ways are not always easy for us, sometimes what may seem the hardest is the thing that is the most loving. It is like when your child strays a bit too far in one direction and you have to rein him in help guide him into the direction he needs to be going. I see this situation as one of those times. The quest for possessions and living beyond our means has gotten out of hand and in order to save us from our own folly, the Lord has allowed this time of learning and growth.

It is my prayer that each of us will truly open our hearts and minds to what the Lord wants in our lives. That each of us will get honest with ourselves and our Lord in how we have handled our stewardship over the blessings He has given to each of us. And if the Lord has to grow us in an uncomfortable way, I pray that we all are willing to be humble enough to allow Him to teach us.