|Annie: I’m glad that my retirement is still 30-some years away. |
Matthew (some years older): Funny, now so is mine!
The late-night TV comics assert that the stock market fell 500 points in a day, but that’s good news, right, because who knew there were 500 points left on the board?
The route between home and work is strewn with House for Sale signs. Some businesses and auto dealerships have moved out of their rented space. We wonder if the bank with which we’ve done business for years will have the same name tomorrow as it does today. On the morning news, we see that a man who saved carefully for his whole life is about to retire, and finds that his retirement account will only last three to five years because his investments have gone sour and he has no time to replace those savings. We read that a family of six died by murder-suicide because the provider lost his job and could think of no solution for his “shame;” or that a single mother killed herself and her child rather than accept charity or face homelessness. We learn that an international insurance company, which “saved” millions of dollars over the years by denying claims to its own clients, has been rescued by the government (which means us taxpayers), to the tune of $85 billion. All of that in less than a week.
Some people say they’re surprised at this financial crisis. But it’s a simple formula: War leads to a temporary economic boom (or bubble), followed by a “correction” in inflated prices, followed by a recession (when the bills come due for the costs of the war) — or even collapse. Like a weight-loss plan, when it took a while to put on the pounds, and it will take longer to work them off; so, too, we will sacrifice comforts for years to return to a balanced life. Read on, though, because there is a remedy, from the lips of our Savior.
A pastor’s widow found herself in desperate circumstances:
One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead. You well know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves."
Elisha said, "I wonder how I can be of help. Tell me, what do you have in your house?"
"Nothing," she said. "Well, I do have a little oil."
"Here's what you do," said Elisha. "Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few—all you can get. Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside."
She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them. When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, "Another jug, please."
He said, "That's it. There are no more jugs."
Then the oil stopped.
She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, "Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what's left." 2 Kings 4:1-7 MSG
God supports microenterprise! More important, He honors and delights those who trust in Him. This widow knew where to go for resources. She was not too proud to meet every neighbor and put herself under their mercies as she borrowed their household goods to set up her business. She and her boys carried home heavy clay jars as large as themselves. (She went from nothing, to a houseful of borrowed empties. This is actually a negative number!) This widow had the faith to fill her 400 square-foot, one-room house with empty amphorae and bowls, and then pour her “little oil” as if she had a pipeline to the olive grove oilpress. Along with her full jars, she had a grateful heart to report the miracle and ask for new instructions. She had the courage to set up shop in the marketplace and sell her commodity, then pay off her creditors. Surely she returned the borrowed vessels to her neighbors with her joyful testimony of grace. Out of her “abundance” of emptiness, she was miraculously filled to overflowing. And she obeyed the prophet and lived.
When we are at our weakest, lowest, most hollow, echoingly vacant point, remember that this is the place with more space for the power of God to fill us to overflowing. The Lord said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
And Paul wrote, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV
During an election season (in the United States), we sometimes hear Christians say that they don’t want to support “lazy people” with food, shelter, and health care, that they want to keep all their hard-earned money for themselves and their family. This is a natural human reaction. But the Bible says, We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." Romans 15:1-3 NIV
The Lord has commissioned His people to care for the widows and orphans, the helpless, the sick, the prisoners; to take up collections for the famine-stricken and poor. To pay our taxes faithfully to support the work of our governments and support the infrastructure needed for commerce and emergency services. In fact, we are to pray for our leaders (even if they despitefully abuse us).
In times of hardship and insecurity, it seems, incredibly, that God is telling us not to worry about our own financial security or welfare (because we can’t grow taller or live an hour longer anyway), but to cast our burdens on Him and get busy helping others. Get your nose out of your navel, forget yourself, and work for others. This is the Lord’s remedy for financial insecurity.
That is not logical by this world’s standards. But we know that this world where we’re busy measuring stacks of stuff, defining our own borders, pouring concrete to nail down our territory, buying and selling, grabbing and counting — this world is only the shadow of the real, tangible kingdom of God. All is upside down and backward from what our senses tell us! The first shall be last, a child shall lead adults, the repentant sinner is justified while the religious professional isn’t, the humble is exalted, a widow’s mite is worth more than a rich man’s major gift… Jesus was out to bend our minds, apparently!
So here’s the thing to remember when we hear the news, or even if we make the news! The Lord Jesus says to you (surely with love, understanding, and concern in His voice), “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. [Get busy with helping others!] Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:29-34 NIV
What is your treasure? It’s not something anyone can measure or assign geophysical coordinates to. Your treasure is Jesus living in your heart. It cannot be exhausted or drained in financial failure. And it is the ultimate security, the only retirement plan. Eternal life with the Beloved.