Stewardship - Inspire July August 09 - handling tough times
STEVE PIERCE considers how two very different people have handled difficult financial times – the Old Testament prophet Haggai and Christian professional Malcolm McReath
In his inaugural presidential address in 1933 to an America gripped by depression, Roosevelt said that we have nothing to fear except fear itself.
He knew that fear strips away peace and joy; it takes away vision and purpose. Instead of looking outwards and flourishing, we turn in on ourselves. It is as though when we are under pressure the fault lines appear in our lives.
Roosevelt was right. We cannot let fear diminish our present and our future, or strip us of faith and confidence in a God who has promised to provide for us. In a recession we can respond not to what has happened but out of the fear of what might happen.
Fear and anxiety can cripple both ministry and our spiritual lives and always constrains generosity. Without realising it, or intending to, we can push the lordship of Christ to the margins of our lives while we get on with the business of coping and surviving.
Can recession really bring renewal? I believe it can.
Meet Malcolm McReath, a Christian professional who shared his testimony with Stewardship earlier this year.
“I had a life-changing experience in the 1991 recession. At the time I was the UK head of a
business that manufactured printing equipment. Recession and changes in the printing industry cut our turnover by two thirds in just 18 months. Staff cuts from top to bottom became inevitable
“I found that my own position was no longer viable and, giving way to a man 12 years my junior, became one of those retrenched as the workforce reduced from more than a 100 down to 40. I had suffered the pain of making so many good people redundant and now I was cast on the scrapheap myself.”
Redundancy is never easy. Much more is at stake than loss of income. Yet it was against this backdrop of professional and emotional turmoil that God worked in Malcolm’s life.
“When I walked out of the company for the last time I amazingly experienced a great sense of peace that I now know could only have come from the Lord himself. The words from Jeremiah 29:11 came right into my mind: ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”’.”
Malcolm had to grapple with the promise in those words through some tough months of soul- searching and job seeking. “Pride was driving me to go for many interviews for management positions in the printing industry, but at each one I knew in my heart that none of these were for me.”
In the end, God’s words took hold and, with some fear and a little trepidation, Malcolm began to carve out a new career path as a self-employed consultant.
“True to his word, God has provided for me and prospered me. In fact it was the making of me and I gained a great deal in terms of quality of life and time for my family and church work, which, I must admit had suffered during my years as a company director. Looking back, I am very glad now that my redundancy happened.”
When we are frightened of losing our jobs, when we are genuinely anxious about our families, when we can no longer meet debts which we thought were manageable, it is hard to be faithful and to trust that God’s hand is at work in our lives.
The wonderful thing is that we have a God who understands our needs – practical and emotional. God can redeem all things, even redundancy, though the journey is often painful.
If you build it he will come
The Gospel challenge to keep God at the centre, to keep generosity as the hallmark of true discipleship around money and possessions is not new. Around 520 BC, the prophet Haggai challenged Israel to do both these things even as they struggled with economic hardship.
Haggai called the people to rebuild the temple – a major capital project in the midst of a recession!
Haggai’s message brings three challenges and a wonderful promise to us:
Don't say now is not the time (Haggai 1:2). Although our natural fears and anxieties for families, jobs, even homes are very real, don't let fear push God to the margins of life. Is this a challenge for you in your situation?
Consider your ways (Haggai 1:5-6). In an affluent society that is always seeking more, the picture Haggai gives of putting our money into bags with holes is a challenging one. Do our lifestyle choices challenge or compromise with the spirit of the age? Even in recession many are better off and there is a challenge to step up our generosity when others have to step back.
If you build it, he will come (Haggai 1:13-14). In this rebuilt temple God will take pleasure in worship and reveal his glory. Sacred space and sacred place matter because they symbolise what, or who, is at the centre for us: God or self? We don’t need to build a temple, but we may need to take practical action to put God at the centre and ask him to reveal his glory in your personal situation.
I am with you (Haggai 1:13). With a big ask comes a big promise as Haggai declares God’s presence with his people, a promise repeated in 2:4 and 2:5. Here the words remind us of the promise to Joshua after the death of Moses – words of courage and promise.
Anxiety in economic downturn can be a lonely road, but it is not one we have to walk alone. We have the presence of God and of those parts of the body of Christ that make up our local church.
God’s presence is declared to both a people challenged to rebuild in the midst of hard times and to those disappointed that the rebuilt temple did not match up to their expectations.
Our God understands our fears and our disappointments.
Free recession resources for your church
Stewardship has released new, free resources to help you explore Haggai's insights into faithful living and generous giving in a recession. Visit www.Red2Black.org.uk to access preaching, prayers and home group study material.