Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vulnerable and Protected

I was not able to watch President Obama’s speech earlier this week but I eagerly checked the news the next morning to read about it. One headline in particular caught my attention, “President Strikes Optimistic Tone as Public Mood Sours.” People seem to feel increasingly shocked and surly about the worsening economic conditions. Some are directly affected – they have lost jobs, taken pay cuts, had their house foreclosed on, put off retirement. Others who are only indirectly affected still wonder where all this will lead.

I received an investment summary today for January 2009 from the company which holds my retirement savings and it reads like a news story the day after Pearl Harbor. “The optimism often associated with the dawn of a new year was thrashed by the realities of weakening global and domestic economies.” And “Housing, the epicenter of the financial crisis, had a few bright spots but overall continued its drumbeat of bad news.”

Sour mood indeed.

Since I am someone who is only (to date) indirectly affected by the economic conditions, I want to take extra care, out of respect for those experiencing real financial hardship, not to offer sunny or glib prescriptions for getting through this mess. Nevertheless, I would like to offer three suggestions which I believe we can all follow to our benefit.

First, view this as a refining time. Testing and hardship can refine our character, our habits, and ultimately our lives if we focus on what we can learn and how we can grow through them. This is the time to correct bad financial habits, if any, and develop good ones. Make the tough decisions and changes that will help you emerge from this stronger.

Second, keep things in perspective. As I write this, one child from West Houston is undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor and another is preparing for open-heart surgery. I can assure you these two sets of parents and their families are not worrying too much about the economy. People and relationships are the most important parts of our life.

Third, consider eternity. As Rick Warren says in his best-selling book, “The Purpose-Driven Life,” this life is preparation for eternity. Financial stability and having enough resources for the future are satisfying, but as the saying goes, “we can’t take it with us.” Ironically, financial security in this life can even hinder our preparation for eternity by making us spiritually complacent and too attached to this world.

In I Peter 1:3-5, the apostle Peter gives thanks for the reality of our “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (NRSV). I like the way The Message renders the next verse,

“I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved true; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps all this up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.”

That’s a good reminder during tough economic times. God won’t ask about my investment statements.


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