When economic fortunes change, so should attitudes
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” —Opening line from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, 1859.
Without question, the current economic landscape is a difficult one. It plays on our emotions, challenges our thinking and weakens our resolve. At MB Foundation, we have a unique perspective and are able to survey the landscape from a variety of vantage points.
We’ve heard from churches that are wondering how to pay staff and service debt in light of rising unemployment, declining investment portfolios and decreased generosity. We’ve had conversations with pastors who want to refinance their home loan and find their personal residence being valued at 30 percent of what it was a year ago. Then there is the donor in his 70’s who frankly stated that he “was born in the depression and now will finish his life during the depression.” Truly, to many of us, these seem like “the worst of times.”
I was reminded recently of a fascinating passage in Matt. 8:23-27. My Bible identifies this section with the title, “Jesus Calms the Storm.” But let’s remember that before Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were shaken to the very core and honestly thought they were going to drown. It was a furious storm and the waves swept over the boat. The disciples woke Jesus saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” It was “the worst of times”…until Jesus “got up and rebuked the winds and the waves.” Then it became the “best of times” as the disciples marveled at the Lord’s power and the display of his provision.
What would it take for these to become “the best of times”? A rise in the stock market of 40 percent? Real estate or commodities shooting up 30 percent? A recent job loss, restored? To be the benefactor of some extravagant generosity this Christmas? All of these things are out of our control. What would be within our control?
I submit that what is needed is a change of perspective. The worst of times can become the best of times as we change the lens through which we view these times. As in the story of Jesus calming the storm, the disciples received a new perspective. Why didn’t they realize from the beginning that they had no reason to fear, that the God of the universe was riding in their boat?
The apostle Paul recognizes this same challenge when he writes his young assistant in 1 Tim. 6:17-19 and gives him a blueprint for financial discipleship. He says to “command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.” Does anyone need to be convinced of this point today? I don’t think so.
Now comes the new perspective. Paul goes on to say they should “put their hope in God.” This perspective will make the worst of times “the best of times.” The church needs to rise up and agree that we have too often been arrogant about what we have, that we have placed our hope in wealth rather than in God. This 180-degree shift will turn these worst of times into the best of times. Rather than being focused on the temporal and stirred up by the present circumstances, we need to lay up treasure for ourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that we may take hold of the life that is truly life.
During this Christmas season and in the midst of these difficult economic times, may our hearts, minds, emotions and pocketbooks reflect a perspective on the eternal, being confident in the God of the universe, who is trustworthy and good. I close with the words from one of my favorite worship songs: “and when the darkness closes in Lord, still I will say, blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be his glorious name.”
Jon C. Wiebe is president and chief executive officer of MB Foundation, the Mennonite Brethren stewardship ministry that works with people to “give meaning to money.” MBF has its corporate headquarters in Hillsboro, Kan., and has a California office in Fresno.
Sat, December 6, 2008
by Jon Wiebe