Fear and Faith in Times of Economic Crisis
“You believe God will meet all your needs, but you’re not sure he’ll provide all your wants and that’s what really frightens you, doesn’t it?”
I asked this question at a special evangelistic gathering of men in January 2009, right in the middle of the great financial meltdown. None of these men were worried about being homeless or hungry. But, to a man they admitted to periods of fear and sleepless nights, even the Christians present. It was humbling for me to admit to them that I too had been afraid. That set me on a journey to figure out why.
Why is it that even Christians worry? What is a worldview?
Our worldview is the sum total of everything we believe to be true, whether it is or not. It’s what Tim Keller calls “our mental map of reality”. And a worldview doesn’t have to be a well thought out philosophy of life – every person on earth has a worldview whether you’re an Aborigine or Harvard professor. It’s simply everything you believe, everything you feel, based on everything you’ve ever learned or experienced.
On the other hand, a biblical worldview is truth from God’s perspective. But for now, let’s set that aside and briefly look at how humans acquire their worldviews and why that’s so important if we’re to understand the source of our fear. To begin with, it’s helpful to think of “our truth” in these two separate, but overlapping spheres:
Informational Truth – This is everything we’ve ever seen as well as all the information and facts we’ve ever learned, which we have accepted as true. 2 + 2 = 4, China is a country in Asia, the memories of my children’s faces – hundreds of thousands of facts, including information about God that we have stored in our memory bank. Some of those facts we have more confidence in than others because we’ve personally observed or experienced them ourselves. And some of them are more important to us than others. Your checking account balance is more important to you than Bill Gates net worth.
Emotional Truth – These are the things we “feel” are true whether they are or not. Emotional truth isn’t always based on facts, but on our experiences – memories, disappointments, relationships, passions, perceptions, loves and hates. I love God! My dad never told me he loved me. I’m fat and unattractive. Many of these feelings are simply preferences (I like apples more than peaches). However, some of these emotional truths become so deeply ingrained in us, they shape our lives and relationships permanently.
Here’s another observation I’ve made: Pictures, words and numbers (informational truth) are the tools we use to organize our thoughts. For example, all of us daydream and plan primarily using words and numbers, often organized around pictures in our head. However, our feelings and passions (our emotional truth) is how we organize our priorities!
Here’s how that works in real life: I know logically that all people are created equal and we are commanded to love everyone and 10,000 other factoids about the value of all people. Those are the facts. However, if your grandchild and mine are both playing on the railroad tracks and there is only time to save one child, I’ll save mine first. That’s because in a millisecond I’ll sort through all the informational truth I know about humans and reorganize them and prioritize them based on their importance to me – that’s my core emotional truth. It’s those things I either fear or love the most will drive my priorities.
Fear in Times of Economic Crisis
So, when I was a kid, from a thousand voices all around me I came to believe these lies; with money I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. Money was freedom and respect. Perhaps it was from TV, the movies, I don’t remember where or how I got that message, but I believed it. In spite of the fact that my parents were happy with a very simple life, that became my emotional truth, my identity, and it drove me most of my life.
Then when I gave my life to Christ at age 31, I surrendered myself to God and began to replace many of my previously held worldviews with a biblical worldview – truth from God’s perspective. In fact, that’s exactly what it means to “mature in Christ”. We begin to have more confidence in truth from God’s perspective than in our own truth and begin acting by faith on it.
But, not all the other emotional truth that I believed for 31 years died completely. Some of those truths laid in the tall weeds waiting for a day like September and October 2008. That’s how it was that I, a born again child of God, and a reasonably mature follower of Jesus, found myself wide awake at 2:00 a.m. some nights, scared stiff and not quite sure why. I wasn’t going broke, but my security blanket had been torn in half – just about exactly in half – half my 401k, half the value of our real estate holdings! I still had more than enough to live well, but still half. My life wasn’t being threatened, but my lifestyle was and I was afraid.
The solution is death.
The Holy Spirit allowed me to find victory over fear only by dying. I took several days off, fasted, prayed, studied scripture, and over another few weeks’ time I came to these conclusions:
1. What it meant to “trust God” didn’t mean that I trusted him to replace what I had lost. It meant that I had to trust him that he would meet all of my needs, but perhaps not all my wants. I had to die to the belief that God was required to restore what I had lost, for me to “trust him”.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
2. If I didn’t die to my wants, I would always be an emotional slave to them. We only fear what we’re afraid to lose. So the only way to peace for me, was to die to the trust I had in the financial security blankets in my life and the self-worth, independence and comfort they gave me. What helped me was visualizing my life living with less, and realizing I could still be happy, especially given the rich spiritual and human relationships that have given me such an amazing life.
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Romans 8:15
3. I had to believe that God was allowing or causing all of this ultimately for either my good or for the good of his kingdom. It made no sense to me why this was happening, but I had to die to the need to know, why? The old song had it right, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
4. I couldn’t overlook the possibility that God was punishing me or disciplining me for something I’d done.
Of course I could have been wiser with some investments and a better steward with how I spent money. But, I had to consider if there was some other serious sin area I’d conveniently overlooked causing all this. I prayed for insight and sought out the counsel of others, but nothing glaring stood out, but I could have missed something. So, I had to die to guilt that some easily recognizable sin had caused this.
5. I was convicted that I had to learn to adjust my lifestyle to whatever God provided. A person can’t be content by getting what they want – only by being thankful for what they have. So, I had to die to some of my dreams and be far more thankful for what I had. So, Susan and I adjusted our budget to the new reality.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” I Tim. 6:6-8
So, how is it working? 99% of the time amazingly well. Susan and I are more content than we’ve ever been even while living on less. We still live a dream life by almost anyone’s measure, but the thick security blanket is thinner now. I have my days occasionally when the “monster” comes out of the tall weeds, but he’s lost his bite. I can’t say I like dying much and neither does he. But, I’m truly far more content now (and still a little surprised that I am). Go figure! Could God be on to something?
My Questions: What makes you afraid and can you trace it back to some emotional truth lie you believed? How have you dealt with fear in your life?
Following Jesus in Real Life.