Christian Finances in Troubled Times

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(Various scriptures)

INTRODUCTION: I’m sure most of you are well aware of the financial crisis that has hit our nation and now the entire world over the past couple weeks. It has been one wild roller coaster of a ride, although unfortunately most of the dips have been in the downward direction. If you have any stocks or investments, let me give you some advice – don’t even look at them right now. Don’t bother sneaking a peak at your retirement account. You already know that it’s down, and it will only get you down.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and I told him I wasn’t worried about my retirement account because I figure I’m probably 30 years away from retirement and less than 10 years away from the rapture. Of course my friend replied, “If that’s your plan, why are you investing at all?”

These are tough times financially. Most people are worried. A lot of people are scared. Some people are panicking. So how does a Christian handle their finances during times like these? Does God’s Word have anything to say to us about our finances during troubled times? Yes, it does. In fact the Bible has a whole lot to say about money and finances. But this morning I would like us to focus on just a few Scriptures that specifically address our finances during troubled times.

I. Be joyful in God. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

So, what does the Bible have to say about Christian finances during troubled times? First of all, be joyful in God. That’s right. Rejoice in the Lord! That may seem surprising at first, because you probably thought we would start by talking about money. But as with all things in life, we do better when we start with God. And the Bible says specifically during troubled financial times, we should be joyful in God.

Turn with me in your Bible to Habakkuk 3. We studied the book of Habakkuk a couple summers ago, and we spent a whole message just on this passage. Habakkuk was a prophet, and God told Habakkuk about troubled times that were coming for the people of Israel. They were about to be invaded by a foreign nation, and many of them would lose everything – not just 20% off the market, but everything they had.

In response to this word from God, Habakkuk speaks some of the strongest words of faith you will find in the whole Bible. He says: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Basically what Habakkuk is saying is this: though the future looks bleak, though the present is disappointing, and though your past reserves are all spent, rejoice in the Lord, be joyful in God your Savior. Let’s tale a look at all three of these scenarios.

    A. Though the future looks bleak

Though the future looks bleak. We see this in the phrase: “though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines.” The buds on the fig trees and the grapes on the vines represent those things you are trusting for the future. Perhaps you are waiting for the right job offer to come through. Perhaps you are hoping for a bonus or a raise. If those things don’t materialize, can you still rejoice in God?

    B. Though the present disappoints

Though the present disappoints. We see this in the phrase: “though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food.” The olive and other crops in the fields represent those things you are trusting in the present. These are your present resources. And for a lot of us our present resources are getting stretched pretty thin. Heating costs will be high this winter, although thankfully oil is back down again for the moment. Of course that doesn’t help you a whole lot if you already filled your tank when oil was high, but hopefully it will help when it comes time to re-fill. What do you do when the things you were counting on in the present fall through? What do you do when you lose your job or get laid off or a client doesn’t pay? Can you still be joyful in God?

    C. Though your past reserves are spent

Though the future looks bleak, though the present disappoints, though your past reserves are spent. We see this in the phrase: “though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls.” The sheep in the pen and the cattle in the stalls represent those things you are trusting from the past, the savings or reserves that you have built up. Sort of like money invested in a retirement account. Now most likely the market will turn around, and most people will gain back what they’ve lost. But what if it doesn’t turn around? What if you really did lose everything you had saved and worked for? Could you still rejoice in God?

That is the kind of faith that God calls us to as Christians. Nobody likes to go through troubled times. But when we do, it really reveals some things to us about our faith in God. Is my hope in financial security, or is my hope in God who loves me and cares for me and has promised to meet my every need? Habakkuk says: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

So that’s the first thing God says about finances during troubled times. Be joyful in God your Savior. Nothing is worth as much as your salvation, and it can’t be taken away. Finances change and go up and down. But God never changes. You can rejoice in him.

II. Practice good Christian stewardship.

Secondly, practice good Christian stewardship. Now we should practice good Christian stewardship at all times, even when our income is high and our expenses are low. But it becomes even more important when we hit troubled times financially. What are some of the principles of good Christian stewardship? Let me give you three.

    A. Give faithfully. (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians16:2)

First of all give faithfully. Jesus said in Matthew 6: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) The investments you make here on earth can all go sour in a moment, as the last few weeks have shown us, but the investments you make in the kingdom of God will last forever.

God calls us to be faithful in our giving through good times and bad. Part of this is because giving is a heart matter. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) So if you store up all your treasure here on earth, that’s where your heart will be. But if you give faithfully to God’s work, then your heart will be focused on God and his kingdom.

How do you give faithfully to God? The Bible teaches regular, proportional giving. 1 Corinthians 16 says: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” (1 Corinthians 16:2) “On the first day of every week” – there’s regular giving. “In keeping with his income” – there’s proportional giving.

Some people wonder what proportion of their income they should give. I believe you start with a tithe, which is ten percent, and then work your way up as God increases your income and your faith. But once again, it depends on where you want your heart to be. Do you want your heart set on things here on earth, or do you want your heart set on heaven? “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

    B. Spend carefully. (Luke 12:15)

So the first step in good Christian stewardship is to give faithfully. Secondly, spend carefully. Jesus said this in the gospel of Luke: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Did you catch that? It is a warning. Watch out! Don’t be tricked into thinking that the more stuff you have, the happier you will be. In fact sometimes having more stuff actually decreases your appreciation for what you have. When you only have a little, you appreciate what you have that much more.

I remember back when I was fresh out of college, and I had three CDs. I had Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” Joni Mitchell’s “Dog Eat Dog,” and Bruce Cockburn’s “Stealing Fire.” That’s it. Man I loved those CD’s. I listened to them again and again. I learned every song and every note and every word. They were all I had. I really appreciated them. Now that I’ve got hundreds of CDs, I don’t listen to any of them nearly as much as I listened to those three. So I guess I should go ahead and just sell all off my CDs except for three then, right? It’s not that easy, is it?

Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) I love that last line. Your life does not consist in how much you have. Rather your life consists in how much you love and serve God and other people. Remember, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

You should spend carefully all the time, not just when times are tough. But during troubled financial times, it becomes even more important. We have had to make some adjustments at our house as we approach winter and heating the home. We have had to let go of some things that we like and are used to. If you’ve tried calling me on my cell phone recently, you’ve probably figured out that I had it disconnected. There are more important things for me right now than the convenience of being able to make phone calls away from a landline.

You may need to make some adjustments in your budget and lifestyle too. That’s all part of good Christian stewardship.

    C. Save wisely. (Proverbs 6:6-8, 22:3; Genesis 41:28-38)

Give faithfully, spend carefully, and then thirdly: save wisely. Proverbs 6 says this: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Proverbs 6:6-8)

Now an ant is a tiny creature with a tiny brain. I’m guessing most of us have brains bigger than the average ant. And yet God made the ant incredibly wise when it comes to saving for the future. In fact God sets the ant before us as a role model when it comes to the art of saving. The ant works hard all summer long saving and storing for the troubled times of winter when food will be scarce. God says, “Go to the ant … Consider its ways and be wise.”

You may remember the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Joseph was living in Egypt at the time, and God gave Pharaoh some disturbing dreams about fat and skinny cows and fat and skinny stalks of grain. Joseph interpreted the dream for Pharaoh, informing him that God was foretelling seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. And then Joseph gave Pharaoh the following advice:

“And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food.

This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.” The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:33-38)

Joseph knew that famine was coming, and so he wisely recommended a savings plan to prepare for the troubled times ahead.

Proverbs 22:3 says: “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3) Once again, saving wisely is always an important part of good Christian stewardship, but it becomes even more important during troubled times. In fact, when you think about it, the less we have, the more important it is that we save. If you have large amounts of money coming in every week, you might get away without saving for awhile. It wouldn’t be good Christian stewardship, but you could get away with it. But when you only have a little bit coming in at a time, it is so much harder to save, and yet so much more important. You need to build up some reserves for the hard times down the road.

So what are the principles of good Christian stewardship? There are others but these three are vitally important: give faithfully, spend carefully, save wisely.

III. Trust God to meet your needs.

So far we have looked at two general principles from the Bible about Christian finances in troubled times. First of all, be joyful in God. Secondly, practice good Christian stewardship. And now let’s look at one final principle. Trust God to meet your needs.

    A. Ask God’s help. (James 4:2; Philippians 4:6-7)

Trust God to meet your needs. First of all, ask God’s help. James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2) Some people are fiercely independent and hold off on asking God for anything because they want to make it on their own. But you know what? You are already dependent on God! God gave you your life; God gave you your talents and abilities; everything good that you have comes from God. You can’t even take your next breath unless God allows it. So don’t try to act independently from God. Ask God for help.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) That’s a great verse to hold on to during troubled times. Don’t give in to the worry and fear and panic that is gripping so many people across our nation today. Do not be anxious about anything, but present your requests to God. The first step in trusting God to meet your needs is to ask God’s help.

    B. Don’t confuse wants with needs. (Philippians 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:17)

Secondly, don’t confuse wants with needs. We read in Philippians 4: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) Notice God doesn’t promise to supply all your wants. There are all sorts of things we might want (might really really want!), but that doesn’t mean God is going to give them to us. God will meet all your needs according to his riches in Christ.

The Bible says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17) God will provide everything you need to be content, and once again, contentment does not come from wealth, but from loving and serving God and others. There are a lot of rich people who were arrogant and put their hope in wealth instead of God, and they have just found out how uncertain wealth can be.

Don’t confuse wants with needs. Put your hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment

    C. Trust God’s promises. (Hebrews 13:5-6)

And then finally, trust God’s promises. Hebrews 13:5-6 says:

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.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Don’t love money. Be content with what you have. God has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” What more can you want? Others may give in to worry and fear, but we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the stock market do to me?”

CONCLUSION: We are living in historic times. Over the next months and perhaps years we will be watching a nation and a world try to rebuild its economy. I don’t know how successful that attempt will be. But I do know this, no matter what happens, you can do three things:

    1) Be joyful in God!
    2) Practice good Christian stewardship.
    3) Trust God to meet your needs.

Now that’s some good advice from God’s word on handling Christian finances during troubled times.

© Ray Fowler

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