So what I’m saying here isn’t merely theoretical. It’s personal. The following tips are not just what I preach to my fellow worshipers, but what I preach to myself.
When we face tough times, whether they’re due to individual financial crises, such as an illness in the family, or macroeconomic disasters that poleax the whole nation, our responses should be the same.
Work harder. The more valuable you are to your bosses, the more difficult it is for them to let you go. And if your company can’t afford raises, give yourself a raise. Consider a second job, or a third. In addition to my position as a pastor, I manage apartments, teach part-time for a university, speak publicly, write columns for the Herald-Leader and write in-house communications for a large corporation.
Cut expenses. Study your monthly bills. Do you really need a land-line telephone as well as cell phones for everyone in the family? Couldn’t you survive without that golf-club membership?
Get rid of debt. Buy used cars for which you can pay cash. Don’t run up outstanding credit-card balances. As everyone from the Bible’s authors to Shakespeare has warned us, a borrower is a slave to the lender.
Invest consistently. As you increase your income and lower your outgo, you’ll find yourself with extra cash. Sock most of it away. With the stock market now unpredictable, you might want to consider low-risk investments. You won’t get rich with Treasury bonds or certificates of deposit, but you’ll have a cushion should the economy turn worse.
Give more. The Bible says repeatedly that God notices those who are generous, happy givers—and provides for them when they’re in need.
In difficult times, your inclination will be to scale back your charity as you scale back your spending and debts. Paradoxically, that’s a mistake.
Instead, become more generous.
Even if you’re so broke you can’t donate a dollar to your church, you can still be a giver. Give a nice piece of your furniture to a young couple just starting out. Bake bread and take it to an elderly person living alone. Baby-sit for a harried single mother.
Giving will help other people. It will distract you from your own woes. It will make you feel better about yourself.
Take the long view. There’s a story about an old preacher attending a ministers’ conference. The ministers were sharing their favorite scriptures. When it came the old preacher’s turn, he said, “My favorite verse is, ‘And it came to pass.’”
The others stared at him. Finally, one said, “‘And it came to pass’? What does that mean?”
“Well,” the old guy said, “no matter what I’m going through, I know it’ll eventually pass.”
That applies today. The economy goes in cycles. It booms, then it busts. Then it booms. Sooner or later, it will get better. Even the Great Depression didn’t last forever.
Count your blessings. If you’re reading this, you still have eyesight. Thank God for it. If you ate breakfast this morning, you aren’t starving. Thank God for food. If you can walk to the mailbox to fetch your unemployment check, thank God for legs. No matter how many troubles you have, there’s somebody who’d gladly trade places with you. Adopt (sorry for the cliché) an attitude of gratitude.
Pray. Let it all out. Thank God for his blessings—but whine and rail to him about your fears, too. It’s good therapy, and God’s big enough to handle the worst you can throw at him. There’s no need for a lot of “thees” and “thous” when you pray. I think it was Anne Lamott who said she basically has only two prayers: “Help! Help! Help!” and “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
God hears. God cares.