Barely Making It
Financial stress can easily move our life’s focus toward money.
Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. – James 1:2-3
For many, financial stress is a constant pressure that disrupts almost every aspect of life. I received a question from a reader that goes like this:
“It seems the angle of [the money discussion] is [mostly] for those who seem to be in an overflow of money and not letting this money get in the way of a gospel approach. What about those of us who may not exactly be in this overflow situation… where we are anxious about money and living paycheck to paycheck. I find myself obsessed with getting my finances in more of a comfortable situation for my family but am one bad thing away from trouble.”
Since my wife and I had years of deep money struggles, this question is real to me. And the reality is that many, if not most, are living in financial difficulty. In December of 2017 NBC News published an article that said that 65% of Americans are losing sleep over money worries. And my experience is that many of us are really one event (down-sizing, health change, etc.) away from extreme financial difficulty.
The natural tendency, if left unchecked, is to think about financial problems from the wrong foundation. Because money is a cornerstone of this world’s thinking and activity and motivation, and because it’s simply connected to so much of daily life, it’s easy to fixate on the pain and miss the bigger picture.
So, I’d like to suggest prayerfully thinking about a few things:
God is sovereign over your situation
The reality of God’s sovereignty over everything is critical to deal with financial stress. While it’s not easy, we must know that God has purpose in our struggles and has our good in mind. (Romans 8:28) I can only imagine the thoughts swirling around in Joseph’s head as he was betrayed and sold into slavery. And yet we ultimately hear him say to his brothers, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20) We may not know exactly what God is doing in our struggle but one thing is sure; he is calling us to deeper faith. His purposeful control should give us what we need to continue to live rightly while in the struggle.
Our response to financial difficulty is important
Often when we’re in a tough place our only thought is, “How can I change this? I need to get out of this.” As Christians, that is NOT the most important thing. Since we are trusting our lives to the Sovereign who cares for us, we must first strive to radiate a Christ-exalting life while in the middle of trial. Fear and anger and anxiety and questioning God’s love or existence can be real temptations when money-pressure mounts. But that’s a worldly perspective:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:12-13
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. – 1 Peter 5:8-9
Focus on your role model
While the NBC article I referenced above has no gospel-focused advice, it did make an interesting observation that applies here. It says that one of the problems is that we’re often fixated on the wrong role model. It suggests that those under financial stress often compare themselves to those they think are better off. In other words, they adopt the wrong vision for what life should be like, and that increases the stress.
Our role model must not be the rich guy at work or the beautiful woman who seems to have her act together or even someone who simply isn’t in a financial struggle. Our role model must be the One who showed us how to live for the glory of God while facing unimaginable pain.
While all of this does not mean we shouldn’t strive to improve our financial situation, we must be careful that we approach difficulty the way we should. If God is leading you through financial stress and struggles, he cares about our response.
Financial stress should not have the same effect on Christians as it often does on those who have tied their hopes to money. If you’re married, this struggle can produce unity and a shared focus on what’s most important. Some of the sweetest times in my marriage have also been times of pain.
Living in a barely-making-it situation should not drain your joy. You should see this as a time when you can evaluate your spiritual condition, repent where needed, and live for Jesus in the difficulty.
Now, I know this was not filled with tactics and strategies that will magically fix the barely-making-it situation. And we should certainly, prayerfully consider our alternatives like our simple functional budget. But please don’t think that there is no eternal purpose in the struggle.
John Piper has a great devotional about suffering and faith – read it HERE