Thriving in Tough Times Part 10

“For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” (James 1:11)

There’s nothing pleasant about tough times. Employment is better than unemployment. Paying your mortgage is better then being kicked out of your home by foreclosure. Repairing your old car isn’t as fun as buying a new one. Tough times are just that. Nobody likes going through them, but here they are.

We retool our thoughts and habits to survive through the tough times and wait for better times to return. But I don’t know anyone that actually looks forward to tough times. That would be kind of sick wouldn’t it? I mean, what good do tough times do us? Wouldn’t it be better if we were all fully employed, fully mortgaged, fully transported and fully funded? That’s the American dream. What’s wrong with that?

Everybody deserves to own their own home. Everyone deserves a new car – that’s why they make new models every year. Everyone deserves new furniture, new clothes, and every Friday night out at Applebee’s. Right? That’s what the TV says – and since we’ve fully bought into the idea that everyone deserves their own TV (or two) and 200 channels filled with spokesmen telling us what everyone deserves, we’re all well informed.

When dark days come along and everyone doesn’t get everything everyone tells us everyone deserves we call it ‘tough times.’ Like what we’re in now. Surely, nothing good can come of it.

Or can it? Could there be any positive purpose behind living through tough times? You should have asked my Grandpa. Here’s not here anymore, he’s in heaven. Most of his generation is gone now too. Grandpa and his generation lived through a time in this country’s history called the Great Depression, and that experience profoundly affected the rest of their lives.

You’d be surprised at the similarities between life just before the stock market crash of 1929 and the stock market crash of 2008. Never in America’s history had consumerism, easy credit and market speculation taken hold of citizens as it did in the Roaring Twenties.

By 1914, Ford had produced just half a million automobiles. But by 1929 there were 26 million registered in the United States. Henry Ford put owning an automobile within the reach of every American. At the same time another great development hit the public – electrification. Electric power in American homes meant new appliances to be made and bought. By 1929 over one million refrigerators, one million washing machines and millions of radios had been purchased. American factories, thanks to Henry Ford, had developed assembly line systems, which meant they could make more products cheaper and faster than before, which meant the manufacturers had to find more consumers, which led to a few more inventions – mass advertising and easy credit. For the first time, Americans were told “you need more stuff” and “take it home today but pay for it later.”

Of course, the companies making the stuff were booming so ordinary citizens were putting more and more of their cash into the companies’ stock. Finally, we were smothered in stuff, smothered in easy credit and the companies whose stock we owned were smothered in inventory. Then the credit stopped. Then the buying stopped. Then the jobs went away. On top of the economic devastation, the weather seemed to turn against them as well; a year’s long drought turned America’s farming heart into a great Dustbowl. It wasn’t a good time.

Sound familiar yet?

Did any good come out of the Great Depression? Any positive outcome for a time of such economic devastation? We know that the Depression generation developed habits that defined our society for years – thrift, hard work, saving for a rainy day, aversion to credit, a unique combination of self-reliance and community, and a shared faith.

As the Depression generation aged and began to pass from society, the lesson learned seemed to pass with them. Less than eighty years after the greatest economic disaster this country has ever faced, we’re repeating it because we’re repeating what caused it. Only this time we’re doing it to the tenth power.

Did you know that we (the USA) are over 11 trillion dollars in debt right now? We owe China $1.8 trillion. If we paid them a million dollars an hour (just principle, no interest), it would take more than 200 years to pay them back. What if they want their money tomorrow?

We’re in this folks and we’re going to be in it for a while. So let’s look for positive purpose behind what we’re going through; what are the lessons we can take away from this experience, and what opportunities do tough times hold for us as followers of Christ?

Fat times breed fat bellies (I’m talking physically and spiritually). The positive purpose behind tough times is that they burn fat. They burn away the laziness, selfishness, and complacency that comes along with the feeling that we’re secure with all the stuff piled around us. When all our stuff and prestige and activity melt down with the economy we’re forced to answer the question, “where does my security really lay?” Is it in the stuff or in something else? When a person’s sense of security goes away one of two things happen: he sets out in search of a new source of security, or he loses hope.

That’s why I started this series ten weeks ago with “Adopting a Christian Worldview.” You’ve got to know who you are and where you stand in the universe before you can understand the ultimate source of your security.

Good times are easier to cope with than bad times, but here we are. What lessons are we going to take away from this experience? That’s what weeks 2 – 9 were all about – teaching us to live like we weren’t madly in love with the false sense of security all this stuff seduces into (visit for a review). We’re not citizens of this world. We’re not supposed to buy into all the baubles it tries to sell us. When we do, and when the baubles go away, we’re laid bare by their false promise. If you don’t live for the promise of worldly goodies when times are good, you won’t be devastated because they didn’t keep their promise when times are bad.

The most important purpose of tough times? Light shines brighter in the dark.

I’m appalled at all the stories of suicide that have been reported lately due to financial collapse. These people were your next door neighbors (if you live in a really nice neighborhood). These folks were walking advertisements for the American Dream. And they killed themselves over bad mortgages. It’s not just a tragedy, it’s obscene. It makes me angry and it should make you angry too.

The world’s success system is a lie. When people buy into it and it goes bad, the ground they stand on vanishes beneath their feet.

But tragedy brings opportunity. There wouldn’t be any heroes without a war. No rescuers without a disaster. I believe we’d all be better off without wars and disasters, but that’s not our reality. We’re in a spiritual war right now. All tough times do is expose the victims.

But you’re not a victim; you’re a hero, a rescuer. You’re not devastated when this world collapses around you because you belong to another world. A better one. The reason you’re still here is to be a light for folks who haven’t figured that out yet. If they’re sinking in a world that’s collapsing all around them and you’re standing on a rock and offer them a hand, what do you think they’re going to do?

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

How’s your shine?