Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
So said Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century, and we might add that a deepening recession concentrates the mind woefully. The future we took for granted eighteen months ago isn’t what it used to be. Caution is in our water supply; trepidation is in the air we breathe. As I write, Barack Obama has been our president fewer than 700 hours, yet he has signed the largest spending bill in American history ($787 billion in case you weren’t paying attention). Indeed we are scared as a people. We wonder, How long will this last? How far do we have to fall? How many pink slips will be issued? Will one of them have my name on it?
Indeed, a recession concentrates the mind woefully, but if God is God, we have every reason for hope in our tomorrows. Regardless of our economy, national or personal, God is still God, and the gospel is still the gospel. God still has the hairs on our head numbered, and Jesus still promises he will feed us more readily than he feeds the birds of the air. So, instead of being terrified by our current economic downturn, consider these five reasons why a recession may be one of God’s great blessings to us as we stumble into 2009:
1. A recession will not threaten our happiness. When we run out of gold, we are more likely to enjoy the fine wine that is free rather than inferior wine that is costly (Isaiah 55:1-2). An abundance of riches tempts us to forget God and deny him (Proverbs 30:8). A tightening of our belts as our fiscal waistline shrinks will likely improve our prayer life and strengthen our faith. And faithful people who delight in God and not gravy, tend to be the happiest human beings on earth.
2. A recession will improve the interconnectedness and increase the expressions of love in our church. The first church in Jerusalem was born in poverty and thus blessed with the opportunity to meet one another’s needs. Luke goes out of his way to point this out. Believers were selling their property to meet needs (Acts 4:32ff.). Believers had all things in common (Acts 2:44), and there was not a needy person among them (Acts 4:34)! A recession will reveal whether we are a club or a church, and for this we should be thankful.
3. A recession is likely to enhance the work of the Spirit in our church. The church is always built on the power of the Holy Spirit; the church is never built with money. In fact, an excess of money is likely to threaten the vitality of the church. John Wesley, one of the leaders of the Great Awakening in the eighteenth century, said, Wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. If we love Jesus, we will love what he loves, and the church is his prized possession, his spotless bride! Jesus bought the church with blood, not billions. The early church was born in poverty, and it flourished in poverty. It was in Jerusalem, not Athens, where the church was born, and it was during a severe famine that the church grew explosively, not during a time of abundance. If the gates of hell won’t prevail against the church, surely the Dow Jones Industrial Average won’t either.
4. A recession may be the precursor to revival and renewal. Again, if we love the church that Jesus loves, our longing is to see revival and renewal among his people. Read the history of revivals and you’ll see they are often (usually?) born in times of economic calamity. Do you remember the story of the Fulton Street Revival?
The year was 1857 and a massive financial meltdown had hit our nation. Thousands of businesses failed. Unemployment was steadily rising. Banks and railroads failed. The economic panic spread across the globe. The epicenter of the recession was New York City. Thirty thousand unemployed men were idle on the streets. Drunkenness was rampant and protest was public. All of this led Jeremiah Lanphier to begin a prayer meeting during his lunch hour. At first, no one came, so Lanphier prayed alone. After half an hour of prayer, six others joined him. Lanphier was encouraged and decided to pray again the next week. Fourteen showed up. Then 23. Then 40. Within a few months, literally thousands of New Yorkers were praying weekly during their lunch hour—and God showed up! For a season 10,000 people a week were being saved in the city. The revival spread across the nation, and historians estimate that over 1 million people out of a nation of 35 million became Christians during this revival. God’s Spirit moved and changed the hearts of believers. The church grew in her outreach to the poor and in her battle for social justice.
5. A recession will probably improve our giving. You read it right: a recession will probably improve our giving. Study after study shows what we should call the paradox of prosperity among God’s people. As we grow rich, we grow stingy with regard to the giving of our money. And when we have less, we give more. Do you remember Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church? The hub around which most of the letter revolves is the apostle’s call to this urban church to gather money for the famished Jerusalem church. Paul’s example is not the rich church Ephesus or Antioch, but the poor church of Macedonia. Out of this church’s extreme poverty flowed a wealth of generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-6). In fact, the Macedonians begged earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the Jerusalem church. And what benefit will we receive from more faithful giving? Generous giving improves our relation with the Shepherd. Giving places us in a more dependent, more sheep-like posture before our Lord and thus we enjoy his leading in new ways. When we follow, he takes us to green pastures and still waters.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not thrilled about the state of our economy, and I wish this recession were not upon us. Globally, nationally, and in our own church family, many are suffering the ripple effects of the collapse of our financial institutions. Some of our own have lost jobs and others will, perhaps, in the near future. Some are considering closing the business for which they worked so hard. Let none of the above be taken to mean these things are easy or untroubling. Nevertheless, to end where we began, God is still God. He will care for his own. As he brings us a recession in his perfect providence, he will bring us what we need. In Romans 8, Paul argues from the greater to the lesser. He says,
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
All things? Indeed. To quote C. S. Lewis, If we love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong. May God guide us and meet us as we press forward with our minds woefully concentrated. And may we laugh at the future (Proverbs 31:25) because we know who holds it in his loving hand.