Facing Off Against Economic Anxiety

We are suffering--not only in the United States but globally--from uncontrolled greed, the reckless yielding by all too many to the temptations of power, pride and profit.

Not only governments but many individuals, households, banks, businesses and industries have ridden a wave of what seemed like endless prosperity, overextending ourselves, and borrowing on our own anticipated futures instead of living within our means and squirreling away for a rainy day. Now, the many are finding payment is due but pockets are empty. These are trying to eke out a living the best they can. Others are looking outside themselves to find financial support from whomever is willing to provide it. And others, who have lived perhaps more conservatively sit, anxiously, waiting to see what will be asked of them by those trying to recover from overindulgence. 

Well, maybe it's time for less hashing and rehashing over the “whys" of our money woes. Perhaps it's time to pray for radical transformations in individuals, households, industries, businesses and governments toward wiser stewardship of resources. Some of us might have to hit the bottom of the money pit before we realize we're in serious trouble. Our question: How do we keep our spiritual wits about us when we're trying to find our financial footing, when we're trying to dig ourselves out of debt or when we're simply trying to put food on the table, clothes on our bodies, and roofs over our heads? 
OK, and then what? Get up. If you've been acting irresponsibly, begin to behave more responsibly each day until you reach Day 30 when it will be easier to maintain the new habits you've developed rather than to indulge in the old, harmful habits. 
In Philippians 4:4-7, where we're especially grounding ourselves today, we are encouraged to: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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."

According to a Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2010, more than three-quarters of Americans cite worrying over money as a significant cause of stress. Put economy and anxiety in your search engine and you’ll find yourself looking at 32,100,000 references.

Anxiety. Anxiety may be defined as a persistent sense of uneasiness, apprehension, uncertainty and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation often impairing physical and psychological functioning. And it isn’t just adults who may be feeling anxious these days.

I came across an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer some time back entitled, “Economy making some kids anxious.” It began with the story of a marketing director with a non-profit group who is finding herself in the odd position of having to assure her anxious children that, though markets around the world appear to be coming unglued, their world has not.

The article cited a ten year old who is worrying he might not have children when he grows up if he’s unable to find a job. A 12 year old is wondering whether her babysitting money will disappear from her savings account. A survey of 500 U.S. teenagers found that nearly 70 percent fear an immediate negative impact on the security of their families.

Child psychologists are saying that unless parents can help build a child’s sense of security, many might wind up with stomachaches, begin acting out, or lose interest in school. Even children not in crisis can pick up the mood, the tension, the anxiety. Younger kids tend to be all or nothing thinkers so a healthy eight-year-old may worry in a more extreme way than an adult. So this is a time when we need to ask our children how much they know about what’s going on and we need to respond with age-appropriate answers.

Interestingly enough the article ended with these words from the marketing director of the non-profit group: “Money – you can’t take it with you. You have to believe that no matter what happens, God is going to take care of us.”

It is in days such as these that we see revealed where we have - in reality - placed our trust, where our treasure truly is found.

It’s not surprising that many commentators and pastors – in times like ours - resurrect the opening lines of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. Delivered in 1933 when the country was three years into the Great Depression, were these words: “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” We don’t need, we don’t benefit from, deer-in-the-headlight responses. Don't give in to fear. 

Then look to that which is known as the New Testament letter of joy, Paul's letter to the Philippians. These pages are filled with admonitions on conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel; imitating Christ’s humility, looking not only to our own interests but to the needs of others; doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit; moving through each day without complaining or arguing; pressing toward the goal; looking heavenward; being content and finding joy in whatever our circumstances; remembering that we can do all things through our God who gives us strength. Always keeping in mind that union with the living, exalted Christ is the secret of being content and the source of our abiding strength.

Leonard Sweet, reflecting upon this pericope from Philippians, oddly enough, asks us what comes to mind when we hear the word “mantra.” Most likely, he opines, our thoughts turn to Eastern religions like Hinduism or Buddhism in which a mantra is a mystical syllable or poem used to instill one-pointed concentration in the devotee. Mantras are used in Eastern spiritual traditions to divert the mind from basic instinctual desires or material inclinations, by focusing the mind on a spiritual idea. Sweet suggests that Christians have mantras of a sort as well, one of the earliest being made up of four simple words, said three times in different combinations, and in every circumstance imaginable: “Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.”

Four words, spoken three different times, or as many times as you needed to beat back those forces and powers dragging you down.

In our text, Sweet sees another mantra of six words which he says he uses on a daily basis sometimes hundreds of times: words that can bring peace, words that can save a life. Now the editor in me compels me to add a few prepositions to Sweet’s mantra so we’ll call them eight little words.

Before we move to these however, Sweet asks that we move in our minds to a medieval monastery. In these incubators of holiness, there were often many gardens. The center-most garden space was called the “garth.” The “garth” was protected by the walls of the cloister, by the out-buildings, by the multitude of pathways.

Unlike other parts of the monastery grounds open to the public, the “garth” was reserved for the exclusive use of the monks. The “garth” was a sacred space, a place for prayer, prayer-walking, Bible-reading, meditation, solitude, and solace. The “garth” acted as the “keep” for the spiritual health and wellbeing of the community. In the sacred space of the “garth,” the prayerful sought and received “the peace of God that transcends all understanding.”

For those of us not living a cloistered life, behind monastery walls, with a central, protected “garth,” a real geographical space, finding such an island in life where we can encounter and embrace “the peace of God” might appear to be a daunting task.

But, as an unnamed pastor off of whose reflections I will bounce here asks: Your car, trapped in rush hour traffic, can’t be a “garth” . . . can it? Your work place, filled with tensions, deadlines, boredom, panic, and prickly personalities, can’t be a “garth” . . . can it? Your dining room table can’t be a “garth” . . . can it? Your home office space or living room, with computers, T.V., plugged in IPODS and tuned out people, can’t be a “garth” . . . can it?

In our epistle reading, Paul offers to the congregation at Philippi and to us today a road map to a new kind of existence -- an existence free from anxiety, a life free from worry and gnawing doubt, a life filled and fulfilled by what the apostle called “the peace of God which transcends all understanding.”

How do we reach that divine destination? How do we get to such a “garth?”

What you’re about to read here may seem simplistic, pie-in-the-sky drivel but I can personally attest that it is not. 

Eight words, three couplets give precise directions to this place of peace.

Here they are:

Be. . .
Anxious about Nothing,
Prayerful Everyday,
Thankful for Everything.

Can you speak that out loud or silently?

Be. . .  
Anxious about Nothing,
Prayerful Everyday,
Thankful for Everything.

Anxious about Nothing,
Prayerful Everyday,
Thankful for Everything.

You want to experience peace? You want the peace of God, “the peace that transcends all understanding?” Then follow these directions and, Paul promises, you will find the “peace of God,” your own personal “garth."

Anxious about Nothing,
Prayerful Everyday,
Thankful for Everything.


Of course, Paul’s path to peace may be a little more difficult to follow than it first appears. Being “thankful” in what? ANYTHING. EVERYTHING.

For our purposes here, let’s make our ANYTHING money. I’ve learned that the quickest route to being thankful in anything and everything is to have next to nothing in the way of money. When you have next to nothing and you’re looking at financial ruin, the Lord reveals to you where you have placed your trust. If your trust is in money, if your trust is in the having of money, when you lose it, you will fall apart. But, if your trust is in God and you’re running on fumes in the way of money, you can live contently as you watch the Lord provide what you need – perhaps not what you want - but what you need.

When you are approaching the end of your resources, if you are unable to lean on the Lord, you may despair. Our ultimate thanksgiving is in Christ and His salvation. Because of this gift of Christ, we can be thankful in what? Anything. Everything.

Even with no job, no source of income on the horizon. Gratitude to God for anything and everything is the first step in progressing towards peace. Only after our infinite debt has been acknowledged can we move forward. Only when we can believe that God uses everything for our good and that He deserves our trust and obedience - in all circumstances - can we move forward.

Christ went to the cross for each and every one of our sins. He loves us and uses all things for the good of those who love Him. THAT is the great what that each of us has to be thankful for: that gift that embraces and embodies all of our sins and shortcomings. It is only after acknowledging this sacrifice, this gift of salvation, with genuine, heartfelt thanksgiving, that the ball can start rolling.

Are you able to say, “Yes, I am thankful in anything and everything?” Thankful for losing stock market investments. Thankful for jobs, families, homes, friends, enemies, unemployment, rejection, ostracism. Thankful in “anything?” Do you believe – really believe - that the Lord uses all that happens for the good of those who love Him? Once we have mastered “thankfulness,” the rest is easy.

All we need do now is be anxious about nothing and then be praying everyday. If we are truly thankful for everything, praying everyday is something of a given.

There is no way to be thankful for everything without being prayerful in everything. Try sending out the mortgage or rent payment without uttering a prayer first. Try believing in the future without uttering a prayer first. We must be prayerful in everything, once we are thankful for everything, because thanksgiving requires prayer as its most essential nutrient.

The easiest of Paul’s directives is the one that sounds the hardest: be “anxious” about “nothing.” Once thankfulness and prayerfulness are established, the relief from anxieties, from day to day “worry-wartness,” is purged from our lives.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything will be hunky-dory, that life will be a breeze. We are not promised a trouble-free life. We still have to give thought to how we live. We still have to make good decisions every day. But with the larger vision of Christ at the top of our horizons, and with the always-open doorway to prayer and petition available to us, there simply is no fertile ground to nurture anxiety and distress. The fear and doubt, the despair and misery, that may once have provided the nutrients for growing anxiety are dried up and blown away by each prayer spoken, by each expression of gratitude.

Now, of course, we don’t ignore the messes in our lives; we don’t just blow off our troubles. And we’re not talking here about anxiety disorders that are related to body chemistry. No, we’re talking here about an attitude toward our troubles. We don’t panic. We live in that inner tranquility based on peace with God – the peaceful state of those whose sins are forgiven, the tranquility that comes when the believer commits all of his or her cares to God in prayer, trusting that God is standing guard, keeping us in protective custody.

What will it take for you to be at peace? What will it take for you to become someone who advertises and advocates God’s peace in this world? You might start with eight words:

Anxious about Nothing,
Prayerful Everyday,
Thankful for Everything.

The Peace that Transcends All Understanding.

Popular Posts