Are any of you a little weary of bad news right now?
For the last month, and especially during the past few weeks, negative news about our economy has battered us unrelentingly. The October 10, 2008 edition of the Wall Street Journal, for example, began with a huge headline: “Market’s 7-Day Rout Leaves U.S. Reeling.” Other headlines last week included, “Crisis Threatens Defense Programs,” “Economists Expect Crisis to Deepen” and “Searching for a Silver Lining: Prices Drop, Taking Spirits With Them.”
That last one is truly an understatement.
How much bad news can you take? Have any of you turned off your television or pitched the newspaper to the side and said, “Enough”?
But this is more than just bad news—it hits us personally. At times like this, it’s natural for us to be worried. Many of us are counting on our investments for helping our children with college and for living expenses in our later years.
At times like this, we need some perspective. Last week I received an email from Stephens, Inc., an investment firm in Little Rock, that included a memo written by W.R. “Witt” Stephens after the stock markets fell on “Black Friday” in October 1987. Witt Stephens has since passed away, but the firm thought it was appropriate to revive his memo, saying, “His wisdom and good advice lives on.”
Through the 200 years of American history, this country has been constantly besieged by bad news. If the early settlers had believed things were as bad as they sounded they would have given up the fight to settle the new world and sailed back to England, and the dream of freedom would have perished.
From that day to the present the people of this nation have listened to the bad news for a while, then they turned their backs on that which was bad, placed their faith in God and faced toward that which was good.
Down through the years, through a tragic Civil War, two worldwide wars, a series of small conflicts, recession and the great depression of the 1930’s, we have heard again and again the words of citizen Tom Paine, “These are times that try men’s souls.” In every case the people rejected the bad news and overcame whatever obstacle was facing them at that time.
Once again, we are put to the test. Everything we hear is bad. We are smothered with a never-ending succession of newspaper, radio and television reports on Watergate, drug abuse, crime in the streets, decadent morals and lack of honest and competent leadership. If citizen Tom Paine were alive today, he could well utter again his famous quotation.
It is impossible to lock your door against the invasion of the news media into every nook of your home and office. They don’t make the news, they merely report it. Tell it as it is. We have the option of acceptance or rejection. We can bemoan what is happening in our world, wring our hands and cover our heads, or we can reject the bad and look about us to the good.
When I was a boy on a small farm in Grant County, news wasn’t as quickly available as it is today and reached us mainly by word of mouth. A “drummer” would come by or one of our neighbors returned from a trip to Little Rock or Memphis and we saw the news through their eyes. Mostly it was about what was bad in big cities or throughout the country.
After listening a while, my father would say, “That’s enough bad news for one day. Let’s go to work.” America has heard enough bad news for a while. Now is the time to go to work. Turn your back on the bad news and look around you at what is good. You don’t need to look far. Your family, your children, your friends and neighbors, they are good.
We live today in the greatest country the world has ever known, filled with opportunities which never existed before. The highest standards of living, more leisure time, better health services, better schools, more jobs, finer homes and freedom to enjoy these wonders.
This is indeed the time to turn our backs on the bad news and face the future with thankfulness.
W.R. “Witt” Stephens
This memo made an impact in many lives in 1987 and again last week because at times like these we need to hear godly wisdom from our leaders. But have you heard much from the Christian community? I haven’t. How are we to respond at a time of crisis like this?
Responding like grasshoppers
Last week my mind flashed back 40 years to the first time I walked into the office of Dr. Bill Bright, who founded Campus Crusade for Christ. As I looked on his desk and walls, I was fascinated to see what he valued. Of course, there were pictures of his wife and family, awards he’d received, and mementos from around the world. But on his desk there was an engraved brass plate with the most unusual phrase I’ve ever seen in an executive office:
“I’m no grasshopper.”
I asked what it meant. Bill chuckled and started telling me the Old Testament story about the Israelites returning to their homeland after centuries of slavery in Egypt. Their leader, Moses, sent a dozen spies into the land of Canaan. This land was inhabited by others but God said He would give it to the Israelites.
Ten of the twelve came back reporting that it was impossible for the Israelites to conquer the land. “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us,” they said. “We became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:31, 33).
Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, said the land could be taken. Joshua said there would be nothing to fear because his trust was in the Lord. But the people would not listen. As a result, the Israelites did not attempt to conquer the land God said He was giving them, and they spent 40 years wandering around in the wilderness because of unbelief.
After recounting this story, Bill turned to me and said, “Dennis, when I arrive in heaven, I don’t want my life here on earth to have been characterized by viewing myself as a grasshopper. My God is so big, I want to expect and believe Him for great things.”
This financial crisis leaves us with the same choice. Will we respond to bad news like grasshoppers, or will we respond with trust in our God, who is in control of our fate today just as He was in the days of Moses and Joshua?
We need to remember that God is still in control, even in times of uncertainty and chaos. Romans 8:28 is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I am also reminded of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal,” He said. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-20).
And then Jesus goes on to say (in Matthew 6:25-33):
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?… But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
These are the timeless truths we need to focus on—the words we should read together as husband and wife, and the words we should be reading to our children. They tell us that God will provide for our needs. His provision may come in different forms than we expect, but His promise to meet our needs has not expired in the 21st century.
Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. That’s what life is really about.
What is God up to?
In recent days I’ve been saying to our staff here in Little Rock and to friends of this ministry that America as a nation can survive a financial crisis, even a Depression. It’s already done that. But you know what America cannot survive? It cannot survive the spiritual demise and the destruction of its most basic unit, the family.
It’s time to return to the basics, embracing what we believe and those who matter most—our spouses and family.
It’s time for men to take their wives hands and pray together and for one another. Not just today, but every day.
It’s time for parents to rally their families together around the dinner table and read how Jesus said we are to respond to fear and then take one another’s hands and pray. Every day.
It’s time for families to huddle up, tell each other we love one another and hug one another. Every day.
It’s time to be a man or woman of faith and not a grasshopper.
For years many of us have said that it may take a financial crisis like the Depression to get our nation’s spiritual attention. Well, my friend, what if we are on our way right now? What is God up to right now in your life? What’s He up to in your marriage? And in your family?
Don’t be a family of spiritual grasshoppers.