Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Fear Factor

Elijah said, “Don’t be afraid . . . first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17:13).

I don’t trust myself with money.

It’s not a spending problem, digging a hole of indebtedness, buying things I really don’t need. I have to keep a careful eye on that kind of thing, but my limitations in that regard are pretty clear.

Beneath the spending issues there’s a monster lurking; the monster is called “rationalization.” What I do with money flows out of how I think about money. The problem is really in my head. I know I don’t always think rightly about my stuff. I can rationalize financial decisions with impenetrable logic. That’s my trouble with money or the lack of it.

Not long ago my friend Mark Borst re-introduced me to a powerful poem by a Stan Wiersma titled “Obedience.” The poem narrates Wiersma’s memory of a growing up on a farm and how one particular Sunday morning during harvest season brought with it a threatening hailstorm.

The young Wiersma wanted to get to work that morning and get the harvest in before the storm destroyed it. As he saw it, the right plan was a no-brainer. To lose the oats crop would mean feeding their cattle with town-bought oats. The expense of this would force them to sell the cattle at a loss. Tight logic. So skip worship, just this once, and save the harvest. He quoted Jesus: “The Sabbath was made for man.”

His parents didn’t flinch. They went to church. The sky unleashed wind and hail as they sat in the pews that morning. They lost most of the crop. What should have yielded 50 bushels an acre gave only 10. If they had only stayed home they could have saved most of that. Later that day his parents reflected on their decision. “I’m glad we went,” they said.

I’m troubled by the poem. I think I would have gone to work in the fields. And I would have had good reasons for doing so. I would have surely quoted Jesus while I pulled on my jeans.

When Elijah showed up in Zarephath drought had crippled the land. The prophet went to a widow who had just enough oil to make some bread for herself and her son – their last meal before dying. The prophet said, “Make some bread and bring it to me first.”

“Are you kidding?” would have been my answer. Somehow, the widow had the courage to do what the prophet said – and oil kept showing up day after day (1 Kings 17:16). What I notice is the words used by the prophet as he gave this instruction to the widow. He told her, “Don’t be afraid.”

That’s it. My thinking about possessions and money is more often than not shaped by my fears. These days, the fear factor is huge when it comes to money. In fact, we can’t really talk about greed unless we get honest about our fears. What are yours today? Coming up short, losing what you have, letting down the family, losing face in front of friends and associates? What’s the fear? And how does that shape you thinking about money?

These are anxious days, O God. Our fears sometimes drive us to clutch at what we have and grieve what we’ve lost or what we might not obtain. We pray as Jesus taught us and ask you to give us daily bread. And teach us to be thankful and content as we learn to trust you with all that we have. Amen.

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