There was a knock at the door, and Bev and I glanced at each other. Would he be all we had dreamed?
We raced for the door, threw it open, and there he was. Tiny, gorgeous, and absolutely precious. Four-day-old Andrew, the baby we hoped to adopt, captured our hearts the moment we held him in our arms.
Several months later we began to suspect that Andrew might have some physical challenges. Tragically, his birth mother had been addicted to powerful narcotics during her pregnancy, and the doctors discovered he had been born with only a fraction of his brain. .
It was a very difficult time for us— emotionally, physically, and financially. Andrew required multiple surgeries. Because he suffered constant pain, he required around-the-clock care, which led to Bev’s exhaustion and almost a complete physical breakdown.
Some challenges build slowly and can be anticipated; others appear without warning. Some are resolved quickly; others are chronic. Some reflect the consequences of our actions; others are completely beyond our control. Some crises impact an entire nation; others are isolated to us as individuals.
A job loss, major illness, birth of a special-needs child, business reversal, death of a family member, identity theft, military deployment of a breadwinner, home foreclosure, bankruptcy, or worldwide financial crisis can exert major pressure on us and our finances. Surveys reveal that many marriages simply don’t survive the stress of these difficulties.
I call these challenges the “storms of life.” While some of the storms amount to little more than a blustery rain shower, while others feel like a category-five hurricane.
Please remember this one thing: No matter what the crisis, you
don’t face it alone. Jesus Christ is with you every step of the way.
Put yourself in the sandals of a few of God’s people in the Bible who faced terrifying category-five storms. Job—in a matter of just a few hours—lost his children, his financial resources, and ultimately his health. Young Joseph was sold into slavery and thrown into prison. Moses and the children of Israel faced annihilation by Egypt’s powerful army at the Red Sea. Daniel was tossed into the lion’s den. Paul was beaten, stoned, and left for dead on his missionary journeys. The list goes on and on.
Although storms are often emotional, scary, and painful, if we maintain God’s perspective, we can survive and even grow through such dark days (and nights!).
When facing a crisis, nothing is more important than knowing who God is—His love, care, control, and power. Only the Bible reveals the true extent of God’s involvement in our challenges. If we have an inadequate or warped view of God and His purposes, then we won’t fully embrace and learn from our challenges. What’s more, we will forfeit the peace, contentment, and even joy that God makes available to us in the midst of the storm.
GOD LOVES YOU.
First John 4:8 sums up God’s very nature: “God is love.” God loves you, and throughout your whole life remains intimately involved with you as an individual. Psalm 139:17 reveals, “How precious are your thoughts concerning me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.” In other words, the Creator of the universe is always thinking about you!
When you think about it, John 15:9 has to be one of the most encouraging verses in all of the Bible. Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” Don’t skim over those words! Let the implications sink in for a moment. Consider how much God the Father loves God the Son. They have existed forever in the closest possible relationship with a deep, unfathomable love for each other. And Jesus says this is how much He loves you!
In any crisis, it’s critical to be reminded of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. Why? Because it’s so very easy to become discouraged and even lose hope in such times. It’s easy to forget God’s love and care for you, especially when adversity first strikes—or goes on and on for what feels like an eternity.
Jeremiah the prophet was completely discouraged. He wrote: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness…and my soul is downcast within me” (Lamentations 3:19-20). But then he remembered the Lord, “Yet I call this to mind and therefore have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
It is helpful to meditate on passages such as these: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37).
I’ve discovered that even in a crisis, the Lord will do kind things that offer clear evidence of His love and care for us. Consider Joseph. While a slave, “[Joseph’s] master saw that the Lord was with him” (Genesis 39:3), so his master put him in charge of all he owned. Later in prison, “the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer” (Genesis 39:21).
GOD IS IN CONTROL.
As we studied earlier, God is ultimately in control of every event. This is but a sampling of passages that affirm His control: “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). “We adore you as being in control of everything” (1 Chronicles 29:11, TLB). “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth” (Psalm 135:6). “My [the Lord’s] purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10). “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
The Lord is in control even of difficult events. “I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these” (Isaiah 45:6-7).
GOD HAS A PURPOSE FOR ADVERSITY.
The Cecropia moth emerges from its cocoon only after a long, exhausting struggle to free itself. A young boy, wishing to help the moth, carefully slit the exterior of the cocoon. Soon it came out, but its wings were shriveled, and couldn’t function. What the young boy didn’t realize was that the moth’s struggle to liberate itself from the cocoon was an essential to develop its wings—and its ability to fly.
Much like the cocoon of the Cecropia moth, adversity has a part to play in our lives as well. God uses those difficult, sometimes heartbreaking times to mature us in Christ. James 1:2-4 says it this way: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
God designs challenging circumstances for our ultimate benefit. Romans 8:28-29 tells us, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son….” And the primary good that God works in our lives is to make us more like Christ.
We see this same thought expressed in Hebrews 12:6, 10-11, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines….God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” God makes no mistakes. He knows exactly what He wants us to become, and also knows exactly what is necessary to produce that result in our lives.
Alan Redpath captures this truth: “There is nothing—no circumstances, no trouble, no testing—that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God, past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment. But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no trial will ever disarm me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of who my Lord is.”
Bev and I have endured—and benefited from—many storms. The one surrounding Andrew’s birth with most of his brain missing until his death 11 years later drew us much closer to each other and to the Lord. Through the crucible of our pain and tears, many of the Bible’s truths grew from wispy theory into rock-solid reality. We began to grasp how deeply God loved and cared for Andrew. And for us. Although we would never want to repeat this experience, we are incredibly grateful for how the Lord used it in our lives.
Author Ron Dunn observed: “If God subtracted one pain, one heartache, one disappointment from my life, I would be less than the person I am now, less the person God wants me to be, and my ministry would be less than He intends.”
Please don’t miss this point. You and I need to: recognize difficulties as opportunities to grow into the people God wants us to be. In adversity we learn things we just couldn’t learn any other way.
I know what you’re thinking…. “Easy for you to say, Howard. You have no idea what we’ve been through.” Granted. But then, I could also say, “You have no idea what we have been through during our 40 years of marriage.” And yet the Lord Jesus has stood with us in every crisis, every heartache, every difficult decision. Every one of those incidents, painful as they were, brought us closer to Him and closer to each other.
You can be comforted knowing that your loving heavenly Father is in absolute control of every situation you will ever face. He intends to use each circumstance for a good purpose. First Thessalonians 5:18 says it well, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
We should view crises through the lens of God’s love, faithfulness and control.
When Bev reached the point of total exhaustion in serving baby Andrew, we knew it would be physically impossible for us to care for him on our own. Desperately needing to rest and recover, we decided to admit him for a time to a facility that specialized in caring for profoundly handicapped children.
This was a deeply emotional time, and we openly wept in the admittance room. Then I looked up and noticed a painting of Jesus hanging on the wall. When I looked at the picture, it helped me reflect on His faithfulness, and I experienced peace. When I looked away and thought only of the circumstances, my tears flowed. In that moment, I experienced the reality of Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
The Bible makes it clear that God offers security only in Himself—not in money, not in possessions, not in a career, and; not in other people. External things offer the illusion of security, but the Lord alone can be fully trusted. “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7, niv). “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56:3-4).
THE EYE OF THE STORM
There are several things we can do to survive—and even grow—when we find ourselves in the storm.
Get your financial house in order.
I’ve been close to many people facing gut-wrenching financial storms. And the first question they usually ask is, how can I solve the problem?
Jesus answers the question this way in Matthew 7:24-25: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
The key to solving your financial problems is learning and applying God’s way of handling money. It truly is that simple. That’s why this study is so important. When you finish this class, you will know God’s framework for managing money. But knowing is only half of what you need. The other half is applying what you have learned. It may take a long time and a lot of effort to navigate the storm, but you will know the basics of what you should do.
Part of what you’ve learned is to be a generous giver. When facing a financial crisis the tendency is to hold on tightly to what we have, and become less generous. A key passage in the book of Acts, however, shows us a different way. In Acts 11:28-29 we read: “Agabus [a prophet]…through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.”
Think about this. The Holy Spirit revealed through a prophet that a severe famine was coming soon, and their first reaction was to get out their checkbooks! Don’t allow a crisis or a pending crisis to stop you from remaining generous. You may not be able to give as much as you did previously, but still give.
It’s also important to quickly evaluate how the circumstance will impact your finances, and to make the necessary adjustments for any diminished income or increased expenses. And don’t forget to communicate! Tell the Lord, and if you are married, tell each other your feelings and concerns. How important is this? It’s important enough to schedule a time every day to share, so you can encourage each other. Bev and I discovered that a crisis doesn’t have to damage our marriage; in fact, it can be a catalyst to improve it. I am fully persuaded that God intends married couples to grow closer together during a crisis rather than allowing the difficulties to damage their marriage.
Never go through a storm alone.
Without repeating the advice in the “Counsel” chapter, I want to emphasize the importance of not going it alone. It is almost impossible to make the wisest decisions in isolation when experiencing a crisis.
Seek advice from people who have been through similar situations. You will draw strength not only from their emotional support, but also from their experience. There are people all around you who have weathered serious life storms, and you can gain from their knowledge, learning mistakes to avoid and resources to help. Ask your church and friends to pray; it’s their most powerful contribution.
Live one day at a time.
Robert Johnson built an extraordinarily successful construction business from scratch. He was extremely generous and enjoyed a wonderful reputation. And then came the crushing financial crisis of 2008—crippling his business and pushing him to the brink of bankruptcy.
Confiding in me one day, Robert said, “In a crisis, the tendency is to look ahead and become overwhelmed with all the problems. We are to plan ahead, but for our mental and emotional health we must follow what Jesus Christ told us: “…do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, niv).
Live focused on today! And if the crisis becomes severe, focus on one moment at a time in close fellowship with Christ. This is not “escape from reality,” but rather; it is a practical way to stay close to the only One who can help us through the challenge.
Be patient, waiting for God’s timing.
Expectations can be damaging during a crisis. When we assume that the Lord will solve our problems in a certain way by a certain time, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration.
Someone described patience as accepting a difficult situation without giving God a deadline for removing it. Remember, God’s primary purpose in allowing a crisis in the first place is to conform you to Jesus Christ. He is at work in your life, and knows exactly how long it will take to produce the results He wants. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.”
The late Larry Burkett used to say with a smile, “God is seldom early, but He’s never late.” Be patient. Be careful not to set deadlines for the Lord to act.
Work diligently to solve your own problems, with the recognition that you need the moment by moment help and counsel of the Lord who loves you. Philippians 4:6-7 is one of my favorite Bible passages when facing difficulties. Every phrase is loaded with meaning. “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”
Imagine you are a teenager, deeply loved by your father. Your siblings sell you into slavery, and for the next 13 years you are a slave and a prisoner. Amazingly, on one unbelievable day, you find yourself elevated to second in command of the world’s most powerful nation. Several years later, your starving siblings—the ones who betrayed you—beg you for food. What’s your response: retaliation or forgiveness?
This is the question Joseph had to answer, and he forgave. How was he able to do this? Because he recognized that God had orchestrated his circumstances—even the ones that were so deeply traumatic and painful. “God sent me ahead of you…” he told his brothers, “to save your lives by a great deliverance, So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:7-8).
God realizes how critical it is for us to forgive those who are involved in causing our crisis, regardless of their motivation. One of the most impressive characteristics of Jesus Christ was His willingness to forgive. Imagine hanging on a cross in excruciating agony, and at the same time praying for those who had crucified you: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
When the apostle Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times, He responded, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22, niv). He then told a parable about a servant who was forgiven a large debt by his master but refused to forgive a fellow servant a small debt. Christ describes what happens to the unforgiving servant: “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart” (Matthew 18:34, niv).
In order to grow more like Christ and experience the benefits He intends for us during a crisis, we must forgive. And more than forgive, we are to be kind, compassionate, and seek to be a blessing. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). “Not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
Unforgiveness can be a daily battle, particularly if the crisis has been horribly hurtful. But it harms the person who refuses to forgive. My wife Bev describes it as swallowing poison and hoping the other person will die. When we refuse to forgive, the bitterness in our heart can turn toxic, consuming our thoughts and eating away our emotional health. Forgiveness and seeking to bless the other person, however, leads to freedom.
It is imperative to pray regularly for the Lord to give us the desire to forgive, and then to give us His love for the people who may have harmed us. Jesus tells us also to pray for them, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44). It’s hard to remain bitter toward someone for whom you are praying regularly.
Let’s examine two of the most common financial challenges people face.
Losing your job ranks among life’s most stressful events—not just for you but for your spouse as well if you are married. Meet together as soon as possible after the job loss, and discuss ways to minimize the emotional and financial toll on both of you. And encourage each other because often a job loss is a blessing in disguise. God may bring you a better career opportunity, and it can build your faith as you experience Him providing your needs even without a job.
Next, formulate a game plan for the job search—from drafting a resume to networking with friends. When you lose a job, your fulltime job should be finding a new job.
In addition to cutting back on spending for discretionary items, there are two financial goals to keep in mind. First, make every effort to avoid using debt for living expenses. Many people mask the real situation by using debt to fund current spending. Make good, hard decisions not to spend one penny you don’t have to. Every borrowed penny must be repaid with interest, and although spending it is easy, repayment is always hard work.
Second, do what you can to maintain health insurance. You may be able to assume your health insurance coverage through a plan from your former employer. If not, get advice from others on cost-efficient coverage.
Illness or accident
If you suffer a major illness or accident, it’s a double whammy. Medical expenses pile on as income plunges. If the condition is severe enough to prevent future employment, you will need to make permanent adjustments. And if either health insurance or disability coverage is inadequate, it can be financially catastrophic.
If married, be prepared for the possibility that one of you may need to make important decisions without the benefit of input from the other. Bev and I have decided that if one of us is seriously ill, the other will make the financial and health-related decisions. We are each familiar with the location of all important records and know how to use them.
Don’t be embarrassed to make your needs known to your family, friends, and church. Extend to them the opportunity to help meet your needs. Giving to those in need is a big part of what it means to follow Christ. Galatians 6:2 reminds us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
PREPARING FOR FUTURE STORMS
You can’t prevent every difficulty, but you can prepare to survive them by building a solid relationship with the Lord—and your spouse, if you are married, —and by improving your finances. The healthier your finances, the better you will be able to cope. Proverbs 27:12 says, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”
The more time you spend getting to know God and what He reveals in the Bible—and applying what you’ve learned—the better prepared you will be to weather life’s storms.
One of the biggest benefits of making progress on your journey to true financial freedom is that it provides a financial margin when you find yourself facing an unexpected crisis. By the time Andrew was born, we had paid off all our debts including the mortgage. Even though we were debt-free at the time, we knew that his medical expenses would be a challenge. And they were. Our freedom from debt, however, helped us to focus on Andrew and each other, as we dealt with his problems.