The Expository Files


Six Ways to Handle Tough Times


{used by permission}

Without a doubt, the United States is immersed in stressful times. Uncertain job markets. Declining housing markets. Unstable stock market. I do not need to elaborate or exaggerate. Tough times call for people of faith to rise to the occasion of the challenge. They need to think differently and act differently. Here are 6 ways people of faith can survive, and even thrive, during difficult times:

MINIMIZE CONTACT WITH FAITHLESS VOICES -The news media, whether newspapers, television, or internet news outlets, are not voices of faith. The media is driven by the desire for viewership in order to generate advertisement. Bad news, especially fear driven news, attracts viewers. An old adage in the news industry that determines the headlines is "if it bleeds, it leads". Truth, faith, or even thoughtful reflection are rarely welcome or even acknowledged in any newscast. Try turning off the TV. Put down the paper. Restrict your diet of internet news. Within days, life will become much more peaceful. Go ahead, give it a try. Perhaps the words of Isaiah to King Hezekiah's officials, who heard the fear mongering of Rabshakeh, are most needed now-"Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard..." (Isa. 37:6)

EXERCISE CAUTION AROUND FEARFUL PEOPLE -Sometimes the problem is not the news media but the people who take in the news media. They may be someone we are related to, or has close contact with us, and therefore has our attention. I have encountered church members far more familiar with words from the nightly newscast that with the words of Scripture. If family or friends are consumed with fear, or a "sky is falling" mentality, it is hard to not to be caught up in their frenzy. Create a loving but healthy separation between yourself and the fearful ones in your life. Exercise a spiritual form of "tough love" with them. Remember what the Apostle Paul told Timothy, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of sound mind." (II Tim. 1:7)

GET INVOLVED IN AREAS OF SERVICE -Fear contributes to cocooning. When scared, we are tempted to stay inside our homes, consume ourselves with movies, or become self absorbed in many other ways. Instead of withdrawing in times of trouble, we need to move outside of ourselves. Get out and visit a convalescent home. Volunteer at school. Help out at a homeless shelter. These opportunities of service will put proper perspective on our problems, and provide us with a healthy Spirit-driven distraction (Gal.5:22). Serving others often works as God's psychiatry in a life filled with worry. Fear will have a hard time finding room in our lives if our lives a filled with blessing others. Remember, "...It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

SEE ALL FEARS AS A DOOR TO FAITH -Tough times show us how little we can control circumstances outside of our lives. The housing market, stock market, or the job market is out of the ability of one single life to influence. Our lack of control helps us see who is in control. There is One who not only is in control, but also is the One who can change all things. Know that the Lord not only allows difficult times, He also uses them to spiritually form His chosen people. James wrote, "...the testing of your faith produces patience" (Jas. 1:2)

TAKE YOUR FEARS TO THE ONE WHO TRANSCENDS ALL FEARS -We were not designed to keep our concerns and fears inside ourselves. Our Creator wants those who trust in Him to take their fears to Him. The Apostle Peter tells us "casting all your care upon Him, for he cares for you." (I Pet.5:7) Turning our fears over to God in prayer relieves us of the overwhelming burdens we cannot bear alone. Instead of constantly "stressing out" before family, friends, and co-workers, try spending time in prayer to God. Try praying first before getting on the telephone and communicating your anxiety to loved ones. Wait and see what happens when you pray first. Wait for the peace that "...passes all understanding..." (Phil. 4:7).

ALLOW TOUGH TIMES TO REFOCUS YOUR LIFE -When doors are shut in our lives, or what we are comfortable with becomes threatened, another reality enters. We are soon forced to think outside our comfort zone or think beyond the little world of sameness we have created for ourselves. Job loss, or even relocation, can be portals to a life beyond what we had previously imagined possible. Good times often make us content and complacent. Tough times expand us, often taking us to new and better places. Be open to the possibilities. Paul wrote the Philippians these words, "...the things which have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel." (Phil. 1:12) Should not we be able to say the same in our stressful circumstances?

How will we handle tough times? We can live by faith or fear. Fear must be seen as a dark, debilitating, and unacceptable choice. Choose faith over fear and see where the God who made the universe can take your life. Let the church of God rise to the challenge before us and be a beacon of light to a frightened country!

By John Mulligan
From Expository Files 16.9; September 2009