Ten cramped hours on a jumbo jet transferred us last week from the hot and sticky south of India to cool, temperate Europe — Germany to be exact. In a matter of hours, we exchanged chaotic, crowded cities choking on traffic and pollution for well-oiled proficiency epitomized by trains that run on time. Indians, ever eager to please with ready smiles and bows, were replaced by Germans who — if they notice you — recover quickly and continue their efficient lives.
But despite the differences, we noticed a striking similarity. In India we heard much about vicious attacks on Christian believers that had left many dead, thousands homeless, homes destroyed, and places of worship desecrated. We talked to pastors and students who themselves had been beaten and terrorized, and whose families were trying desperately to escape to the forests or find their way into overcrowded refugee centers. Fear stalked the Christian community.
In Germany, or the West, for that matter, no such trauma had visited the people, but the television showed that something akin to fear was abroad nevertheless. People were not afraid for their lives — but for their livelihoods! Expressions such as "global meltdown" were being bandied about by the omnipresent "talking heads" as they discussed world markets, political maneuverings and their impact on pension funds of "the man in the street."
Fear (although I'm well aware that some charge the market runs on "fear and greed") is probably too strong a word for the prevailing mood as I write, but anxiety is running high. For very different reasons and at very different levels, the Christians of India and the shareholders of the West are experiencing traumatic days.
In our teaching in India, as we tried to address the situation resting so heavily on the believers' minds, we referred to James' Epistle. And without knowing what we would face on our return to the West, we pointed out that "trials" come in a wide variety of forms, but have many things in common. James described them as "trials of many kinds." It might be worthwhile repeating what we told them and seeking to apply what is relevant to our situation.
• The New Testament, including James' Epistle, regularly translates the Greek word "peirasmos" as either "trial" or "temptation" (compare James 1:2 and 1:13). Depending on our response, a testing situation can present a solicitation to evil — to go wrong — a temptation, or an opportunity to do right — a trial. God, who has no evil in Him, never solicits to evil, but He does allow trials...and for very good reasons.
• We need to "know" these reasons, and when we do, our attitude to trials may even be such that we "consider it pure joy" when they come because we recognize they give us a chance to be strengthened in faith and matured in behavior. And if we find that hard to swallow, there's always the promise of "the crown of life" to those who handle trials well.
• Trials also give us a chance to refresh our memories about the dynamics of failure. We go wrong not primarily because of the trial but because our "desires," which may be perfectly legitimate (such as longings for physical safety or financial security), are warped into "evil desire" (such as cowardice or greed) and we become lured and caught by them like fish on a hook or in a net and actions follow that are downright sinful. The problem is internal, the opportunity is external. (See James 1:13-15.)
• But if we, instead of succumbing to fear and greed, for instance, turn to the Lord in humble trust and expectant faith, we will be granted wisdom and power to respond to trying circumstances and come through the trial with flying colors!
If at any time you find you're worrying about your finances, may I suggest first of all you pause and pray for Christians worldwide who have no finances to concern them but are worrying about their survival. And if you're wondering how to handle your finances in uncertain times, let me remind you of old John Wesley's advice, "Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can." I'm not sure how you do that, but he was certainly on the right track.
The words of Jesus continue to resonate at times like this: "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Mt. 6:20-21).