Last night's Dateline special about the ever shrinking middle class entitled "Lost in Suburbia" truly shows that hard times does not discriminate. Young or old, rich or poor, Christian or non-Christian, we all experience trouble, loss and/or crises.
1. Draw Closer to Friends and Family- One of the striking things about the special was how many of the couples struggling with lost income were hiding their situations from their friends, parents and even their children and spouses. While it is instinctual to hide struggles, embarrassments and sins from your peers, that instinct often leads to unnecessary suffering, pain and isolation.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says it best: "Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again if two lie together they keep warm but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him -- a threefold cord is not easily broken."
God wants you to share your burdens with one another. How else can His children show others His love? When you hide the true extent of your circumstances, struggles and personal pains, you miss out on prayers, encouragement, advice and true acts of kindness.
2. Let Go of Worry and Anxiety- Perry Hall Baptist Church Pastor Jeffrey Hartman said it best: worry and anxiety are like a rocking chair- it exerts a lot of energy but gets you no where. Additionally worry causes you to focus on things that have not and may never happen.
Pray rather than waste time worrying. Philippians 4:6 says, "Be anxious for nothing but in everything through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
Scripture repeatedly shows us that God gives special priority for those who are suffering and/or are hurting.
If you have never prayed before or haven't prayed in some time, now is a great time to do so in a sincere and candid manner.
3. Be Thankful for What You Do Have- Many of the couples in the Dateline special were so focused on the fact they were shopping in a food bank or with WIC (food stamps). One woman lamented that she couldn't shop for food her children wanted to eat, while another begrudged part time work. The same woman also attacked her husband for working a lowly sales job rather than striving for a more senior position.
Those who have struggled before know that some food is better than no food and a job is better than no job.
The "Thanksgiving" part of Philippians 4:6 is easily overlooked however it is probably the most important action to overcoming tough circumstances.
James 1:17 says that every good thing comes from the Heavenly Father. Therefore it is essential that we thank God for the things you do have- food, shelter, life, health, spouses and family who stick by us in thick and thin.
When you begin experiencing life with a thankful heart, you reap the benefits outlined in Philippians 4:7- "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ."
4. Let Go of Status Symbols- Owning a luxury vehicle is nice, but can you take it with you when you die? Having a house in a swanky neighborhood looks great, but how do you really feel when no one is looking and you are all alone in your situation?
Matthew 6:19-21 says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Anguish and despair is inevitable if you place your self-worth and confidence in status symbols such as a job, houses and cars.
Those things do not fill the God-sized hole that exists within all of us. Rather you should be focused on your relationship with God the father, on your christian walk and God's kingdom.
So, do you have a relationship with Christ? Are you following the example set by Jesus Christ? Are you reaching out to others with God's love?
When your life is centered on things above rather than things below, anxiety, fears and worries take a back seat to serving others, and you begin to experience God's peace.
5. Persevere- Doing all of the things outlined in steps 1-4 does not mean that things will immediately begin to look up. So when hard times occur, it is important to push through them by staying faithful to the things you have been called to do be it looking for a job or caring your family or working for minimum or even no wage. Be faithful because pushing through hard times has its benefits.
James 1:2-4 says, "My brethern count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience. Let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire wanting nothing."
Going through tough times teaches you how to persevere, how to be patient, and how to be content with all kinds of circumstances. These are very important lessons for adults AND children, which brings me to my last tip.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Let Your Children Experience Hard Times- Children need to know that life is not always a bed of roses in order to mature into adulthood.
I am not telling parents to overwhelm children with every detail of the family's finances.
However it is good to explain to children that clothes, toys and even food is not free. Tell them that to buy their favorite foods and things, they must work hard and save. Show them that when money is tight, they must cut back on frivolous spending in order to have the things they need. Let them feel the generosity of others who selflessly give to help those who have fallen on hard times and encourage them to do the same. Show that them that there is life after layoffs, bankruptcy and foreclosure. Model to them that there is hope in the midst of darkness. I promise you that those lessons will be their fondest memories.
Here is some inspiring music by LeCrae. Read the lyrics between 1:46 and 2:36