Fear is one of the main emotions that impacts our financial decisions. It affects each one of us at various times and in different ways. However, when fear controls us, it warps our decision-making and greatly affects how we live our life.
When the unexpected happens, people often become fearful and can make poor decisions. Though financial downturns, losing a job etc are scary, as Christians we are called to keep things in perspective and not allow fear to overwhelm us.
This post examines the problem with fear, and how you can make wise decisions in the midst of fearful circumstances. I hope this will encourage you to stay the course during challenging times and keep your focus where it belongs – on the Lord.
What is the Problem With Fear?
Fear comes from a recognition that we do not have control over the outcome of things, and may be unprepared for what lies ahead. It is an appropriate emotional response to risk, and is actually a good thing in many instances. Thinking back on my childhood, fear stopped me from doing quite a few foolish things that could have hurt me. However, when fear is unchecked, it can lead us to make foolish decisions, abandon careful plans and change our view of God.
There are two main problems with fear:
A. Small God
Fear can result in us putting more emphasis on our circumstances than on the Lord. In essence, we act like we serve a God who is too small to handle our circumstances.
One of the clearest examples of this can be found in Numbers 13. Twelve spies were sent to spy out the Promised Land, and when they returned, gave the people of Israel a report of the land. The twelve agreed on what they saw: there was danger in the land. Where they differed, was their response to the danger they saw. Ten told the people there was no way to defeat the people in the land and it was better to return to slavery in Egypt. The remaining two (Joshua & Caleb) had faith that God would provide the victory.
The ten spies focused on their circumstances, letting them become bigger than God, allowing their fear to control them. However, Joshua and Caleb viewed God as bigger than their circumstances, and had faith He would protect them.
Faith is like a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it becomes. Joshua & Caleb didn’t just become full of faith suddenly, it was a gradual progression. How we respond to financial challenges, is an important part of our sanctification process.
B. Trying to Control What We Cannot
Living in the US, leaves us with a false sense that we are in control of things. However, as we have seen with the COVID pandemic, that is far from the truth. Trying to control our circumstances is an attempt to replace God with ourselves. Ultimately, this will fail because we have very little control over anything. The illusion of control our culture promotes distracts many people from the truth of the matter.
Particularly with our finances, it can be easy to think that projections of future wealth will come to fruition (and the financial industry spends a great deal of time and money convincing us about that), but in reality, they are beyond our control.
Here are a few areas we don’t control:
- Future tax law
- Investment returns
- Your health
- Government regulations
- Currency valuation
- Your job
Living with the understanding that we control very little in our lives, reminds us God is sovereign and we are not.
Dealing With Fear
So how should we deal with fear in a God-honoring way when it appears? Here are a few ways:
The Bible repeatedly encourages us to remember God and His promises, as we are forgetful people. When we face a challenging financial situation, it can be easy to forget the promises that God has made. Reading passages such as Matthew 6:25-33 will remind us of how the Lord has promised to provide for us.
We need to continually study God’s word, faithfully attend and be involved in the life of the church to be regularly reminded of His promises.
2. Focus On What You Can Control
There are some areas you can control, and they are a good place to focus our attention. Here are a few:
A. Live Below Your Means
If you spend less than you earn, it provides a cushion of savings and more opportunity to give. Living in a materialistic culture, makes this extremely challenging for some. However, if you overspend you end up in debt, which has a dramatic impact on your finances.
B. Minimize Debt
Proverbs 22:7 says “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
Our culture glorifies debt. It allows us to live the lifestyle we want today, that we can’t really afford. The Bible equates being in debt as being a slave, which is a sobering picture.
If you find you need to go into debt, do so for as short a time as possible. You can read more about how to handle debt in a God-honoring way here.
C. Take Appropriate Risks
Proverbs 13:11 “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”
Growing investments slowly over time can help you reach your goals. Every investment has risk (despite what some may say). You need to take risk to get a return, but how much risk you take is something you control. The more risk you take, the higher the potential return you may receive, but also the more it can decrease in value as well.
You need to determine how much risk you can afford to take and still feel comfortable in the midst of a downturn.
D. Invest Broadly
Ecclesiastes 11:2 “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.”
Since we do not know the future, there is no way to know which investment will succeed and which one will fail. Not putting all your eggs in one basket can help you deal with uncertainty of the future.
E. Give Generously
Proverbs 11:24 “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”
Giving is the antidote to greed – helping us to hold less tightly to material possessions. It also helps build faith, as the more you give, the more you need to depend on God to provide for your needs. You can read more about giving here.
3. Make A Plan
Proverbs 21:5 “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”
Having a long-term financial plan provides a framework to address future needs and reduce potential risks. It will change over time as your circumstances change, but provides a roadmap to follow and direct your thinking and planning. You can learn more about the key components of a Biblical financial plan here.
4. Limit Your News Intake
As Christians living in a democracy, we need to be informed citizens. However, the goal of media organizations is to sell (have you tune in next time), and fear sells.
If the report about the markets each day leaves you unsettled, it is better not to listen to it. Controlling your intake of bad news can have a dramatic impact on you. If you struggle with fear, turn off the TV/internet and read your Bible more.
5. Get Help
Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”
If you struggle with fear when markets decline, you may need someone to help you. It could be a friend, Pastor, family member, or a financial advisor (read here how to find a good one). Someone who will remind you of the truths of Scripture and help you stick with the plan you made.
Fear affects us all in different ways and at different times. It is best to develop your plan and work through the various points outlined above before a financial storm arrives in your life. However, sometimes that is not always possible.
Regardless of where you find yourself currently, I hope these words from Habakkuk 3:17-18 will encourage and remind you of where our focus should be:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
Points to Consider
- Wise decisions and planning in good times make it easier to avoid foolish decisions in stressful times
- Do you view God as bigger than your circumstances? How does that appear in your life?
- The stock market is one of the few places where when prices drop, people want to sell. Historically, patience has been rewarded
- Can you rejoice in the Lord during challenging financial circumstances?