Taken from PENNIES FROM HEAVEN – HOW TO GET THEM AND WHAT TO DO WITH THEM by Barrie Lawrence. Available from amazon.co.uk (UK) and amazon.com
When It All Goes Wrong!
I have been there – twice. I know something about life when it all goes wrong. It happens, and sometimes quite unexpectedly, which intensifies the pain.
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I have mentioned my friend John. He was doing well in his business and prospering in every way. With a beautiful wife and family, and a horse or two, life was good. What could go wrong? Well, a customer defaulting on a substantial account could go wrong. John’s business could not survive such a loss, and nor could his health. Bankruptcy was totally unexpected. After suffering a heart attack, he was unable to walk and was confined to a wheelchair. His wife left him. Everything had been so good – and then it all went so wrong.
But Jesus stepped in and healed John. I have mentioned that he keeps his wheelchair in a cupboard these days. Also, John applies certain Biblical principles to his life, and these make a dramatic difference to his quality of life. John is not perfect, I’m sure, but he is an inspiration to me. Also, his needs are met, and he has more.
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I grew up in a stable loving home. My parents were not wealthy, and sometimes life was very difficult for them financially. But I enjoyed my childhood, and assumed that life would generally be rather like my parents’ had been. Other people went bankrupt (which was a disgrace in those days), but such things did not happen in our family. There were people who got divorced (more disgrace, shame and scandal in those days), but such things never happened in our family. I would no doubt marry and have a family – I assumed a boy and a girl, like my parents – and then grow old gracefully, enjoying the grandchildren, who would live locally.
Training to be a dentist took much of the family by surprise. I thought it was just a job I wanted to do, and only later realised it was a ‘profession’ with, in the eyes of some, status. My father was a bank clerk, and his father worked on the railway. I was going to be a dentist. Just jobs.
The big surprise for me was discovering that I had a Heavenly Father who loved me. I had thought it was wishful thinking on the part of the gullible, and when I realised the truth, and committed myself to him, life became a tremendous adventure.
What wonderful promises we find in the Bible, not least in the general area of success, and also in the specific sphere of money. Every need shall be met, I read in Psalm 23:1 and Philippians 4:19 and so many other places in the Bible. Psalms and Proverbs abounded with promises of success and prosperity, and there were demonstrations of the realization of it in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, Philemon and others. I did not expect to be wealthy myself, but with so many promises, there was not too much that could really go wrong.
I have mentioned several times that every scripture needs to be taken within the context of the rest of the Bible. There is also a big picture in the Bible, going back before creation and continuing into future eternity, and part of that picture is sin, the Fall, sickness, disease, disobedience, poverty, dishonesty, infidelity and of a perfect creation becoming a hostile environment.
Sickness happens. Unemployment happens. Infidelity happens. Dishonesty happens. There is so often a financial consequence to these aspects of our fallen world, whether one is the sinner, or the sinned-against. And we rarely see them coming, and get taken by surprise.
Life comes in seasons. The promise of abundant life is there for us, but that does not mean that the enemy does not attack, seeking to kill, to steal and to destroy (John 10:10). Victory is assured, but wounds can be sustained in the battle. Job started well and the Lord prospered him. Later in his life, we read again that Job was prospering, having twice as much as he did in his earlier days. But it is the in-between years that Job is famous for. He lost his family and material possessions, along with his health. However, Job remained faithful to the Lord, who brought him through, eventually, into something even better than before.
We too can have a ‘Job experience’. But if you are going to have a Job experience, remain faithful to the Lord as Job did, and have a complete Job experience, coming through into something even better than you had before.
So, when it all goes wrong, how do we handle life? I have found certain Biblical principles which need to be followed, and which, by the grace of God, can be followed. I have known too many people give up because the way ahead seemed difficult. Don’t give up. I have seen too many people go into depression because they felt the enemy could not be overcome. Refuse to think that way – our God is greater. And I have seen too many people becoming, and remaining, bitter and resentful at others, because they have been sinned against. Don’t even think about it – the Lord has forgiven you far more than you will ever have to forgive anyone else. That is the teaching of Matthew 18:21-35.
As a younger man, I made mistakes and ‘it all went wrong’. I felt that everything was taken from me. I did not go bankrupt, but I bounced along on the fine line between credit and debit on my bank account. I learnt from my mistakes, and the mistakes of others, and even though I did not prosper in the way that others I know did, I enjoyed good fellowship with Jesus and the people of God – and life was good.
Later, as an older man, someone else made mistakes and ‘it all went wrong’. I was just getting on my feet again financially when – I was plundered. What a wonderful Heavenly Father we have! I will never understand how he brought me through, and restored and re-established me so quickly and to the extent that he has. Suffice to say that, after some months of extreme challenge, life has been good for the last sixteen years or so.
God is good, but there are principles to hold to. Let me briefly share a few of them with you.
Put Jesus first.
‘Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you’ (Matthew 6:33). Jesus gives us instruction and a promise. The instruction is practical; in other words, he is telling us something we should do. You will recall perhaps that I have said that walking the walk is much more important than talking the talk. Put Jesus first, with both your time and your money.
Whatever else you do each day, spend time with Jesus. There is always time for what we want to do. Put time aside, and get away from possible distractions. Turn off your mobile phone, and stay away from your computer, telephone, television or whatever constitutes a possible distraction for you. Read a short passage, perhaps a psalm, and pause – what is the Lord saying to you? Is there a lesson to learn, or a promise to embrace? Believe me, it will be relevant to your situation because that is our God. He is our Father and he loves us. Then pray, responding to what he has just said to you. This time with the Lord is your lifeline. This is the time when he will speak joy, hope and strength into you, body, soul and spirit, to keep you going, and to bring you through.
Make Jesus Lord of your money! Thank him for what you have, and push some of it his way. Don’t just laugh and say, “I haven’t got any!” Everybody has something, and he only expects us to give proportionately (1 Corinthians 16:2). Do not give to the Lord in order to receive something greater back; just give to him in gratitude for what he has given you, and to acknowledge that he is Lord of your money. You are going to come through this time, and you are going to have a lot more in the future.
Remember Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32). She looked back. There is a right way of looking back, and a wrong way of looking back. The correct, healthy way is to look back and thank God for all he has done, to see how far you have come, and of the lessons learned. But most people look back in an unhealthy manner. There can be a tendency to blame others, which leads to bitterness and resentment. That will at best leave you stuck where you are, and will more than likely drag you back. Consider how much the Lord has forgiven you, and forgive others. Again, remember the parable of the forgiven debtor of Matthew 18:21-35. If you can really take on board the meaning and truth of this teaching, it will set you wonderfully free. The first time it really went wrong for me, I felt resentful at the part others had played, even though I was a prime respondent. But I try and learn as I go through life, and the second time it went wrong for me, I freely forgave. It took a few months to have complete peace, but there was, and is, no resentment. When I received news that things had gone very badly wrong for my former wife, I sat down and wept my heart out. I felt no romantic attraction towards her any more, but I do not like to hear of people suffering.
Accepting responsibility for your part in things going wrong, is complimentary to not blaming others. Or maybe you are perfect? I have a friend who relates certain business disasters that have befallen him. There seem to have been a succession of such failures over many decades, and guess what? It is always ‘them others’! It is not that he has exercised bad judgment, nor that he moved ahead without fully appraising the situation, nor… He is a serial victim, and I am still hearing about the injustices of many years ago. But, it holds him back. You will probably have noticed that in my own story, I accept that I was wrong in the breakdown of my first marriage. Nor do I believe that I was perfect in the following marriage. I acknowledge my shortcomings, get right with God. Knowing that he has forgiven me, I forgive myself and move on. Accept ownership of wrong decisions and actions – and forgive yourself. Your Heavenly Father has. Jesus paid the price for them at Calvary. So forgive yourself, and move on.
Go to church!
I do not think anyone who knows me would call me a legalist, but if I can press you into going to a decent church during good and bad times, you can call me what you like. Do not drop out – it could be the end of you.
When I and my first wife separated, I lived for a few weeks in rented accommodation in a small village. I felt a total failure, and not a little depressed. But I walked along to the chapel about half a mile away, and though it was a rather stuffy and formal, I sang to my God and sought to meet him there. And although I did not make any lifelong buddies amongst the very elderly congregation, it was good to identify with the people of God, and worship.
The enemy comes to kill, to steal and destroy, and if he can separate you from the people of God, he will pick you off in his own good time. Remember how the Amalekites would pick off the weak and the stragglers who had separated themselves from the main body of the people of Israel as they crossed the Sinai desert in Deuteronomy 25:17-19. I have seen too many people drop out of church because they ‘did not feel like it’ whilst going through a bad time. Maybe they never understood commitment in the first place, or maybe they were never really saved. Years later one meets them again, unexpectedly in the street or in a shop, and they look a little embarrassed, and sometimes say, “I still believe in God”. Well, so does Satan, and he is not going to pull through. But you are, if you really are a child of God. So do not drop out. Your future prosperity will flow from the inside out, and it is of paramount importance that your soul prospers, as in 3 John 2.
Whilst on the subject of dropping out of church, I have noticed that those who do so tell themselves that it is just for a while. But as the weeks, and then months slip by, they adopt a routine for their Sunday mornings – visiting family, going to car boot sales, watching football, and so on. A year or two later, it is no longer practical for them to join with church on Sundays because they are doing other things. The enemy kills, steals and destroys. Do not let him!
I think I have always praised God, since I first came to know him at the age of twenty-one. But there was a time when, for a few months, I suffered from clinical depression. I was a young married man, and a felt very down. But praise lifted me. Did I feel like praising him? No. Was it easy to praise him? No. In fact often, I would not even think of praising the Lord. I overcame this by handwriting notes for myself, when the depression lifted for a while, and I could think rationally. The notes would say ‘Praise the Lord – sing!’ I would find the notes when I was ‘down’, sing around the house, and emerge from my depression. Praise brings deliverance.
Remember Jehoshaphat. In 2 Chronicles 20:22 we have a curious incident in the history of Judah. Three strong, hostile nations, Ammon, Moab and Edom combined their armies to fight against Judah. The king of Judah adopted an unusual strategy, in sending out ahead of the army, not spearmen nor chariots nor soldiers of any description – but singers to praise the Lord. And when they praised the Lord, He brought confusion to their enemies, who were routed. Our God does not change – praise the Lord and send the enemy packing. You are going to come through, but you need to move in victory. Praise him!
I have a good friend called Mike, who himself had a friend called Merlin. Mike was not going through the best of times, but his friend had recently written a book called Prison to Praise, and Mike read it. Merlin had written of the power of praise (the title of another of his books) in releasing God’s people from an inner prison and setting them free. Mike decided that he was going to do just that. He may not feel like it, but he was determined to praise the Lord whatever his circumstances. His train arrived at their home station at the end of a day’s work in the city. Tired, Mike trudged from the station, to find his daughter running along the road towards him. “Daddy, Daddy,” she cried. “Our house has caught fire.” Without hesitation, Mike through his arms in the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord!”
You are going to come through, but you need to move in victory. Praise him! His will is for you to succeed and prosper on all fronts. Remember Jehoshaphat. Remember Mike. Praise the Lord!
Exercise prudence and wisdom
A young friend of mine went through a difficult time both financially and emotionally a year or two ago. He came to see me for a general time of catching up on each other’s news. He was excited. “I’ve found a great scheme for making money,” he said. “Join me in it. Twenty or thirty grand, and it will double, at least, in just a few months.” I told him that if a scheme looks too good to be true, then it almost certainly is too good to be true. And if I had twenty or thirty thousand pounds to invest, it would not go into something like that. A fortnight ago I heard that he had gone bankrupt.
The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about prudence and wisdom. Prudence means common sense. Wisdom is perhaps somewhat deeper, and suggests insight and perception. Most people have common sense if they stop and think, but a smaller number of people possess wisdom.
‘I wisdom, dwell with prudence’ Proverbs 8:12. Wisdom is personified in this chapter, and is a picture of Christ. We are ‘in Christ’ and Christ is ‘in us’. If you need common sense or accurate perception, you have it, if you are a believer.
But when it all goes wrong, there is an understandable temptation to try and get out of the situation quickly. Pause. Think. Use common sense and wisdom. If you have a bad track record when it comes to such matters, discuss your situation with an older and wiser person who can be trusted. And if a scheme looks too good to be true, do not go near it.
There have been times when I have had some degree of pastoral responsibility, and there have also been times when patients have opened their heart to me because everything has been going wrong for them. Such times often involved divorce or death. There are often financial considerations. In such situations I would suggest that, due to the emotional turmoil experienced, it was not advisable to do any of the following three things within one year, absolute minimum: change your work, move your home, or get married. Surely that is common sense, and yet I have seen so many people in those situations get married very quickly – and regret it. Quite often, a further divorce, with further trauma, follows. A downward spiral involving both bad health and financial embarrassment can result.
If it all goes wrong, hang in. Find one or two wise people, experienced in life and who truly love God, and share your situation with them. And remember, you will come through.
Remember the promises.
Never forget the promises. The Bible is full of promises from our loving Heavenly Father, and he is as good as his word. I do not want to waste my life believing things that are not true, but neither do I want to miss out by not believing the things that are true.
There are books of Bible promises, or they can easily be found on the Internet. I am not strongly in favour of ‘claiming them’, but have a familiarity with them, and simply believe them. Life has seasons and some of those seasons are not full of success and prosperity. Remember Job. But life in general is good, because God is my Father, and he promises me success and prosperity. If this is not so, then the Bible is not true. Or your theology is suspect.
And so in closing this chapter, I have a few simple suggestions for you.
Read Psalm 1, where there is a promise of success and prosperity for those who live a life of commitment to the Lord.
Read Psalm 23:1, where there are true and comforting words about your great Shepherd.
Read Psalm 121 and remember your help comes from the Lord.
Read Phillipians 4:19, and remember that this is speaking of what the Lord promises you.
Read 3 John 2, and remember that our God does not change.
Meditate on the promises.
Remember that the promises have not been withdrawn.
Remember that our God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Praise God for the promises.
Remind God of the promises.
And remember that if you walk with the Lord, he will bring you through into something better. Remember Job. Remember me.
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The Bible says, ‘I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust’, Joel 2:25