By Whaid Guscott Rose (Reproduced with permission from the Bible Advocate April-May 2009)
Pictures from the Hubble Telescope are common in our day. But the first photo of planet Earth, taken by the Apollo 11 space mission crew (1969), was a new and fascinating experience. For the first time, the earth was seen from a distance of 238,856 miles. Its relative smallness against the backdrop of the vast expanse of space put things in unique perspective.
A good illustration of perspective is how fans react to a football game. It’s the last game in the play-offs, and your favorite team isn’t doing well. You call a friend and are soon conversing about the players’ bad moves and the coach’s poor decisions. You then return to the game and discover your team made two touchdowns in the last quarter and won the game. Curious as to how they pulled this off, you later watch a recording of the game. This time the players don’t look so bad, and the coach makes some good calls. The longer you watch, the better they seem; negativity and cynicism are no longer part of your demeanor.
What’s different as you watch the game the second time? Perspective: You know how it will end. This changes the way you view the earlier fumbles and saves you from frustration in the final seconds. This world’s playoff is in its last quarter, and things don’t look good: oil crisis, economic collapse, moral and political unrest. But we don’t despair. We have perspective; we’ve read the last chapter and know Who wins!
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written during a personal downturn. The apostle was under house arrest and faced execution at any moment. But his perspective on all this inspired no less than sixteen admonitions to joy and rejoicing in his brief epistle. In Philippians 4:6-13 he provides helpful principles for surviving downturns.
The first is a three-fold principle: Don’t worry about anything, pray about everything, and let God’s peace rule your heart. Though contrary to human nature, this is the message of verses 6 and 7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Second, when the chips are down, think on things upward. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble . . . whatever things are of good report . . . meditate on these things” (v. 8).
Third, learn to be content: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (vv.11, 12). Contentment brings us back to what really matters and reminds us of how rich we are. The poor among us in the United States have more than the average person in many countries.
Paul’s admonition suggests that contentment can be learned. Surviving difficult economic times depends less on how much we earn and more on what we learn: Being better off isn’t always better; sometimes less is more; downturns are inevitable because our economic system is fragile, run by faulty and greedy people.
Fourth, downturns are opportunities to grow our faith. Experience confirms that faith is increased not by abundance but by famine. Christians gave more to the cause of Christ during the Great Depression than during the flourishing of the U.S. economy.
And finally, downturns are good times to reaffirm trust in our faithful God: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13).