No money for movies. No money for dinners out. No money for anything but essentials like food, gas, and toilet paper. Not exactly the dream life, is it?
But it's the life millions of Americans face. Foreclosures, unemployment, and stock market drops were once topics for news headlines. Now those topics fill our dinner conversations and our prayer requests.
I know what it's like to pray about overwhelming financial challenges. In my husband's first years as a pastor, our house payment gobbled half his income. I didn't expect riches when I married a minister, but I also didn't anticipate 13-16 percent interest rates on a starter home. After our tithe and a sacrificial gift to our church's building program, we lived on 30 percent of my husband's small salary.
During those ground beef and tuna years, I learned that lean financial times call for more than strict budgets and financial discipline. Tough times call for tough prayers—prayers that move us past frustration and helplessness to seeing God's power and glory in our daily lives. We can replace panic with confidence when we focus our prayers on these four requests.
Pray for Clarity
Every time I hear Suze Orman say "De-nied" to a caller's ridiculous spending request, I recognize the value of clarity. Many personal finance gurus encourage us to hold our financial records before a mirror so we can see our true monetary situation. Without a clear picture, we won't know how to balance our income and expenses. We won't make the hard choices needed for economic survival.
But like it or not, our money and jobs are entwined with our views of life and self. And that link makes it difficult to assess our circumstances objectively. My money problems often trigger a storm cloud of conflicting feelings—fear, pride, and anger—that block a clear vision of all the issues involved. Prayer helps me deal with my churning emotions before they skew my decisions and perspective.
On one level, my friend Amy felt a great peace when her husband lost his job. On another level, she felt angry about the circumstances surrounding Mike's layoff. Her irritation with union politics triggered heart tantrums as frustration battled faith for control. When she couldn't stop the tears, she finally hit her knees.
Earlier that week Amy had studied the confrontation between King Hezekiah of Judah and King Sennacherib of Assyria described in Isaiah 36-37. Desperate for God's help, Hezekiah laid Sennacherib's threatening letter before the Lord and prayed.
Amy decided to do the same thing with Mike's pink slip. She grabbed it from the kitchen counter, laid it on the floor, and knelt over it. As she prayed, God did more than calm her heart. He refocused her passion on Mike's salvation. "This job was always yours, God," Amy prayed. "It's not about the job or the money. It's about my husband seeing you and your glory." By the time Amy spoke with me a few days later, she'd regained both her peace and her purpose.
Pray for Creativity
I know of only two ways to have more money: earn more or spend less. Because my sons were preschoolers when our money was tightest, I decided to focus my energy on reducing expenses. Only one problem: I was flying blind. I wasn't a clever cook, an accomplished seamstress, a skillful crafter, or a home repair expert. I don't come up with my own ideas; I copy other people's ideas.
But while praying one day, I realized I didn't need to be ingenuous to solve my budget challenges. I serve the Source of all creativity, I thought. I worship the God who created zebras and armadillos and wallabies. If the Lord can design a rhinoceros, he has more than enough creativity to share with me.
So I asked God to share. Instead of relying on my own abilities, I sought God's input on every part of my budget. I didn't stop talking to friends or scanning magazines for hints, but I invited the Lord's feedback on the best options. No surprise that he showered me with clever ideas. I organized fun-filled birthday parties—complete with customized cakes, games, and gift bags—for $10 or less. I made summer play shorts from my boys' worn-out sweat pants. I turned a store's grand opening into a family outing with free hot dogs.
My money-saving projects will never be featured on HGTV or The Martha Stewart Show, but they worked for my family. And every creative success, no matter how insignificant to others, fueled my passion for prayer and my respect for God's imagination.
Pray for Connections
As a young girl, I loved connect-the-dots puzzles. I was always surprised to watch a collection of random spots give way to a bunny or butterfly as my pencil moved from one dot to another.
I'm convinced God is the real-life Master of connecting the dots because prayer connects his resources with our needs through other people. When my son Scott was a toddler, I received a box of badly-needed boy's clothes from a childhood friend. What prompted Stephanie's gift? My prayers and a series of conversations three states away. My mom talked to Stephanie's mom about an upcoming visit to see my son. After Stephanie's mom mentioned the trip to her, Stephanie remembered the clothes her son had outgrown. A few weeks later my son had a new wardrobe. But the story doesn't end there. The boxes kept coming for almost eight years. I don't think I bought anything other than underwear, socks, and pajamas until Scott hit late elementary school.
Because I've benefited from God's divine connections, I'm thrilled when he includes me in his plan. When Narda's garage door broke two months ago, she had neither the physical ability to repair it (a 1996 car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down) nor the money to purchase a new one. Because Narda was in my Crown Financial study at the time and we'd talked about taking every need to God, she asked our group to pray about her garage door.
I giggled inside as she talked. Only weeks earlier, I'd heard my husband share a new church member's awesome testimony. After praying for wisdom, the man saved his job by showing his employer how to boost income by expanding one aspect of their business. The company's new emphasis? Garage door repairs. My husband contacted his new friend, and within a few days of Narda's prayer request, the company repaired her door free of charge.
Pray for Contentment
Just as earthquakes expose weaknesses in buildings that appear stable, financial stress can expose spiritual weaknesses. In my case, it forced me to grapple with my attitudes.
I found praying for contentment much harder than praying for God's provision, because contentment encompasses more than my view of possessions. How did I accept changing my lifestyle? Did my gifts and clothes and vacations affect the way I viewed myself? Was I willing to use God's dictionary to define the difference between wants and needs? Did I really believe Christ had given me everything I needed to live a godly life as it says in 2 Peter 1:3?
The apostle Paul said, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (Philippians 4:12). Notice the key phrase: "I have learned . . ." Although hardship enrolls everyone in Contentment 101, that doesn't mean we get the same homework as the girl in the next row.
Some of us learn contentment when job losses alter our family dynamics. Barb's husband responded to his termination as though life pinned a scarlet F for "Failure" on his chest. Never one to let bad times color her mood, my sanguine girlfriend struggles to accept the gloomy cloud now hanging over her home.
Others learn contentment with God's timing. Stacey spent 12 months on the unemployment list. She polished her resume; she sent out applications. She aced interviews and waited for security clearances. She did everything by the book, but she still waited a year for the Lord to provide a new job. I don't know any Christian who enjoys waiting on God's timing. But as Barb said about her husband's job search, "Just because I don't see anything happening doesn't mean God isn't doing anything."
Let's face it. Living paycheck to paycheck can be scary. I've given God the "I can't do this!" ultimatum more than once. At times, I've had a matching complaint for every prayer request on my list.
But I've also celebrated the marvelous adventure of moment-by-moment dependence on Christ's resources. I've tested God's faithfulness in my prayers and my pantry. And I've discovered the Father's plan for my life is never limited by the balance of my bank account.
Less money doesn't mean fewer blessings. Less money doesn't equal less joy. But prayerlessness does. That's why we pray on.
Donna Savage is a writer and speaker who lives with her family in Nevada.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
Click here for reprint information.