Mission in Times of Economic Uncertainty

Sometimes there is simply no escaping the news. Whether I choose to listen or not, the media drum resounds somewhere in my subconscious perception, resisting my every effort to nullify its influence and raise destructive sound waves of faith in opposition. “Cost of living crisis” it cries. “Recession” comes the reply. Energy bills, tax raises, inflation, doom loop. The words echo daily around the craggy walls of the path as I try to follow Jesus through the jagged foothills of Twenty First Century Britain. The rumble in the bedrock is unavoidable and relentless: economically the situation in this country is bad and you better watch out because it’s only going to get worse.

As Christians we are not immune to such climates. We are “in the world”; pilgrims passing through on route to a new destination and therefore subject to the winds and the waves of societal shifts. However, I have found myself considering the opportunities for the Gospel presented by the economic turbulence we find ourselves in. In times of uncertainty and with financial questions potentially at the forefront of the minds of many individuals, how do we bring the hope of Jesus to those whose material world may be tottering?

I think our prelude for mission in these turbulent economic climates has to begin with our own personal conviction of hope. The scriptures are loaded with well tread promises that God will provide for His people and the Bible takes a truly antithetical stance to much of the fear ricocheting around us. From the supreme comfort of the well-thumbed Psalm 23 to the beautiful words of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount exhorting us not to worry, we are promised throughout the Bible text that God will not leave us destitute. Paul declares to the generous Philippians that God will provide all their needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4.19) Perhaps my favourite encouragement can be found in a thorough rendering of Hebrews 13.5; the irrepressible strength of the Greek negative illuminated helpfully by the Amplified translation:

“for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]”

Our hope is in our God the provider, Jehovah Jireh, the One who delights in being found to be faithful and true. The financial seas might be boiling, the economy may be eroding like a sandstone cliff as the surf of war, greed and political fallout lashes the coastline of this country, yet our God is unmoved, His word unchanged and His Kingdom unshaken. It doesn’t mean that we won’t face real and painful financial circumstances. There’s no point naively pretending it’s all plain sailing for Christians in this world. But even in the possible tension we inhabit of truth versus circumstance, I would argue that the hope within us is hard to quench. Such hope, even if it seems small, is potentially a lifeline for the anxious minds around us.

Correctly appropriated, I believe the hope we have in these days will manifest naturally into lives that are marked by generosity. This isn’t to be confused with reckless philanthropy and guilt inspired giving. It may have nothing to do with money or material objects at all. Instead, Kingdom generosity is an attitude determined by faith and in close communion with the Holy Spirit; a way of life to be chosen and fuelled internally by our response to the scandalous grace of the gospel, the peace of our identity and the infallible word of God. It is something, I would argue, that comes quite naturally to the believer and that is why I’m intrigued by its missional impact when I consider the days we are living through. Generosity has probably never been more countercultural in our lifetimes. The freedom we have to use it, as the people of God, has probably never been more urgent.

The material aspect of Kingdom generosity is devoid of self-righteous benevolence and instead inspired by the One who first gave everything for us at the cross and then elected to share the riches of heaven with us too. “Why should I gain from His reward?” ponders Stuart Townend in his famous hymn. And yet gain we do, in ways unimaginable and with grace inexhaustible. Our response to this revelation is further galvanised by the security of God’s word already discussed. Generosity is an attribute of God that reveals itself in ever increasing lavishness as our revelation of Him deepens. It is also by definition a radical attribute of the Church that is steered by love, made watertight by the Word, and soars over the waves of the deepening swell, proclaiming the goodness of God triumphantly from the crow’s nest. In this cultural moment, we have the perfect storm to test the strength of the sails.

The temptation is to think that generosity applies only to finance but purely material generosity of course has a limit. We are not called to the impossible task of meeting every need around us and more money is sadly not always the answer to someone’s financial woes.  Thankfully, generosity can materialise in a multitude of ways and perhaps no more potently than in the guise of invested time.

Maybe it is as simple as being generous with your attention span. We must never underestimate the power of investing in genuine relationships through listening and journeying with individuals whom God has placed around us. At Third Space for example, we practise generosity through our investiture in relationships. Whether offering listening services to people in coffee shops, providing chaplaincy at sporting events or giving time to engage with people in nightlife contexts, we aim to disrupt destructive cycles through compassionate care and listening in leisure industries. Agendas are parked, trust deepens and relationships start to flourish. In these spaces of generous time, the goodness of God begins to gently muscle its way into the conversation.

Outside of such contexts, a simple phone call, a text message of genuine concern or an unhurried, caring conversation can all be the simplest, most underrated evangelism tools we have at our disposal. In a world which is increasingly too panicked, too busy and too fraught to care, the intentional gift of our time emerges as a radical counterpart to material altruism in our demonstration of God’s generous heart. It’s so simple; most of us are probably already doing it, but never underestimate the impact it has on people who live in a world that doesn’t seem to have time to care.

We can extrapolate the generosity of time to include the spaces we inhabit and create. Fearful people need sanctuaries and our homes can become havens, our park walks can become pilgrimages, our coffee shop custom can become the context for Godly counsel. Our willingness to be openhanded with the spaces we host or frequent can provide holy moments of respite from the pressures of the world and the safe space to forge deeper relationships for God to reveal His heart. Our generosity with both time and space can therefore be a catalyst for mission in a hassled culture where both come at a premium.

And of course, the generosity of selfless prayer is the natural response of an unencumbered, generous heart. Diverting our attention away from our own howling winds of worry and choosing to pray for, and with, the people around us is a sacrificial choice of faith that yields unlimited potential. Standing in the gap to see miraculous provision for family, colleagues and strangers is potentially more powerful than any act of material charity. Prayer in this season is truly our line of interest free credit that never maxes out.

So am I there yet with this radical Kingdom generosity? No, of course not. Ignoring the circumstances is a daily battle, the aforementioned news feed still gloomily interrupts my morning porridge and I doubt that any of us are completely impervious to the self-absorbing pressures around us. But I know that as those who harbour “peace that transcends all understanding” (Phil 4.6), we have the choice, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring a generous, non-anxious presence into every interaction and break the upward spiral of exponential fear so prevalent in the lives of those around us. The economy may be dire but it also offers unparalleled opportunities for us to reveal some small yet transformational aspect of God’s generous love through our Spirit inspired handling of material resources, time and prayer.

The generosity of our Jesus will never be rivalled. And I am confident that as we step out in divinely inspired, countercultural, lavish generosity this season, we will see people around us becoming the grateful beneficiaries of the most staggering gift ever offered. A life, through the riches of Christ Jesus, that is welcome in the presence of the living God.