2020 — the year of the “Great Lock-down,” leading to what some are now calling the “Great Corona-virus Recession.” The Dow Jones, flirting with 30,000 in February, plummeted to under 19,000 a month later. 22 million Americans have filed unemployment claims. The financial fallout of the Great Corona-virus Recession has been compared to the Great Recession of 2007–2009, even evoking comparisons to the Great Depression of 1929–1933. Looking ahead, some think the economy will bounce back to normal as soon as the virus is under control. Others are less optimistic.
Recessions destroy small businesses, disrupt life, and take away our normalcy. And, they cost us our happiness. In March the president predicted America would lose more lives to the despair of recession than to the virus itself. Statistically, this statement is hotly contested. But even if partially true, think about what that says about the apparent threat of economic uncertainty on emotional well-being.
This isn’t the first recession. It won’t be the last one. So what is God up to in this recession? On February 1, 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession, John Piper preached a sermon about this. Recessions, he shows, need not kill our joy, but can make our joy more stable. Today’s meditation contains some words from that sermon.
God intends to relocate the roots of our joy in His grace (not our goods), in His mercy (not our money), in His worth (not our wealth). Recessions can serve to yank up the roots of our joy from the pleasures of the world, and plant them in the glory of his grace. There is one text in the New Testament that is the clearest ‘recession text’ in the Bible. Paul is writing to Corinth about something that happened up in Macedonia, up around Philippi, and he says:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (II Corinthians 8:1-2)
Well, that’s my dream for our congregation. I don’t think we’ll ever reach the poverty part, but perhaps even that could serve a larger purpose. Verse two says that these folks have a wealth of generosity. That’s what I want for us. I mean, every kind of generosity. I mean that if after this service, someone wants to talk to you, you’re generous with your time. If someone needs some money, you’re generous with your money. Every kind of generosity. In other words, we should be just the kind of people who are there; we’re just ready to be spent for others. That’s what I mean by generous. I want that for our people.
So, my question here is this: Where did such generosity come from? Where did that come from in this text? Did it come from their prosperity? No, because they don’t have any. It says in verse 2, “Their extreme poverty . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” So scratch that answer. It didn’t come from prosperity.
Do you know what state in the United States is per capita the poorest? Mississippi. Do you know what state per capita has the highest level of charitable giving? Mississippi.
There’s a correlation, folks, between poverty and giving — not wealth and giving. Wealthy people don’t give much money proportionately. It just looks like they are giving a lot of money. But when somebody has almost nothing, and they get a plea, and they can’t resist the giving, something’s going on there really beautiful. And that’s what’s going on here. These people are poor in verse two, and they’ve got a wealth of generosity.
Did it come from being surrounded by approving people and culture? The answer to that one is no because they’re being harassed there. It says in verse two, “in a severe test of affliction.” So now, you’ve got poverty and you’ve got people beating up on them.
The reason I’m assuming affliction means that is because of Acts 17:5. That’s what happened in Thessalonica (that is up there around the Macedonians). Jason got arrested and beat up. The church, at three weeks old, is being hurt, and they’re giving like crazy. This is recession plus persecution; and still they are giving generously.
So, where did this come from? It says in verse two where it came from: “Their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” They were poor. People were beating up on them. And yet, they were so joyful, they gave generously.
Where did that joy come from? Verse one: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.” That’s the answer. What does the grace of God look like? It looks like abundant joy in the midst of poverty, overflowing in a wealth of liberality. That’s what grace looks like when it comes down.
Have you experienced grace? The anxiety we feel in a recession reveals the sin of our blind self-centeredness that does not look to or appreciate God’s ongoing care of and provision for us. Allow yourself to be stunned at the grace of God that he still loves you, still forgives you, still provides for you, still holds on to you, and will still bring you home to glory. When you have known such grace and kindness from God, you respond by wanting to give to people who are in need.
So, the way recessions work is that they knock us down, and then they our reveal sin. They then pull up the roots of our joy, which were down there in our money, in our security, in how everything was going. Suddenly we are rootless, but then God mercifully sinks our roots into the glory of the His grace. And then, thanks to the troubles, we can have a firm and solid foundation.
One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days.” I took some food with me and went.
When I finally came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave the rice to the mother. She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbors; they are hungry also.”
I was not surprised that she gave, because poor people are often very generous.
–Mother Theresa in No Greater Love
Proverbs 19:17 — He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.
Luke 12:48b — From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Luke 21:1-4 — As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Guide us, teach us, and strengthen us, O Lord we beseech thee, until we become such as thou wouldst have us be: pure, gentle, truthful, high-minded, courteous, generous, able, dutiful, and useful; for thy honor and glory. Amen.