When I was a child, I didn’t understand how money could be such a driving force in people’s lives. What was the big deal, I wondered, with having enough money to own a really fancy house, a hotrod car, and new clothing?
Now that I’m older, I get it. I still don’t feel a need to shop at Neiman Marcus, but some of the main stressors in my life are financial.
My car needs replaced. Every time I start it in this weather, I hear its serpentine belt chirping away. Serpentine belts are not supposed to do that.
I went to physical therapy for a month in the autumn, trying to get rid of an odd ache in my shoulder. The therapy didn’t help, and now I’m stuck with the bill, which is higher than I expected.
I have to start a retirement account. I have to stick with a dumb phone because I don’t have enough money for a smartphone. I have to take a work-related trip to Michigan in February. I have to purchase tax software next month. I know that compared to some people, my financial situation is fairly stable, but even so, I worry about it.
As I’ve been thinking about purchasing a new car, and paying bills, I’ve also started rereading the Psalms as part of my effort to spend more time reading Scripture this year. A few days ago, I read Psalm 4. David writes,
There are many who say,
“Who will show us any good?”
Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
In David’s time, “grain and wine” was equivalent to food and drink. Grain is of course the main ingredient of bread, a basic staple of life; and in a world where water was of questionable cleanliness, wine was one of the basic drinks. Still, that David mentions wine instead of a simpler drink such as milk also adds a touch of luxury to this passage. The season of increasing grain and wine referred to here is a season of plenty, where people have not only enough to eat but also good things to eat and drink. This is a season to rejoice over.
But even more than we rejoice over having good food and drink, we rejoice in God. In the “the light of [His] countenance” David finds a greater gladness than in the physical necessities of life. I find the phrase “the light of [God’s] countenance” interesting; I live in central Iowa, and in the winter here, there are plenty of dark, cold days. When it is dark and cloudy, its hard to be hopeful about life; when it’s sunny, no matter how cold, it’s easy to be positive. That David refers to God’s countenance on them suggests that when we are in the presence of God, whatever our physical circumstances, we can find hope and joy in life.
But to some degree, this is cold comfort. When my bills need paying, I want to have a little money in the bank. Joy in God is not going to pay my bills.
And that’s why I like the last part of this Psalm:
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Emptying my bank account to pay for a new car or for medical bills or something else makes me really, really nervous. If there’s another emergency, if I suddenly lose my job, if the economy tanks, what’s going to happen to me? I am especially nervous because as a single woman, I feel like I don’t have someone to fall back on; it’s just me, taking care of me.
But that’s not what the Psalmist says: It is God alone that “make[s] me dwell in safety”. Whether my piggy bank is overflowing with pennies or rattling empty, the Lord cares for me. I like that the verb makes is an active one: That God makes me “dwell in safety” implies that He is actively looking after my well-being; my physical condition is of great concern to Him.
And in this safety, I can be at peace. We do not sleep unless we feel safe. David the Psalmist would not have bedded down near a lion’s den. I do not go to bed until my work for the day is done. That the Psalmist goes to bed here suggests that in God’s protection of us, we find perfect rest; there is nothing more than we should do.
This is not to say, of course, that I should begin to make rash or foolish financial decisions. In fact, I’m taking steps to make my financial situation more stable than it seems now.
But even as I do so, I am trying to remember that a stable financial situation does not give me lasting joy or peace. God alone does that.
And because of that, whatever decisions I make should not be made out of fear. Whether I buy a car or not, it should not be out of fear of draining my piggy bank. Whether I take a second job or not, it should not be because I’m afraid for my finances. Every action I take should be taken in confidence that I have joy in the Lord, and He is protecting me.