Pastor, theologian and evangelist Pedro Lapadjian was involved in leadership for both My Hope Uruguay and the Franklin Graham Festival in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2009. Here he tells how lessons learned during Uruguay’s severe financial crisis of 2002 can help us during the economic struggles we face today.
The Book of Habakkuk chronicles the spiritual answers of a prophet in a time of global uncertainty, economic recession and social instability, similar to what we are going through today. People in those days were similar to people today who wake up every morning with fear and anxiety in their hearts.
I’ve seen this before. During 2002, my country was dragged into an unprecedented financial crisis that spilled over from neighboring countries.
Even those of us without degrees in economics became familiar with such terms as bank runs, stock market crash, default and risk indicators. Anxiety spiked as economists gave discouraging forecasts, leading to increases in depression and suicide.
The church, of course, was not immune to the swings generated by these events. If we had given a theological exam to the majority of believers, they would have passed with flying colors, responding that God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. The problem is that for many, these truths clashed with their emotional reality and their day-to-day problems.
During those days, my church studied the Book of Habakkuk. It became a source of inspiration and a guide for facing these situations that were beyond our control. We learned that though we cannot always change our circumstances, we can change our attitude toward them. God wants us to pay attention, not to worry—He is not missing from this stage we’ve been called to act on.
Habakkuk, aware of an impending Babylonian invasion and the prospect of a broken down economy, makes a statement that is useful in our times as well:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
What we see as a tragedy, God sees as a great opportunity. As the apparent security offered by comfort and consumption vanishes, people are more open to seeking for spiritual truth. Habakkuk did not promote a change of political actors, but rather a change of focus. He took a step back from his context and, instead of lamenting the deplorable financial breakdown of his day, raised his eyes to the God who is able to do miracles and who says: “The silver is mine and the gold is mine” (Haggai 2:8).
Habakkuk placed his trust in the Lord of history, and his words reflect an encouraged heart: “I will be glad” and “I will rejoice.” He was not some delirious mystic, nor was this a defense mechanism to avoid reality. Rather, it was the result of the fruit of the Spirit that allows us to experience joy even when we have nothing.
Faced with a general malaise, we have a mission to model balance and maturity both inside and outside the church. From the biblical account in Habakkuk and the lessons we learned in our own recent past, we can affirm with certainty: “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).
There is no doubt that crises help us reorder our priorities. And for those who have made the acquisition of material goods the goal of their lives, now is the time to remind them not to place their hope in riches, which are uncertain, but in the living God, who “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
As the world’s financial markets stagger, we can hold fast to the same conviction held by the Apostle Paul, who said that nothing in the present nor the future could separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).
And we must also understand that this is the moment to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ, that “though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich”
(Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
Take courage! If God is for us, who can be against us?
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Pedro Lapadjian is pastor of the Evangelical Armenian Church of Montevideo, Uruguay, and served as vice president of the executive committee for the Franklin Graham Festival in Montevideo in March 2009.