Saturday, July 26, 2014

Anxiety and Slumber

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
(Psalm 127:1,2)
There is an aspect of life that will always remain outside of our control no matter how clever we are, no matter how well we plan, no matter how much experience we have.

Circumstances have a way of making idiots out of very smart people.

I once worked under a man who was regularly awarded shares in lieu of a bigger salary or other benefits by the parent corporation of the subsidiary that employed us. I also had a much smaller, regular share allotment that quietly piled up when the company was successful. Our share price hovered in the low $40 region for many months and my boss had accumulated perhaps ten times as many shares as I had, so he had a serious investment in the company.

He was a smart guy working for a successful corporation. He understood the stock market considerably better than I do. But I divested my holdings a few weeks after the company’s stock suddenly began to slide downward in value. I didn’t get top price (it was somewhere in the mid-thirties), but I netted about $8,000 and was perfectly happy with that. (I should add that I didn’t get out of the market because I was prescient or clever; I got out because my personal circumstances required it.)

My boss stayed in. The company was solid and there was no reason to think anything serious was amiss. Share prices fluctuate, as anyone knows, for a variety of reasons.

Did I mention it was 2007?

Short story: the share price continued to plummet, losing significant value daily. The ship was sinking but we just didn’t know it yet. The parent corporation sold off our little Canadian subsidiary to an American company and we ended up doing just fine. Meanwhile, the shares in the parent the last time I looked were down to something like $0.87. My boss hung on until the end because by the time he realized the parent corporation was in serious trouble and was not going to rally, the share value was so low that any mitigation of his losses he might have accomplished by selling would have been negligible. I suspect he lost somewhere around $100,000, and he was not alone in that.

Circumstances are always out of our control, and the Psalmist acknowledges it: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

The takeaway from this for the Christian is that worry is pointless and unnecessary, for a couple of good reasons.

One is that the Lord “knows what you need”. He is never surprised by circumstances. Notice the term is “need”, not “want”. He knows what we want too, but he gives us what we need. “Give us this day our daily bread” we are taught to pray, for good reason. Tomorrow is another day, and we can pray for its needs tomorrow.

If I need, for instance, a pension, the Lord may choose to provide it through perfectly normal means, like RSPs or stock awards. Or he may not, because he knows the end from the beginning. It’s possible that I’m going to die of a heart attack at 55 (and I’ve known healthy, athletic men who died younger). In that case, what on earth do I need with a big pension? I have no idea today whether I’ll need one or not, but it’s wonderful to know that the Lord knows, and will take care of it for me. If I haven’t got one, it’s because I don’t need it.

The flip side of that is that I can’t do anything about it one way or another, so why waste time concerned with it: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Once we recognize our complete dependence on the Lord for everything, it frees us up incredibly. It frees up our time. It frees up our minds. It frees up our hearts. It gives us time and energy to serve in the confidence that someone else is looking after all that. If we absolutely insist on worrying about something, it’s more profitable to spend our mental energies considering whether we are doing the best job possible with the resources the Lord has given us and contemplating how we might use them for him more effectively.

And though we have an obligation to behave responsibly with the money we receive from employment, if, having behaved responsibly and wisely, through circumstances outside our control we wind up flat broke, it isn’t really our problem, is it?

It’s a problem our master has promised to take care of.

Since we can’t know which way things are going to go, it is pointless to stress ourselves about it. Easier said than done, of course, but if we are thinking like the Lord wants us to think, there’s a tremendous amount of peace available to us that is unavailable to those with a worldview that excludes God.

“He gives to his beloved sleep”.

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