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Toil and Trouble: Prayer Principles in a Bad Economy

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 16, 2010

Times are tough. I hear regularly from users who have lost their jobs or had their incomes dramatically reduced. They explain this when apologizing for not being able to support our work. They feel bad receiving appeals to which they cannot respond. But at least it gives me an opportunity to pray for them, and I know that some of our least wealthy members do the most praying for us.

Our family has its own personal experience of the economic downturn as well. Our family consulting business has shrunk over the past two years. Preferring to work on rather than consulting, I’ve had to cut all benefits to myself from the business that once subsidized our apostolic work, and I’ve had to rely on for income—increasing the burden on our users, and sharply reducing my own pay. I’ve also watched and prayed as the next generation has plunged into the uncertain economy and struggled to find suitable employment. These difficulties are fairly typical. Most families have been affected one way or another.

The plain fact, of course, is that none of us knows whether or how we’re going to do well economically, or even whether or how we’re going to get through the next day. We may think we know, but we’re deceiving ourselves. Anyone who has lost a job or suffered a sudden disability knows that prosperity is a harlot. But we still prefer the comfort of believing that everything is fine, even if it is true that financial disaster could strike in the very next moment. It’s nicer to feel secure than to feel want.

Prayer is essential at all times, whether in prosperity or penury, but penury—or the threat of penury—is a great spiritual motivator. When we feel the pinch, we typically ratchet up our spiritual intensity. Perhaps we all have a tendency to be foul weather friends with God. Be that as it may, for all those who are feeling pretty intense about financial problems just now, here are three principles to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t borrow trouble. I find my own mood is constantly affected by all kinds of problems that haven’t yet come to pass. “Our cushion is gone; what if we get hit with an unexpected expense?” “Business is slow; what if we have to cut staff?” “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, the fund-raising might not go well this month.” I’m perfectly capable of being glum and even paralyzed by things that haven’t happened and may never happen. Yet not borrowing trouble is one of the most important steps in trusting God.
  2. Perspective is important. Personal economic woes usually bother us far more than spiritual problems. Which is more important, the fact that my paycheck has been reduced or the fact that the Church is being reduced by the failings of her members and the attacks of outsiders? Which is more important, that I’ve lost my job or that there's been no living with me since it happened?
  3. Two prayers are all you need. With respect to our own uncertainties, the only two kinds of prayer that matter are prayer for light and prayer for courage. If we don’t know what God wants us to do in our present situation, we pray for light. If we do know what God wants but are reluctant to do it, we pray for courage. Serenity comes from trusting those two prayers.

These points might just possibly carry more weight if they came from a real authority. So here they are again, from the Master Himself:

  • “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (Mt 6:34)
  • “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Mt 6:31-33)
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13)

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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