When we are in debt

Christmas has passed, the decorations have been taken down and life is returning to normal. Yet for many people living in Britain January is a worrying month because the bills for Christmas will soon arrive. Millions of people are entering 2018 with a debt hanging over them because they overspent during the festive period. One advice line estimates that 7.9 million people are likely to fall behind with their finances in January because of credit card debt incurred over Christmas.

Being in debt is oppressive. I remember visiting a man who was in debt. He had been injured in a car accident and had lost his job. The debts had begun to accumulate and he was unable to pay them. The bank had refused to increase his overdraft and the red letters, with their demands and threats, were arriving regularly. He no longer opened letters from the companies to which he owed money. Debt had paralysed him and filled him with fear for the future. He felt very alone and had seriously considered ending his life.

When we are in debt we need to seek help. I was able to come alongside the man and to work out with him ways to begin to address his debts. In time, all his debts were cleared and he was able to move to a new flat. A great burden had been lifted from him and he was able to enjoy life again. Organisations like Christians Against Poverty offer practical help to people overwhelmed by debt enabling them to manage their repayments and, in time, to be debt-free.

When I visited the man I was also able to pray with him and to ask God to help him. God is just and is particularly concerned for the poor and for widows and orphans. He sees the oppression of the poor and vulnerable through immorally high interest rates and he will call such lenders to account. God also provides for us in our need. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition is not only for our food but for all our daily needs. God is the One who gives us all good gifts. If you are overwhelmed by debt, ask God to help you. In Psalm 34 the Psalmist says, “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.”

All good gifts around us

Farmers have safely gathered in the harvest for another year. The early season was very dry and during the harvesting period there has been a lot of rain. One farmer said that out of a harvest period of 70 days only 10 were good days for using the combine harvester because the ground was so wet. Some crops have been harvested when they were damp and will need to be dried out. A new strain of blight has also caused problems so that crops in the barns will need to be carefully monitored over winter.

Most of us are almost totally unaware of the challenges farmers are facing. Supermarkets source produce from many parts of the world so we are less aware of the seasonal nature of our food. In the Western World we are protected from the vagaries of uncertain harvests. We expect to be able to buy many things all the year round.

But it’s not like that for millions of people in the world. In East Africa this year there has been a severe and prolonged drought, made worse by ongoing conflicts, that has caused a major food crisis. As crops have failed and animals have died people, including many children, are seriously malnourished and some have died. The shortage of safe water has also led to deaths from cholera-like diseases. It is estimated that in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, 20 million people are in urgent need of food supplies.

In many places around the country, in churches and in schools, Harvest Thanksgiving services are being held. Many will remember our dependence on God for our daily bread and give thanks to him as they sing, “We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.”

We must also remember those who are in great need and are starving. The Apostle John wrote, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

All good gifts are sent from heaven above

A wet spring and a hot summer have meant that Britain has enjoyed one of the best harvest seasons for many years. Dry weather in late August enabled farmers to harvest many of their crops and gather them into their barns. They have been able to “make hay while the sun shines!”The autumn harvest is also very good. British apples are sweet and colourful because the warm summer weather has increased the sugar levels in the fruit.

In many churches harvest thanksgiving services are being held. They remind us that “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.” God has made this little planet on which we live a place of wonderful abundance. The past 100 years have seen a massive growth in world population; from 2 billion in 1927 to more than 7 billion today. Yet despite this massive growth more than enough food is produced around the world to feed everyone. In Britain the major supermarkets offer a bewildering variety of foods from all over the world.

It is so important to be thankful for all that God gives us. This is true whether we have a lot or a little. Real life and happiness is not found in having wealth and lots of “stuff”. Children and adults who have everything may learn the value of nothing. Sometimes those who have least are most appreciative of what they have. When my wife was in hospital for an operation there was an elderly lady in the bed opposite hers. One day my wife noticed that the lady was not able to reach the food that had been left on her bedside table. She went over and offered to help her. As my wife held the cup the lady sipped the soup and said “O that’s lovely, thank you so much!”

I have met Christians in very poor countries whose daily life is very simple, but who are a great example to me in the wonderful spirit of contentment they display. Each day they pray to God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is a prayer we can all pray. Day by day God does provide our needs. We can bring all our anxieties for today and for the future to him and ask him to provide – and he will. God is also able to give us a spirit of contentment. The apostle Paul wrote, “If we have food and clothing, with that we will be content.”