By Matt Schoenfeld
It is never the wrong time to follow the right strategy.
In March of this year, the US stock markets were plummeting in near record fashion, and COVID-19 concerns and catastrophes were sweeping the globe. I was engaged heavily in what I call “Ledge Therapy” as I talked for hours on end each day with panicked investors freaking out over the sudden drop in the markets caused by virus fears. I wish I had a dollar for every time I uttered the phrase, “It is never the wrong time to follow the right strategy.” My catch phrase seemed to help calm people who were in danger of making short-term, and ill-timed emotionally charged financial decisions. Never a good combo.
Regardless of the type of financial disaster that we may be facing—the fallout of a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake, a personal disaster like divorce or death of a spouse, or even a global pandemic—having a sound strategy to follow will keep us from literally or figuratively jumping off the ledges of our lives. “When in doubt, stick with the plan” has always served me well.
When faced with a disaster (a huge market drop is a perfect and timely example of a financial disaster), making decisions based in fear, panic, anxiety, or emotion rarely lead to favorable outcomes. I possess no crystal ball. I’d be on a beach in Tahiti if I did. However, being dialed into the proper strategy helps tremendously so we can navigate any of the aforementioned disasters. The big market bounce-back in April and May perfectly displayed the importance of a long-term approach and sticking with the plan in light of short-term circumstances.
But I will be perfectly honest, last fall when my good friend Clayton Smith and I finished writing our recent book, Growing through Disaster, a global pandemic was not on our radar screen. However, “Growing” has proven to be more than timely in light of our current coronavirus challenges. The book provides a solid strategy to help us navigate our way back to health and healing when we have had to deal with a disaster of any kind. Most importantly, the book gives a sound road map for both emotional and financial healing and recovery.
How can we effectively seek God and find his peace and a path to financial recovery if we have encountered a disaster? An Old Testament passage from 1 Kings 8: 37-40 has some interesting advice to guide us on the road to recovery:
37 “When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 38 and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— 39 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart), 40 so that they will fear [revere, CEB] you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors (NIV).
The four step plan in 1 Kings 8 is both simple and helpful: Pray, Worship, Forgive, and Act.
It is interesting in the midst of a big celebration to dedicate the Temple Solomon built for the Lord the discussion turns to dealing with spiritual hardship and disaster. While praising and honoring the Lord, Solomon acknowledges that everything won’t always be perfect. When times get tough despite creating this wonderful place of worship, the Wisest of Kings also reinforces in verse 36 this idea of following sound strategy when he prays earnestly to the Lord for when his people hit times of distress: “Teach them the right way to live….”
In “Growing through Disaster”, I also want to teach the right way to live as I map out a very specific financial recovery plan, which in essence is the fourth step of Solomon’s plan. The book outlines the “Act” portion of the four-step plan. But prior to implementing a sound financial recovery plan, we first need to seek the Lord in prayer, worship him in the middle of our tragedy, and make sure our slates are clean (including releasing our bitterness) by practicing forgiveness and finding healing.
Another way of saying this is we have to first work through the grief and trauma that confronts us when we experience a disaster. My co-author, Clayton, provides a Spirit-directed and community-based plan to help us Pray, Worship, and Forgive so we can move through and past our grief and trauma. As we heal, we can then address the financial component of our disaster by taking the following actions.
First you need to take your financial pulse. It will be imperative for you to take a step back and do a thorough assessment of where you are financially so that you can take appropriate steps. Frankly, this can be a scary step: finding out where we really stand financially. However, it is impossible to make any real progress until this is done. Ask God’s Spirit to come into the process to illuminate your path when the way may seem dark or uncertain. The Lord cares deeply about your financial world as well, and like Solomon’s prayer, God wants to teach you the right way to live out financial discipleship.
To do this, our next step will be to build a simple, biblically-based financial plan so that we can begin to get back on our feet. Building on the principles in my first book, “Abundant Living: 5 biblical principles for financial success”, the book “Growing” teaches how giving generously, fleeing the love of money, living within your means, planning for the future, and following a spending plan are the paramount scriptural guideposts to enable us to recover from any financial disaster. The small group content in “Growing” may also provide ideas for pastors to preach on.
Finally, charting a simple but detailed longer-range financial recovery plan will allow us to take good care of the loved ones in our lives and strengthen our overall plan as we find financial healing post-trauma. So even when the markets crash or jobs are lost or furloughed due to pandemics, we can have a strong strategy in place to follow as we seek God to guide us through trying times.
About the Author
Matt Schoenfeld is a licensed financial advisor in Kansas City for AIG Retirement Services. He is the author of 20 books and curriculums dealing with personal finance, investing, stewardship, and estate planning. His most recent book, “Growing Through Disaster”(Abingdon Press) is available now.