Avoiding the Great Depression

Almost 100 years ago, the economy of the United States experienced arguably its greatest financial drought ever, known as the Great Depression. There was a lack of money, food, resources, and jobs. Banks lost people’s money and people became desperate to find ways to provide for their families. Although this happened almost a century ago, the reality is that some are experiencing their own great depression within their own household today. You work, work, work, only to see your paycheck once and then it goes away to pay for bills, insurance, loans, etc. There are times in which you have to skip a meal and call it fasting because you don’t have enough for groceries that week. And maybe this isn’t you now but are you certain that you will never go through your own great depression? That is the question; how can we avoid a great depression today? There is a biblical answer, and it is found in the book of Nehemiah, chapter five. 

The Jewish nation had just been freed from Babylonian captivity and were trying to rebuild their beloved temple. The previous chapters share how there was much oppression by some Samaritans and some Jewish rebels who didn’t want to see the temple rebuilt. However, Nehemiah motivated his Jewish brothers and sisters by reminding them that God was with them. They solved the problem by having half the workforce stand guard while the other half worked on the rebuilding process. However, there was another pressing issue at hand: famine.

“Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry…  Some were saying, ‘We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.’

“Others were saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.’

“Still others were saying, ‘We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax … we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery’” (Nehemiah 5:1-5, NIV).

The situation faced by the people in the time of Nehemiah might have been even worse than the Great Depression. Now, if one of us lacked food we might starve for a couple of days or work small side jobs to put food on the table. However, this was so bad that people were selling their children into slavery or entering into extreme debt. I can’t imagine being so hungry that I sell my own children into slavery. However, that was the case for these people as they were going through their own great depressions. So the question is, how do we avoid the great depression? The first step to avoiding a great depression in our lives is to get out of debt and stay out of debt.

While I was in college I lent two of my textbooks to a friend of mine. I had taken the class a year earlier and had no need for the books, at least for any of my classes. Therefore, I let one of my friends borrow them in the belief that she’d return them. Well, the end of the semester came and I asked her about my books. She had forgotten that I let her borrow the books and claimed to have lost them. She spent a couple of days looking for the books and couldn’t find them. She offered to pay me back for the books but I didn’t feel too comfortable taking her money. The books weren’t cheap, but I also wasn’t struggling financially and I knew she was. Therefore, I decided to forgive the debt and move on. However, this incident did stain our friendship.

Now, that was only a little under $100 worth of debt and I still felt bad asking for it. Imagine a debt with many more zeros behind it. Imagine if the one you owed the debt to wasn’t so forgiving or wasn’t a friend. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (NIV). If you continue to borrow, you will not be able to push forward but rather will continue to live paycheck to paycheck. Which is why the first step to avoiding a great depression is to get out of debt and stay out. The reality is that if you don’t get out of debt, you will live paycheck to paycheck because, no matter how much you want to save for a better future, your money will always go toward your debts. You will even get into more debt to get out of your previous debt. This is a vicious cycle and needs to stop. This is why Nehemiah knew he had to put an end to it.

After hearing about how the Jewish people were handling their finances, Nehemiah became angry and ordered the rich people who were making the loans and charging interest to return the property and stop charging interest. He advised everyone to get out of debt and stay out of debt. To stay out of debt, you must take the second step towards avoiding a great depression today—budget wisely.

In Houston, Texas, it is very common for everyone to own a truck. So common in fact that truck theft was the most common type of theft there was. You could really see people’s priorities when you’d enter a very poor neighborhood with homes falling apart and brand-new trucks with upgraded accessories in the driveways. Most of the friends I had growing up actually lived that way. I asked some of them if they preferred living in a nice neighborhood with a normal car or in a dangerous and sketchy neighborhood but with a nice truck and almost all chose the truck. Often I would see them purchasing new parts for their truck but they could never go out to eat with me because they didn’t have any money. To be honest, when I was growing up, I also wanted a nice truck, but I would never trade food for it. It’s amazing how different your finances can be if you budget wisely.

I don’t know how the people of Nehemiah’s time were budgeting their money, but they were not doing a very good job if they were selling their children for food. And as a result, they ended up in a great depression. What do you prioritize? Maybe instead of investing in the latest device you can invest that money to save up for a house. Maybe instead of all those streaming accounts you can take your family on an outing. Or maybe instead of eating out all the time you can invest in groceries and save toward your child’s college fund. I had some friends who noticed that they were going out to eat almost twice a week. They noticed that, not only were they spending a lot of money, but they were also gaining a lot of weight. Therefore, they stopped going out to eat and invested that money into a rock climbing membership. The reality is that it is all about your priorities and goals. Therefore, if avoiding a financial crisis or a great depression is one of your priorities than you must first get and stay out of debt, and second, budget wisely.

The last step towards avoiding a great depression is actually the most important, and that is to remember your Creator. Usually when people hear “remember your Creator” in a message about finances they have no problem agreeing because, of course, we should give our tithes and offerings to our God. But what if I told you that remembering your Creator goes beyond God Himself?

Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV), “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Nehemiah instructed the rich people of his day to forgive all the debt they held and follow his example of giving the poor food without charging interest. Jesus says that the way in which you treat your neighbor is the way in which you are treating Him. Martha and Lazarus didn’t charge Jesus rent and I don’t think you would either. Now, with this last step, I will advise you to be cautious in evaluating your own finances as a family and establishing how generous you can be. However, the principle remains to remember your Creator and His creations. Remember that you serve a God who drops bread from the sky and pours water out from a rock. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, KJV).

The Jewish people were in a time of rebuilding and they needed some wise financial counseling in order to avoid a great depression. Some of us today are also in a time of financial rebuilding. Many of us are so focused on the now that we aren’t willing to plan for the future. I’ll close with this story.

I was working at a cement factory about eight years ago. The many jobs in the factory included loading and unloading trucks, mixing cement, stocking, stamping, and cleaning. The hours were from four in the morning until four in the afternoon. This was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever worked. There was a man there who was somewhere in his 80’s—almost 90. He was in charge of cleaning and stamping. Prior to this job he had worked in construction. As the days passed, my curiosity got the best of me and I began to engage in conversation with him during our lunch breaks. I found out that his plan was to retire at 65 but was unable to due to a lack of financial wisdom. He admitted that if he had budgeted wisely, he would have been able to retire. What shocked me most was when he said, “I lived through the Great Depression. This is worse. I was a small child with energy back then. Now, I just want to rest.”

We can be so caught up in the now that we don’t plan for the future. Nehemiah was focused on the future, which is why he put an end to the unwise and unjust management of finances. He knew that if they were going to survive and thrive, they needed to get out of debt. He knew that if they were to provide a better future for themselves and generations to come, they needed to budget their money wisely. But above all, he knew that no matter what they planned, it meant nothing without remembering their Creator.

Now the question is, do you know? Do you know that God came to give us a life in abundance that did not include debt? Do you know that God should be a number one priority in your life and in your finances? Do you know that God is sustainer of all and is someone in whom you can trust? Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?

Friends, it is time that we be financially wise today for a better tomorrow. Nehemiah challenged his people to be financially wise and now God is challenging us to make wise money moves in our lives, whether that be to remove debt or to shift priorities. Whatever your case may be, may it be done for the glory and honor of God. I appeal to you to be debt free, budget wisely, and remember your Creator with your finances.

By Jonathan Franco