A couple of exciting events took place in 1956. First, I was born, which was pretty exciting for me. Second, our federal government adopted the official motto, “In God We Trust.” That phrase quickly was stamped onto our currency and coin, where it remains today.
Why did America adopt a motto in 1956? We were fighting a Cold War with the Soviet Union, a superpower that championed atheism. While the U.S.S.R. contended God did not exist, the United States not only declared his existence, but that our nation trusted in him.
“In God We Trust” is more than a motto – it is a way of life. It’s rather paradoxical, then, that we often have a hard time trusting God, especially when it comes to money. COVID-19 forced us to ask: Do we “trust in God” or not? The pandemic impacted the finances of both individuals and congregations, and in 2020, we had to come to grips with truly trusting in God.
Tens of thousands of businesses closed and millions of Americans lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, individuals, families, and congregations were thrown into financial chaos. Not everyone could turn to their savings (many people don?t have savings); a great number of people remain unemployed to this day. Numerous congregations didn?t meet in-person for weeks (or longer), and when regathering did occur, the onsite numbers typically were smaller than they were previously. Some churches saw decreased giving, budget cuts, and staff reductions.
Our money declares, “In God We Trust,” but do we? As we leave 2020 behind and enter a new year, the fact remains: Whatever might lie ahead, we must authentically trust God. Here’s how.
Start Doing This
Jesus taught his disciples to trust him. This is the central lesson from the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels, the feeding of the five thousand (see Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15).
When told of John the immerser’s execution, Jesus wanted to be alone. He went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and massive crowds followed him. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them and healed their sick and demon-possessed, but then he did one more thing. He fed them.
As evening approached, the people became hungry. Their stomachs were growling. Remember, first-century folks did not eat three meals a day like us. They were fortunate to enjoy one meal a day, and in this remote place, the several thousand people in this crowd were famished. If they tried to hike back to their homes, they might collapse on the way. It’s no surprise the disciples were unnerved when Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat.”
Yet, Jesus already had in mind what he was going to do. Jesus was going to teach his disciples a lesson they would never forget – a lesson each of us must learn today.
Jesus had the people sit down in groups of fifty and a hundred, and then he took a boy’s “happy meal” of five loaves of bread and two fish, gave thanks to God, and fed the multitude. Scripture says he gave the food to the disciples, and they in turn took the food to the people.
Think about what that looked like. Five thousand men – plus women and children – sitting in groups across an enormous grassy field, with a catering crew of 12 men taking food to them, time and time again. How many trips did the disciples make? They would deliver the food and then go back to Jesus to replenish their supply, then take it to the people, who ate seconds and even thirds!
The text says the multitude “ate and were satisfied,” meaning they were stuffed. Moreover, the disciples collected 12 baskets of leftovers, which served as an exclamation point to this lesson; it was like Jesus saying to his disciples, “What you need for them, you get from me.”
Jesus used this miracle to teach his followers then – and now – to turn to him, go to him, and trust in him for all we need for them. Who are the “thems” in your life and mine? Our spouse, children, grandchildren, aging parents? Perhaps the “thems” in our lives are the people we shepherd and care for in our church. No matter how great the needs of those for whom we care, elders must start to trust in God – once and for all. What we need for them, we get from him.
Stop Doing This
Jesus had yet another lesson for his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount. In that exhortation, Jesus commanded his followers three times, “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 34).
Our culture feasts on fear, and fear produces worry. The media spreads panic by the way it reports bad news day after day. Throughout the pandemic, death tolls and statistics of positive test results scrolled on television and computer screens. America was fed a constant menu of bad news – and not just about COVID-19, for there were international tragedies, as well. Remember, we become what we eat, and all last year, consuming the bad news filled us with worry and anxiety. We contracted a case of the “what ifs”: What if I lose my job? What if I get COVID-19 and can’t work? What if I can’t make the rent or house payment? What if my car is repossessed? What if? . . .
When we repeatedly and consistently turn to Jesus for all we and our loved ones need, we will stop worrying. In his sermon that day long ago, Jesus preached, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27). We obsess with living longer, so we diet, exercise, take supplements, and more. Worry robs us of health and happiness. We need to obsess with turning to – and trusting in – God!
We can thank Elisha Otis for making elevators safe in the mid-1800s. (And Otis Worldwide Corp. continues to be the largest manufacturer of elevators and escalators in the world.) Though he didn’t invent elevators, Elisha Otis devised a braking system that instilled the public’s confidence in a product that made taller buildings practical. Otis’s invention became known as the “safety elevator.” Still, Otis initially had trouble selling them.
Finally, to prove his product was reliable, Otis displayed his elevator at the 1854 Exhibition at New York’s Crystal Palace in downtown Manhattan. Repeatedly, Otis stood on the platform of his open-air elevator that was lifted high above the crowd. When Otis gave the order to cut the rope holding the elevator, the crowd was worried. But instead of plummeting to the floor, the elevator’s braking/safety device automatically stopped the platform after it had dropped only an inch or two. “Thereupon,” according to an American Heritage article from 1978, “Otis would . . . take off his top hat, bow deeply, and announce, “All safe, gentlemen, all safe!””
Otis elevators sold briskly after that because people began to trust the creator of its safety brakes.
In this new year, stop worrying and start trusting our Creator. After all, whatever we need for them, we get from him.