The secret to getting the economy back on track

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Bill Clinton’s single sentence won him the presidency. George H.W. Bush had the highest approval rating of any President following the first Gulf War, but he squandered it and lost to the governor of Arkansas because Clinton understood the centrality of the economy to the daily lives of Americans.

The Scriptures don’t argue about the importance of economic realities. They’re vital and God takes a keen interest in them throughout the Bible. And so, when we come to Psalm 4, we discover two very different approaches to getting a stagnant economy back on track.

The psalm begins with David, leader of the nation, feeling the stress personally. Things aren’t good, so he prays. He doesn’t write out a plan. He doesn’t put together a proposal. He doesn’t make an alliance. He doesn’t bite his fingernails in worry. He prays. Far too often, I find myself trying to think through or muscle through my adverse situations. David prays.

The first thing David asks for is almost absurdly simple. He asks for an answer. If God hears and answers, David knows everything else will fall into place. He knows that if God hears and answers, then the mercy of God will necessarily follow and that translates into relief from distress.

Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer (Ps. 4:1).

And what do you know? God hears. And God answers. But here’s God’s unexpected reply.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek lies? (Ps. 4:2)

The NIV has “false gods” instead of “lies.” But although “lies” is the better translation, those “lies” are in fact false gods. The people are seeking economic help from idols and are shaming themselves in the process.

Although we don’t name our false gods anymore, we do the same now as they did then. We run after schemes that are as empty as the named gods our ancestors looked to for economic aid. That’s why we call these schemes bubbles — they look big and impressive, but they’re filled with emptiness and we look like fools when we try to grab them, ending up with nothing left in our hands.

Today, it’s a Bitcoin bubble. A decade before, it was real estate bubble. I had a friend who made piles of money on it, only to lose it all when that bubble burst. And years before that, I sat in a room filled with greedy business magazine owners. While they were planning their massive expansions, on the screen in front of us their plans burst into nothingness, for the dot-com bubble burst as the stock market crashed. Within just a few hours that room when from braggadocio to silence, as the formerly boastful packed up their now useless presentations and headed home.

But David is determined to do otherwise. Yahweh has picked him and won’t share him with other gods. Because of the commitment established in that picking, God is committed to listening when David calls on him.

Know that the LORD has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the LORD hears when I call to him (Ps. 4:3).

This is a unique perspective for us. It negates the view of prayer I heard years ago where prayer “warriors” would “storm the gates of heaven,” as if God were holed up in a castle and needed to be defeated by an onslaught of prayers before giving in to our demands.

We don’t need to stress out about our prayers. To be chosen by God is to be listened to by God.

And not only do we not stress out about our prayers, we don’t stress out about everyone else. We’re not to get worked up about what others do or don’t do.

Instead, there’s a bit of introspection that takes place here. We’re to pause during the down time of sleep to search our hearts. Though we may tremble with anger over what others do or say or leave undone or unsaid, we’re to silence ourselves. We’re not nearly as innocent as we often make ourselves out to be.

Tremble and do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the LORD (Ps. 4:4-5).

When we look around us and inside of us, we move from anger to repentance. Instead of shouting angry words, we offer sacrifices.

This is essential: Seeing a mess in the world around us must point us to the mess inside of us. For if we’re to be of any use at all in helping with the mess in the world around us, we’ve got to deal with the mess inside of us.

Things may not be great, but God is good. He is trustworthy. We can count on him to clean up the mess inside of us, covering over our sins. And because this is true, we can count on him to clean up the mess in the world around us, covering over its sins as well.

And so we’ve finally come to the question that launched the psalm: “Who will bring us prosperity?” When will the crops grow thickly again. When will the wine of celebration run freely again? When will the economy finally be fixed and our apprehensions laid at ease and our days of ease begin?

Many, LORD, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
    Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound (Ps. 4:6-7).

This always has been and always will be a major concern for all people everywhere. At no time has the economy not be a question at the front of our human minds, because we all need to eat. But as we’ve seen throughout this brief psalm, David looks to God alone for the answer (as Jesus also does in the Lord’s Prayer with its “daily bread” request).

Many of those who had been asking the question, “Who will bring us prosperity?” had been looking squarely at David. He’s was the king. It was his job. In their minds, Bill Clinton was right. “It’s the economy, stupid,” and it’s the President’s job to make it run well.

David isn’t dodging his responsibility by dodging the question. He merely refocuses it on the right person: God.

(By the way, the three main staples of the Israelite diet were bread, wine, and olive oil. So, in our verse above, two of those three are expected in abundance.)

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, LORD,
    make me dwell in safety (Ps. 4:8).

Things haven’t gotten better by the end of the psalm. The economy is still a mess. But David himself has gotten better, for he’s spoken his anxiety to God, and God has reminded him of the folly of grabbing after quick-fix, false-god solutions to problems God himself intends to fix.

Instead of panicking, we need to cool our jets. Consider the mess inside of ourselves. Trust God to deal with both the internal and the external. And get ready for God to bring his abundance to bear.

And so, David gets his bed ready. His mind relaxes as he thinks about falling asleep.

Lying in bed can be a time of wrestling with our frustrations and anxieties. But David, who has used his sleeplessness as an opportunity for soul reflection, now turns his mind off. He doesn’t need to think about securing his future anymore. It’s all in God’s hands, which is where it should have been all along.