Christian disciplines in tough economic times

Dr Lee Soo Ann // April 18, 2018, 4:12 pm


Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

These are indeed challenging times but what I intend to say is applicable also to “good times”.

As Christians, we should be concerned with ordering our private and public lives to be consistent with a volatile economy.

Second, we are faced with a more complex society than ever.

Third, because of volatility and complexity, we are driven to emphasise what is immediate rather than what is long-term.

It should not be God versus office, money, technology … It should be God + office, God + money, God+ technology and God+ home.

To these three concerns, I wish to advance the cultivation of the habits of:

  • solitude, to counter volatility
  • simplicity, to counter complexity 
  • sanctification, to counter the tendency to emphasise the immediate, rather than what is eternal

The cultivation of solitude

The very “success” of Singapore has generated a new set of problems, one of which is volatility due to Singapore being closely integrated not only with the western capitalistic economies but also with our neighbouring countries.

Integration in terms of trade and finance means that we are subject to their business cycles. Much of Singapore is dependent on multi-national companies (MNCs) and we try to attract the best companies here.

This means that new activities make their appearance here, and Singaporeans are therefore continually exhorted to retrain and prepare themselves.

Volatility also comes through the foreigners who live and work among us. The result is uncertainty, not only because of the many foreigners who compete directly but also because of the new MNCs and activities, which are brought in. Therefore, the Christian response is to develop a robust personhood. Singaporeans need to be robust, capable of adjustment, change and risk-taking.

Our lives remain simple if they are always centred on God.

What Christian discipline then can we develop? It has to do with cultivating the inner self and solitude with God. Jesus refreshed Himself with many hours of solitude, away from the crowds. In between the passages describing what Jesus spoke or did, are gaps, which indicate that Jesus was not with people but with God.

The cultivation of simplicity

Our lives remain simple if they are always centred on God. However, the relationship to God is different in different areas of our life.

Much of the time, we compartmentalise God and do not integrate God into our activities. Hence, we associate Sunday and church with God. Monday and office are not of  God. It should not be God versus office, money, stocks and shares, technology, handphones, and so forth. It should be God + office, God + money, God + stocks and shares, God+ technology and handphones, and God+ home.

The common denominator to all our activities and concerns is therefore God. Simplicity arises from integration into a common denominator. God-centred simplicity requires cultivation of the discipline of putting God into every area of our lives.

The cultivation of sanctification

Extreme volatility and complexity lead us to emphasise the immediate or the short-term. How does a vision of Jesus Christ give us the capacity to withstand the tyranny of the urgent?

The first stage is when we love self. Such love is not as selfish as it seems, for many of us do not love ourselves enough. We are continually looking outwards that we do not look inwards to appreciate who we are.

In Psalm 139, knowing that it is God who made and sustains us will move us on to love God for what God can do for us. This is the stage where most Christians are today. They depend on God to be by their side, to help and advise. This is needful love.

The third stage of love is where we love God for God’s sake. This is appreciative love, enabling us to praise God even when God does not seem to bless us. In this stage, we see God even in “bad” circumstances. We bless God in difficult times, knowing that there is a God in control.  

There is yet a fourth stage: Loving self for God’s sake. It is looking at ourselves from God’s perspective, which is totally different from ours. That is why very few Christians reach this stage, if ever at all in this lifetime. 

God sees us as wretched and miserable, and yet capable of being crowned with glory and honour.

What does God see in us? He sees us as wretched and miserable, and yet capable of being crowned with glory and honour. In Psalm 8, we are lifted from where we are and challenged to be at the place where God is, seeing everything including ourselves from God’s perspective.

Romans 8 is where Paul challenges us to be led by the Spirit of God so that we can be sons or daughters of God.

Sanctification is being able to see things from God’s perspective, first seeing God Himself and then seeing ourselves as children of God, rather than being slaves of self and sin. It is the vision, which can lift us from being overly concerned with the immediate and the short-term. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we can see everything from God’s perspective, especially ourselves.

Economic challenges and God’s perspective of us

We need to integrate theology with economics, in other words, put (God + economy) rather than compartmentalise God from economics (God/economy). Hence, my theological studies were not only about the Bible and theology but also about an interdisciplinary study of integrating worldly concerns in a Christian framework.

In so doing, I was able to simplify my life by integrating economics into God, focusing the study of economics on God.

Life on this earth is only a journey. Our true home is heaven and the person whom we are eventually spending the most time with is God.

Whatever the change in your environment or circumstances, discipline yourself to see more and more from God’s perspective. Start with examining yourself, where you are, who you are, and what you are doing. Next centre more and more of your life on God. Start with your hobbies, your church, your career and so on.

Life on this earth is only a journey. Our true home is heaven and the person whom we are eventually spending the most time with is God. Yet, we burden ourselves with inconsequential matters.

Climbing a mountain takes discipline but reaching the peak is worthwhile and a breath-taking experience. These are challenging times. You may ask me whether we are headed for a depression. It is said that when your neighbour loses a job, it is a slow-down. When you lose your job, it is a recession. However, when an economist loses his job, it is a depression!

We should not be optimistic but hopeful. Hope is trust in God’s promises. His promises are real but things turning better, or optimism, is not real.

This is an excerpt from Dr Lee Soon Ann’s talk at a Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (GCF) event. It is published on the GCF website and republished in Salt&Light with permission.

About the author

Dr Lee Soo Ann

Dr Lee Soo Ann is a Senior Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. In his professional career, he has worked in the Ministry of Finance, lectured at both the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University and served as the General Secretary, Bible Society of Singapore, between the years of 1990-2003. Over the last several decades, he has also authored, edited books and published articles in books and journals.