Behind the steady rise in unemployment in recent months are countless stories of personal hardship and struggle.
We are all prone to fears and disappointments when we meet dashed expectations, but losing a job - or being unable to obtain one in the first place - is one of the most stressful experiences in life.
Some forecasters suggest that over 3 million people could be out of work by the end of 2009. Across the UK more than one home in six has no one in employment - the highest ratio for a decade. The issue is acute in the north-east of England where the proportion is one home in four.
Such stark headline statistics easily pass us by when we are not directly affected. Yet believers should be aware of the painful reality of unemployment now facing many church members, neighbours and communities.
Our economic troubles are part of God’s providential dealings with us, and Christians feel the cold wind as much as others. The difference, though, is how believers deal with this issue.
When unbelievers grumble and grow panicky, the people of God can still have confidence in God. They remember that both good and bad times are in his hands, and we are called to serve him joyfully whatever the circumstances.
There are practical ways that Christians can help those going through this particular mill. The parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrates how we should alleviate needs that cross our path (Luke 10:25-37).
It is true that some churches have ‘gone over the top’ and become little more than centres of social support, but the Bible reminds us we must minister to the whole man. Loving your neighbour is never optional – and it gets easier in times of trouble.
Perhaps, churches can help more than they realise. Recently, one congregation brought forward extensive roof repairs on their building. The work was essential sooner or later, but having it done earlier materially helped a local builder whose business was having a lean period. As a mark of gratitude, insulation was fitted free.
Sensitivity from other church members to unemployed in their midst ought to go without saying. Perhaps help can be provided to find alternative work; or some sort of support given for a while.
Where a church’s membership is in a community dominated by one major employer, severe difficulties arise if that employer closes down. This can even threaten the future viability of the fellowship. Here, other congregations might be able to help by supporting the church’s witness in that needy area until better times return.
Unemployed believers can be greatly comforted by remembering the Lord Jesus Christ knows what they are going through: ‘And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added to you’ (Luke 12:29-32).
Trust the Lord. He has promised to supply all our needs. But what if we never have a need to supply! Imagine what blessings we may forego for want of want! He calls us to trust him. Paul writes, ‘But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).
Perhaps a period of unemployment will provide the first opportunity for years to reflect upon priorities. You can still serve others too. In that limited sense, a Christian is never ‘unemployed’!
And be prepared for change - in such ways providence works. Life might just be about to become exciting!