We're living in some pretty tough and interesting times. Around the world right now, countries are going bankrupt, economies are in turmoil, and rates of hunger and poverty are soaring. You don't have to go very far to find people who don't have enough to eat--it may be your neighbors, coworkers, people you see at church, even people at the grocery store who can't afford to buy all the food that they need. According to recent statistics, about 1 out of every 8 people in the U.S. is either going hungry or doesn't yet know where their next meal will come from. And this person could be you. Or me.
Truth be told, I've been hungry before. REALLY hungry. For about six months back in 1998, in the midst of severe personal crises, I was lucky to get more than one meal a day. I was struggling to find enough work and didn't have enough money to cover the expenses I had. But through the kindness of other Christians, my basic needs were met. And with very trying times coming upon our country and the rest of the world right now, Christians can again be on the frontlines, meeting needs and ministering to people in the name of Christ.
A radical idea
What I am about to suggest is something that will sound crazy to most people, and I'll probably be branded a lunatic for saying this:
It's time to live below our means and to save or stock up more than we spend or use.
What kind of a lunatic am I??
Well, I'm a lunatic who hates being hungry. I'm a lunatic who tries to spend less than I make and use less than I take in. I'm a lunatic who likes the idea of buying more of something today that I'll use anyway and paying less than I would if I waited until the price went up. But I'm also a lunatic who, because I am a follower of Jesus, I am crazy by this world's standards, according to the Bible. A sizable number of Jesus' parables were about being wise, responsible caretakers of the resources He gives us to use. If we're wise and responsible with those resources (as we should be), we will likely have extra that we can use to help others. If we make foolish decisions on how we use our resources--do we really want to go there??--we will be at the mercy of others.
Filling your pantry is the wise thing to do
Those of you who are followers of Jesus are probably familiar with the story of Joseph in Genesis 41-45: Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, but because Joseph served God, He eventually put Joseph in a position of influence in Pharoah's kingdom and through Joseph showed Pharoah that seven years of famine would be coming upon the land and that in the meantime, during the times of prosperity, the people of Egypt were to store up a portion of their food that would sustain them through the famine. And through Joseph's influence, many people, including his own brothers who had sold him into slavery, were saved from the famine.
It's not much of a stretch to say that a lot of people today are just a paycheck away from being without food. So if stocking up during the good times to prepare for the bad times has worked before, it will work now! If each person in our household eats or uses two boxes, bags or cans of something every week, we need to start buying three or more boxes, bags or cans of that item for each person. Every week. And build up a surplus. A HUGE surplus. And start yesterday.
Some of you are probably thinking, "But isn't that 'hoarding' food? And isn't 'hoarding' food illegal?" My first question to you is, who are you letting into your house to inspect your pantry and to tell you how much food you can or can't have to provide for your family?? My second question is, if you have the means to build up a surplus of food and other items that you need to survive, why would you not do that but instead put yourself at the mercy of others who may not have either the resources or the inclination to provide for you?
"Hoarding" in the strictest sense is the acquisition of scarce resources you don't necessarily need so that you can try to use those scarce resources to make a profit off of others at some point in the future. Maybe you're buying up the last of some item and turning around and reselling it to people who are willing to pay you a lot more than you bought it for because you got the last stuff--that's hoarding. But if there's plenty of a certain item on the shelf at the store, then buying a lot of that item and building up a surplus isn't hoarding!
Stock up, conceal it well and shut up!
There are no laws on the books right now in the U.S. that say you can't build up a surplus of food to provide for your family and others, especially during these hard times. But if laws were to be passed saying you couldn't stock up on a large supply of food to help feed yourself, your family and others, those rules shouldn't be obeyed--such laws are evil and unconscionable. Just because something is the law doesn't make it right--slavery was once legal, but it was and still is morally reprehensible!
Build up--and keep building up--a surplus of what you normally use anyway. And then keep your mouth shut!
Bankrupt organizations and governments can feed you--NOT!
The notion that "someone else" will provide for us right now so that we don't have to provide for ourselves is utterly ridiculous. But before my comments are misconstrued, let me clarify what I mean: There have always been poor people, and unfortunately right now millions more people are sliding into poverty or are at risk of doing so. But for the rest of us who have a little money left over after our basic needs are taken care of, it's the smart thing to do to start stocking up on food so that if you happen to end up among those who are struggling to find work or otherwise can't afford food, you'll already have food on hand to sustain you until you can find work. We buy car insurance, home insurance and health insurance to help cover our needs in those areas, so why not give ourselves "food insurance" as well? If you have the means to stock up on food, there's no good reason not to do so.
Society is just nine meals away from anarchy
What do I mean by the phrase nine meals away from anarchy? In the United States, most grocery stores sell all available inventory in three days--that's nine meals--or less. If trucks were not able to deliver goods to restock the shelves--maybe because of severe weather, trucking strikes, crop failures or just a general panic for no good reason, store shelves could be stripped bare in hours just like locusts devouring crops. And if you didn't stock up beforehand while there was plenty on the shelves and no sudden surge in demand, you might be hungry. And waiting a long time for food.
Before 24-hour stores, people stocked up on food at home
Think back to less than 100 years ago, before Walmart, before 24-hour grocery stores, before just-in-time inventory procedures that put items on store shelves right when they were needed and not a moment sooner. I grew up near farm country, and 100 years ago a lot of towns had the fruits of their own harvest stored in the pantries of those who had grown it or bought it locally. It was absolutely normal for families to have several months' worth of food stored up after the harvest, because where else were they going to get that food from? The only real difference between 100 years ago and now is that now we're at the mercy of supply lines that may or may not bring us what we want, when we want it, because those supply lines are fragile and vulnerable.
When I started writing the content on this page in early February, much of my part of the country was under a state of emergency because of severe winter weather. Only emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads during the state of emergency, and if I hadn't stocked up on extra food beforehand, I would've been really hungry by the time the state of emergency was lifted.
Did I mention that I hate being hungry?
It doesn't take a huge mental leap to imagine the store shelves that have been left empty by people trying to get last-minute items before the storm hits--Google "winter storm empty shelves" for visual accounts of recent worst-case scenarios. But if you've stocked up before literal and figurative storms such as these, you'll have enough for your family and for others.
Let me emphasize the "and for others," because for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, serving others isn't optional--it should be the very core of who we are. And if we don't have a surplus to pull from, how are we going to take care of others or ourselves?
"But God will provide for me!"
Yes, He will! And if you have a job or other sources of income, He already is providing for you! But nowhere in Scripture is His provision for us portrayed as a means to rescue us from our own laziness or foolishness. God has provided me with a wonderful job that I've had for nearly 10 years. But does that mean I can use my money in whatever way I want because "God will provide"? Not at all! A sizable number of Jesus' parables were about stewardship--how we use (or misuse) the resources He allows us to have. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:10-14:
"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames."
A fool and his money are soon parted*
(*if he spends what he has on foolish things)
One person could take $1,000 and use it to buy expensive "toys" that he can't eat or that won't sustain his life, while another person could take that same $1,000 and use it to buy things that will help feed, clothe and shelter his family. (How's that plasma-screen TV sound for breakfast?) And I can't think of one good reason not to stock up on food! Your mileage may vary, but a year's worth of food for one person could take up less space than a large walk-in closet. Is there a better use for your space than stocking up on food? After all, everyone NEEDS closets full of stuff they never use instead of putting that space to better use, right?
Awesome ministry opportunities over a meal
There are myriad accounts in the Gospels of Jesus talking with and ministering to people while sharing a meal with them. Food is central to survival, and storing up extra food not just for yourself but also to share with others can create opportunities for you to help feed them both physically and spiritually. You can invite people in for a meal and in the process you can find out what is going on in their lives and share both in words and in actions what the Lord is doing in your life. If they are struggling spiritually, you can offer words of encouragement to them as the Lord strengthens you. If they are struggling to keep food on the table, you can likewise help them from the bounty you are stocking up, doing so anonymously and secretly. There are probably many among us who at times have left much-needed gifts for others outside their door in the middle of the night, following the Lord's admonition in Matthew 6:1-4 to do such things secretly, known only to us and Him. But it's kind of hard to help feed other people if you don't have extra food!
Set aside 5 percent of your paycheck for "food insurance"
(and click here for ideas on how to use that 5 percent)
Some of you are probably thinking "Set aside 5 percent of my paycheck? I can't do that!" But every dollar you earn goes somewhere, right? And you have to eat! So let's go back to one of the points above: Organizations and governments that are bankrupt can't take care of you. They can't take care of you because they're broke!
Now, please don't misunderstand what I'm saying--I realize that there are a lot of people who have little choice right now but to depend on certain organizations and social programs to help them put food on the table, and I'm not directing these comments at people who are truly needy. I'm directing these comments to those of you who aren't willing to live below your means now because you think someone will bail you out down the road when you're broke and hungry.
If there's no more water in the well, it doesn't matter how long you stand there with the tap wide open waiting for more water--it's all gone!
Stock up what you eat, and eat what you stock up!
I don't think it's an outrageous proposition to suggest that people should have, at the very minimum, several months worth of food stocked up at home. A year's worth of food for one person might sound like a lot, but that's only three months' worth of food for a family of four! And if I wasn't sure that I'd have a job next week or next month or even tomorrow, I'd start stocking up on food right now while I still had an income so that if I lost my job, at least I wouldn't be hungry for a while.
There are probably a lot of people who'd like to start stocking up on food but they have no idea where to start. So at the risk of sounding obvious, start by buying extra of what you already buy anyway! If your family eats a box of cereal a week, buy two boxes of that cereal a week, every week. If you eat 10 cans of vegetables a week, buy 20 cans every week. If your kids eat a box of raisins a week, buy two boxes every week. And so on. Rotate what you buy, first-in, first-out. And keep stocking up.
If you buy an extra box of cereal and 10 extra cans of vegetables a week, at the end of a month you'll have four extra boxes of cereal and 40 extra cans of vegetables, and anything else you keep stocking up. It adds up quickly, and it's absolutely worth it!
Pray for opportunities to share with others
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have seen His provision for my needs in so many situations where I had no clue how I was going to get what I needed. And in a large number of those situations, His provision for my needs came through the kindness and generosity of other Christians. My intention in putting up this blog is not just to help you keep from going hungry, although I hope it does that. If you are a follower of Jesus, I hope that what I have written here will help you see ministry opportunities right where you are during these trying times, starting with something as simple as sharing a meal with others. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to get a Bible and start reading it, starting with the Gospel of John.
You can have several years worth of food in your pantry but still be starving spiritually. The words and the person of Jesus have been feeding and growing my spirit for almost 25 of my 40 years. He gave me hope that pulled me back from the brink of suicide as a high school freshman, and that hope and strength in my life has sustained during those times when I've had plenty and in other times when I wasn't sure where I'd find my next meal. If you have all the "stuff" in the world but you're still hungry spiritually, still not satisfied with the pile of things you've stocked up and have questions, feel free to drop me a line.