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David Barton: Preparing for the unknown

Most American prognosticators, whether of an economic or a social bent, are predicting a rocky road ahead. And who’s surprised at that? After all, there have been too many wild oats sown for too many years not to have to pay the piper at some point.

But impending tough times are nothing new; they have repeatedly been part of the human experience since the days of Adam and Eve. King Solomon, widely acknowledged to be the wisest man in the word, correctly observed:

That which has been is what will be; that which is done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

In short, the past tends to repeat itself. Jesus similarly noted:

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Mark 13:7-8

Instability is the normal condition of man. America had its revolution in the midst of what was called “The Age of Revolution” – a time when Russia, Greece, Haiti, Italy, France, Peru, Poland, Ireland, China, Philippines, Spain, Portugal, Korea, Mexico, and many other nations also had revolutions.

Because history (and therefore the future) is predictable, there are three Biblical axioms of transcendent applicability for today’s citizens to help ensure their survival through whatever may lay ahead.

1. Plan Ahead – and Prepare for the Unexpected

Nearly everyone has 20/20 hindsight, but foresight is more important. An old axiom notes, “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.” The real trick is to see the first kick before it comes, and avoid it. This means looking down the road, seeing what might be over the horizon, and taking preventative action. As the Bible affirms on two separate occasions:

A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished. Proverbs 22:3, 27:12

This is certainly not an admonition to crawl into a cave, go into hiding, and live in fear. Instead, it is a warning to take affirmative safeguards. The Bible provides an excellent model for emulation in this regard:

Go to the ant! Consider her ways and be wise. Having no captain, overseer, or ruler, she stores up her provision. Proverbs 6:6-8

The ant makes a habit of setting aside part of its current provision against a time when there might be a shortage. Summertime and harvest won’t last forever; wintertime will come, and with it a need for provisions to survive that time of difficulty.

Like the ant, we should not consume all we gather – we need to set something aside; we need to have a savings plan and to have disposable cash and foodstuffs at hand for unexpected times of emergency.  After all, God Himself has ordained that there be cycles of change:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. Genesis 8:22

One of the biggest problems with government, whether federal, state, or local, is that it ignores the law of seasons. It creates its budget and bases its spending on springtime numbers, ignoring the fact that wintertime will arrive.

We should make the ant our model – learn to not consume all we gather, and store up some of our provisions for the future.

2. Live Conservatively

No matter our level of individual income, Americans have the world’s most prosperous lifestyles. According to information collected by the U. S. Census Bureau, even the average American who lives in poverty and receives economic assistance from the government “has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo.” In fact, individuals living in poverty in America have “more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe.”

Yet despite our prosperity, we are rarely content with what we have. We have fallen prey to the truth that:

The eye is not content with seeing. Ecclesiastes 1:8

American advertisers make a living on this fact. They show us something new in an ad or a commercial and we are convinced that we have to own it, whether it is the most recent game system, car, cell phone, or home entertainment system. We drive ourselves into debt in order to own the newest, latest, greatest. We need to learn the joy of living under the standard set by the Apostle Paul:

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:11-12

In short, we must master our appetites and learn to be content with fewer possessions. As Benjamin Franklin wisely recommended:

When you incline to have new clothes, look first well over the old ones and see if you cannot shift with them another year, either by scouring, mending,  or even patching if necessary. Remember, a patch on your coat and money in your pocket is better and more creditable than a writ on your back and no money to take it off.

And learning to live conservatively not only allows us to follow the pattern of the ant (and thus be able to store away some of our provisions) but it also enables us to take care of the next generation. After all, the Bible observes:

A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. Proverbs 13:22

We should be looking far enough down the road to be able to set aside something now and then leave something significant for our grandchildren. Spending our children’s inheritance is not a virtue, either in private life or in government. By living conservatively, we can survive difficult times and still have something to pass on to posterity.

3. Preserve Personal Character At All Costs

Of all the dozens of personal character traits, the Founding Fathers concluded that integrity was the most important. As Declaration signer Benjamin Rush explained:

I have observed that integrity in the conduct of both the living and the dead takes a stronger hold of the human heart than any other virtue. . . . By integrity I mean . . . fidelity to promises.

What did the Founders see as the source of this virtue? According to Joseph Story:

To secure integrity, there must be a lofty sense of duty and a deep responsibility to future times as well as to God.

The Founders believed that integrity – that is, keeping one’s word – was directly linked to a personal sense of accountability to God. In fact, King David asks a probing question: “Lord, who will stay in Your house? Who shall live in Your habitation?” The simple answer: “He who keeps his oath, even when it hurts.” Psalms 15:1,4

In times of increased pressure and trouble, there are frequently more opportunities to break one’s word – to shift on a tough business deal, to escape family pressure through marital infidelity, to renege on one’s financial commitments, etc. At such times, integrity is needed in even greater measures. And keeping one’s word will produce exactly what is needed most during times of trouble and difficulty: it will produce hope. As the Apostle Paul affirms, “Trouble produces endurance; endurance produces character; and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-5).

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The timelessness of these three principles have equipped generations of Americans not only to survive but even to thrive in the most difficult and unpredictable of times and circumstances.

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