Someone somewhere said that the only language that God can speak that most people will understand is pain. In other words, human beings don't seem to pay much attention to God when things are going really well, but they are all ears when their world gets turned upside down. The prophet Isaiah echoes this sentiment:
My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the LORD. (Isaiah 26:9-10)
The unbeliever who has everything that he wants has no desire to pay attention to God. Why would he? If he acknowledged that there is an Almighty God that owns and controls the universe, then he would have to obey that God's rules, and that might mean a reduction in his current satisfaction with his own life and possessions. So if he does claim to believe in a god, he makes his god distant: one who for the most part leaves him alone, but one who would certainly approve of his life choices.
All that changes when pain and trauma take over a man's life. When the things or the people that he once delighted in are suddenly taken from him, when sickness or injury wracks his body and he worries for his life, or when he loses the ability to support himself he suddenly begins to cast about looking for answers. Situations like this cause him to begin to worry about his ultimate future, and it is at this point that many people want to know about the true God who is revealed in the Bible.
I don't mean to suggest that this process is random and outside of God's control - as if a spiritually dead man under his own power could "pull himself up by his bootstraps" and come to faith simply because of pain. Rather, it is God who uses pain to break us of our pride and arrogance as He draws us to Himself by the life-giving power of the Spirit. So, while it is true that pain by itself will not automatically create a disciple of the Lord Jesus, suffering is a common method that God uses to call His own into faith.
And since that is the case, we ought to realize that hard times in our nation (like some of the current economic crisis) are actually times when God is most at work, rather than the other way around. When all things run smoothly, the wicked run swift to their own demise. We ought to be eternally grateful for some judgment in this life that prevents us from experiencing judgment in the age to come.
So when hard times come to those that we love, we need to look for ways to maximize on the loud voice of the Lord that they are hearing. Take every opportunity to make the truth of the gospel known so that those trying times may be seen in retrospect as refining fires rather than burning judgments. Also, though, when hard times and pain hit those of us who are believers, we need to take the time to try to trace the hand of the Lord in our suffering: to find out what He may be teaching us. But even if we can't see it, we still need to trust His word that He is making something good in us (Romans 5:3-5, 8:28).