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Futures Trading

The Wall Street we see on the evening news looks out of control. The flailing arms and white shirts on the floor of the trading pit give the appearance of a madhouse way of doing business.

The earlier chaos. The confusion, however, is more orderly than the system it replaced. Before the development of “futures contracts,” farmers hauled their crops to town looking for buyers. In years of a big harvest, when supply exceeded demand, an abundance of grain or corn drove the market down to give-away prices. Grain often rotted in the streets or was dumped in the river. A few months later, spring shortages could push prices on corn- or grain-based products so high that only the wealthy could afford them.

The development of futures trading. In the mid 19th century, central grain markets developed a system of futures contracts that allowed buyers and sellers to do business at today’s prices for commodities that would be delivered in the future. Commercial hedgers, who were trying to limit their risk of loss, began to do business with market speculators, who were willing to take risks in search of profits. The animated buying and selling we see on the evening news is a snapshot of floor brokers trying to get a high price for their sellers and a low price for their buyers.

The bigger picture. In the past I’ve looked at the world of Wall Street from a distance. When aggressive phone marketers called about a hot investment opportunity, I’d say, “Sorry, I’m not in the market.”

What I’ve since realized is that, by reason of living, we all are “in the market.” In the clamor of daily life, each of us trades for or against the future by the decisions we make today. Most of these investments have nothing to do with commodities or a stock exchange. They are decisions of the heart needing the advice not of E. F. Hutton but of the most published investment book in the world.

Ironically, as familiar as we might be with the Bible, its rules of “futures trading” are more likely to be misunderstood than the white shirts and trading pits of Wall Street. Consider, for instance, how the following principles of spiritual investment run counter to conventional wisdom.

Live beyond your means. Living in the moment can push us to spend more than we make. One of my favorite lines comes from “The Lockhorns” newspaper comic series. “Sure, I spend more than you make,” Loretta says to husband Leroy. “I have confidence in you.”

Although living beyond our means is a danger sign for personal finance, it is essential for spiritual investment. Jesus saw the advantage of those who knew their need for help when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

If Jesus was right, the most enviable people in the world are not those with more money than they can spend. Real wealth belongs to those who are willing to live on the name and credit of One who has the resources to pay their way now and forever.

Don’t hedge your bets. In the world of finance, one thing is certain. Markets will change. The value of stocks and commodities are in a continual state of flux. Money managers, therefore, try to limit risk by hedging investments. They put some of a client’s money on a rising economy, and some on a fall.

Although caution in financial investment says, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” the rule for spiritual trades is just the opposite. The God of the Bible will not reward those who have a strategy of spiritual diversification. While teaching His followers how to “lay up treasure in heaven,” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (6:19-20,24).

Don’t try to be too practical. Many have observed that even if there were no God, no heaven, and no hell, it still would make sense to live an honest life and to treat others the way we want to be treated.

Jesus, however, takes a different view. Without denying the benefits of living well, He reminds us that practical people can cash out too soon. He said that if someone practices their religion for the affirmation of others, then, in the applause, they already have their reward (vv.2,5,16).

Emphasizing the eternal value of deferred rewards, Jesus counseled His followers to give secretly to needy people, to pray in secret, and to exercise spiritual discipline in secret. Waive public notice, Jesus suggested, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vv.1-6,16-18).

Without denying the possibility of immediate benefits, Jesus saw the greater potential of future rewards. In contrast to the depreciating investments of this world, the Teacher said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vv.19-21).

Don’t worry away your profits. While teaching His disciples to trade for the future, Jesus repeatedly told them not to worry about the basic material needs of life (vv.25,28,31,34). But why did He emphasize the avoidance of worry as a way of putting stock in heaven?

Many of Jesus’ first disciples paid a great price to follow Him. Thousands lost the security of jobs, homes, and family. It was only natural for them to wonder how they were going to provide for themselves and their families while on the run. Jesus probably warned against anxiety for another reason as well. Those who are worrying are not trusting. And without trust there is no investment in the future. Because faith is more precious than gold in God’s sight, anything motivated by faith in what He has said is like a direct deposit in the bank of heaven (1 Peter 1:7). By the same logic, any lack of faith is lost opportunity.

Father in heaven, for the joy that was yet ahead, Your Son traded His life for ours. Please help us to spend the rest of our days investing in the future You have bought for us.

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