If You Want to Arrive Safely, You’ve Got to Stay in the Boat

Jun 28, 2022

In Matthew 14, we read of a time when Jesus walked on water and Peter, ever the enthusiast, wanted to join him. So, Jesus told him to “come,” and for the first few steps all went well. Soon enough, Peter noticed the wind, became fearful, began to sink, and cried out for Jesus to save him. As he did so, Jesus admonished Peter for having too little faith.

It’s a vivid call for all Christ-followers to get out of our comfort zones and live boldly.

For investors, however, boldness isn’t always the best approach. Here are reasons why managers of God’s resources usually are better served by staying on board.

  • Stewardship, managing God’s wealth with His priorities and purposes in mind, is an assignment given every Christ-follower. Just as this story begins with Jesus giving His disciples an assignment (“Get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side”), so you have your wealth-related marching orders. You’re on a journey during which you’re forewarned you will have your share of trouble (see John 16:33). It will require obedience and faith.

  • You need an investing boat that will carry you safely across occasionally turbulent economic waters. In stewardship terms, your boat is a biblically sound, personalized money-management strategy. It’s a plan that guides your spending, saving, investing, and generosity. Every financial decision should flow from your plan. It should be designed to assure your safe arrival at the end of your financial journey. It would be foolish to think you could survive the wind and violent waves for long without being in a well-built boat.

  • Unlike Peter, you need to stay in your boat. It’s generally not safe to “think outside the boat.” Unfortunately, many Christians don’t even take the time to build their boat. Or, if they have one, they don’t always stay in it. Being in the boat is a lot safer than being in churning waters. This should be familiar advice to SMI readers: stay with your plan.

  • Expect the wind. The disciples had been on the lake before. They knew ahead of time that heavy headwinds were a possibility, if not a likelihood. In the same way, you know there will be challenges on your financial journey. These challenges can take many forms — unemployment, unexpected expenses, health setbacks, a bad economy and weak markets to name a few. You should anticipate and plan for them.

  • Ignore the wind and focus on Christ. The wind can cause you to grow fearful and react inappropriately. Stay in your boat, and trust the One who has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Here are some other takeaways from Matthew 14 and how they might apply to your investment life.

  • Everything is risky. Still, some things are riskier than others. Navigating risk is essentially what selecting your portfolio mix is all about. Own more stocks and you have more potential for reward but with a greater risk of loss. Own more T-bills and CDs and you have more safety but with more risk of losing purchasing power in the face of inflation. The challenge is to balance the reward you seek with the risk you are willing to take. SMI does the research and gives you the articles and tools to help with that.

  • The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. Even with the best of strategies, there will be setbacks that can cause emotional distress. SMI’s investing temperament quiz will help you identify your comfort level, whether it be the security-conscious “Preserver” or the risk-tolerant “Daredevil.”

    Quoting from the 1987 investing book Blood in the Streets:

Nothing is more surely condemned to failure than a high-risk strategy pursued by a low-risk man; he will always flinch at the point before the strategy has succeeded, and will throw away his potential gains in an attempt to leap back to the security he actually prefers....

To be a successful investor you have to be right, but in your own way. It is not only a matter of knowing yourself. It is even more important to be yourself.

  • Failure is not an event, but rather a judgment about an event. The markets don’t always offer positive reinforcement. In the short run, you can lose money following your plan, or you can make money deviating from it. When that happens, “good” behavior is looked at as a failure and “bad” behavior is rewarded.

    The judgment you make about any financial “failure” must be made within the context of your personalized plan. Decisions consistent with your plan are, by definition, “wins” — regardless of the profit outcome.

    In the long run, staying with a structured, unemotional strategy for making investment decisions will serve you well.

Written by

Austin Pryor

Austin Pryor

Austin Pryor has 40 years of experience advising investors and is the founder of the Sound Mind Investing newsletter and website. He's the author of The Sound Mind Investing Handbook which enjoys the endorsements of respected Christian teachers with more than 100,000 copies sold. Austin lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife Susie. They have three grown sons and many grandchildren.