For many people, the biggest obstacle to becoming a successful investor is the belief that investing is too difficult for them to handle. Because that misconception is so prevalent, SMI stresses the complexity-busting power of establishing a personal investing plan and sticking with it regardless of what’s happening in the markets.

However, with all that emphasis on planning, it’s easy to start thinking your success or failure depends solely on you. What a relief that isn’t the case! Yes, God expects each of us to faithfully do the best we can, but ultimately He has promised to provide for every need (Matthew 6:25-33), whether or not we pick all the right mutual funds along the way.

Even if we recognize God as our ultimate provider, the pitfall of applying our investing plans too rigidly is never far away. An overly rigid approach can manifest itself in at least two detrimental ways.

  • Not growing in generosity.
    Despite the many reassurances given to us in Scripture that we come out ahead by being generous (Proverbs 11:24-25, Luke 6:38, 2 Corinthians 9:6), the idea is so counter-intuitive that it remains a battle for many of us. If reaching our saving and investing goals is a struggle to begin with, it sure seems strange to give more money away! And yet the Lord invites us into the great adventure of generous giving, perhaps as a gentle reminder that “my ways are higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:9) and that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19).
  • Losing sight of what really matters.
    Money is a tool, not an end. As such, sometimes it does make sense to bust the budget temporarily or borrow from the emergency fund for things that strengthen family ties and build lasting memories. Naturally, it would be even better to incorporate these family and relationship-building activities into the budget. Still, the point remains valid: accomplishing financial goals will ring hollow if you look back after their completion and have deep regrets about missed opportunities.

When my daughter was young, a blatantly manipulative radio ad featured a little girl’s voice imploring, “Take me fishing, because my wedding day will be sooner than you think.” Ouch! I don’t fish, but I got the point. My retirement will probably be okay even if our family spent some money building loving memories along the way.

Like most things in life, your investing plan requires balance to be effective. If it’s too lax, you’ll never hit your goals. But if it’s too tight, you might miss the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or sacrifice the things in life that ultimately prove most important.

A true story

If you’re like me and lean toward the “too tight” side with your plan, consider this story. Many years ago, my parents felt led by God to give away the small sum they were planning to use as investment capital to start college funds for their three young children. They didn’t know where the resources for college would come from if they gave that money away, but they were obedient and gave it cheerfully. The years went by, and right up until the youngest went away to school, it remained unclear where all the college money would come from. Now and then, events would allow them to save a little, and like many families, they took out a few small loans to make it work.

One day, as the youngest child prepared to graduate from college, Dad totaled up all the items that had occurred to help cover those college costs: taking a voluntary layoff and finding another good job quickly, scholarships, and so on. The tally confirmed God’s faithfulness. The total amount of unexpected college help was almost exactly 100 times the original sum given away in faith more than 20 years earlier. Despite the change in plans the Lord had orchestrated, everything worked out. God was — and is — faithful. (If you have a story of God’s faithfulness similar to the one I’ve described, tell us about it in the comments section below.)

Having an investment plan is essential to meeting long-term financial goals, and SMI will continue to stress that. But we need to allow some flexibility within that plan. Sometimes the Lord helps us reach our destination via a different path than we’d naturally choose. Perhaps that’s because He’s not as interested in the destinations themselves as the journeys we take to get there. If you trust God and follow His lead, there’s no need to worry — He will provide.