We all woke up today to news of both the pandemic’s continued spread and a massive wave of governmental intervention designed to shore up the economy and stem the market’s fall. For investors, the latter is already having a welcome impact, at least in some corners of the market.

Gold and bond funds that have corporate bond exposure, such as BLV and BIV, which had been confounding investors by falling with the rest of the market instead of acting as the safe havens many expected them to be, are both reacting positively to today’s news. The rest of the market, not so much.

None of this requires action on the part of SMI investors, but by the same token, it can be helpful to understand as much as can be understood about the tumultuous times we’re living in. We’ll provide a closer look at the bond market in particular in the April issue of the SMI newsletter coming later this week. In the meantime…

Life on hold

Does it feel like you’re just waiting right now? Waiting for the number of new COVID-19 cases to peak and begin to decline? Waiting to see if the government’s stimulus plans will turn the markets around? Waiting for life to get back to normal?

Along with everyone else, so many of our family’s “regular” activities have come to a full stop. That has provided more time to think and reflect, and something I haven’t thought about in a very long time came to mind this past weekend. It was a comment my friend, Wayne, made to me early in my journey of faith when I was in my late 20s.

I had gone from “living the life” to living in my parents’ basement after unintentionally reenacting the Bible’s prodigal son story (received an inheritance, traveled to some distant countries, squandered the money, came to my senses, returned home — the whole bit) and Wayne, a friend from college, had gotten back in touch. Unbeknownst to me, after I graduated and moved out of state for a job, he became a Christian. Wayne then became instrumental in my faith journey.

The conversation I recalled this weekend was about the potential danger of seeing Jesus as just “part of the package” — of seeking a nice, comfortable life, with the right house and the right car and the right vacation, and having Jesus, too.

A wake-up call

Before the pandemic, I was spending much of what little free time I had planning a summer vacation. We were going to meet up with some other family, spend time in Olympic National Park, Seattle, and Vancouver. Honestly, I felt some stress about whether we were trying to pack too much into too little time. Should we spend two nights in Olympic or three? That was a central question I was wrestling with. Seems so crazy right now, so incredibly unimportant.

Don’t get me wrong. Our family is very involved in service, Bible studies, and various other ministry activities. And we’re active financial supporters of our church and other ministries.

But there was something about Wayne’s words of caution, long tucked away in a memory file but brought forward this weekend, that spoke to me.

The power of waiting

Of all the financial stewardship lessons I’ve learned over the years — from practical things about giving and saving and investing, to more heart-centered things about contentment and true joy — none has been more impactful than what I think of as “The Master(’s) Principle.”

Psychologists sometimes refer to delayed gratification as “the master principle,” the life skill that makes the most difference in living an effective, joyful life. Research has demonstrated that people who can put off an immediate reward because they understand that they could receive a far greater reward if they will just wait a little while, have been found to have fewer problems in life, enjoy better relationships and better health, experience greater life satisfaction, and more.

What turns it into the Master’s principle is seeing our longing for heaven as the ultimate expression of delayed gratification. And that realization becomes especially powerful when paired with the recognition that the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:22-25) enable us to gain small, powerful glimpses of the far greater reward that awaits us.

I’ve learned that one of the most life-giving responses to the best experiences of this world — deep connections with a loved one, vacationing in a stunningly beautiful place — is to be profoundly grateful for such experiences while at the same time recognizing their limits.

I love how John Eldredge put it — that we express our longing for God best when we “enjoy what there is now to enjoy, while waiting with eager anticipation for the feast to come.”

Putting first things first

That insight has long been very helpful and motivating for me. However, as profound as it has often felt, perhaps what I’m seeing now is that this pandemic is a rare opportunity — for some of us, maybe the opportunity of a lifetime — to consider in fresh ways the degree to which Jesus has become just part of the package.

While we all long to get back to the life we enjoyed before the pandemic, the danger is that life will return to normal before we’ve learned what Jesus would have us learn through all of this.

So far, my sense is that at the very least, Jesus may be asking me to hold the things of this world with more of an open hand than I thought I had been holding them with. Maybe He’s asking me to live with more gratitude, generosity, patience, and forgiveness. But I also sense that I’m just beginning to glimpse what He is saying in all of this and that if life returns to normal too quickly, I may miss some of what He’s saying right now.    

Like you, I long for the suffering to stop. But if I’m honest, I have to confess my selfish desires as well. I’d like to see our portfolio recover from recent losses. I’d like to meet a friend at a restaurant again. And I’d like to be able to take our summer vacation.

With all of those things on pause, and with Wayne’s words echoing in my mind, I’ve been thinking of the following questions. I wonder if you might find them helpful as well.

What am I most concerned about because of the pandemic? My health or perhaps the health of a loved one? My job? My portfolio, and maybe as a result, my ability to retire when I had planned or to enjoy the lifestyle I had envisioned?

I’m not making light of any of that, nor am I suggesting such things aren’t important. I’m just suggesting that we take the opportunity that the unusual concerns we’re feeling right now offer each of us to assess the state of our faith.

Within the familiar verses from Matthew 6:25-34 that tell us not to worry, that reassure us that God knows our needs and promises to provide for us, is this instruction:

“But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.”

Is Jesus just part of the package? Or is our relationship with Him fully enough?