There is no such thing as neutrality in life. One way or another, in one minute way or another, you are either promoting or demoting everything you touch. And I mean everything. The food you eat will either help you a little bit, or harm you a little bit. The attitude you have will help you and others around you, or harm you and others around you. And your money is always working either to help, or to harm.

One of the earliest lessons I ever heard on personal finance was about investment versus consumption, and it changed everything for me.

From a conventional standpoint, financial investment is when you use your money to make more money, whether that’s investing in a stock that you believe will grow, or starting a business for yourself, or investing in education to learn a skill that will strengthen your income.

Consumption is traditionally defined as when you spend money on a product or service. If you buy a product, you’re a consumer. That’s not the kind of consumption I’m talking about here. Instead, I’m talking about the kind of consumption where you spend your money on something that has no long term value. Spending money on cheap thrills for yourself that don’t actually grow you closer to God, develop you as a person, or grow your relationships with other people are all a waste.

Everything in life is either investment or consumption—even letting your money sit in a bank account “for safe keeping” and not actively stewarding it fits into one of these two categories. You can use your time, money, energy, relationships, and skills (really, any of the Five Capitals) for either of these categories. Discerning between the two takes wisdom. Putting money into stocks isn’t always investment—what if you’re just doing it out of greed, or so you can brag about it to your bros? And going out to an expensive dinner isn’t always consumption—what if that’s one way you’re trying to build a relationship with your wife? But everything, everything, everything falls into one of those two categories.

As followers of Jesus, we should be better investors than anyone out there. Sadly, this is not usually the case.  In Luke 16:8, Jesus himself said that unbelievers are more shrewd about worldly stuff than we are. This simply shouldn’t be.

We have a greater time horizon to invest than anyone else, because we don’t need all of our investments to have a return in this life, but generations later, and even in eternity. We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) which means we are never lacking in both wisdom and the direction of the Holy Spirit, if we ask!

Another formative teaching for me was The Treasure Principle, by Randy Alcorn. In this book, Alcorn suggests that the wisest way to invest our lives is so that we get as much payment in the next life as possible. I know, crazy. Everything in this life will eventually pass away, while everything in the next life will last forever. Randy wasn’t the first guy to come up with that idea:

Therefore we do not become discouraged [spiritless, disappointed, or afraid]. Though our outer self is [progressively] wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day by day. For our momentary, light distress [this passing trouble] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory [a fullness] beyond all measure [surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendor and an endless blessedness]! So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are visible are temporal [just brief and fleeting], but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable.

This is Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 (from the Amplified Bible, which includes fuller definitions of words in the text).  Paul wasn’t talking about money,  but he definitely could have been. Nothing in your life belongs to you—not your time, your money, or your body. You were purchased out of slavery, and now it all belongs to Jesus. To steward yourself well, you have to say no to consumption, and yes to investment with every dollar you have. It’s not your money, after all.

If you can’t confidently say that you’re investing your money today in a way that will benefit you the most in eternity, then you’re not acting wisely, or stewarding the life God gave you.

Now, please don’t take this as a burden that you can’t have fun with your money. Quite the opposite. Use your money for real pleasure, like:

  1. Creating memories with friends and family that genuinely will last in eternity.
  2. Supporting people and projects that are impacting the world by bringing God’s kingdom to earth.
  3. Building into yourself, to make you the fully-formed man God intends you to be.

That’s what investment really looks like.