When Enos Barton boarded a train for Cleveland in 1869, he was fuming about Western Union's decision to cut his salary by ten dollars a month. He'd been one of the best telegraph operators in New York City during the Civil War. Every day he had accurately transmitted news to and from the front lines. But after the War, the economy faltered and Western Union cut costs. Barton quit and traveled to Ohio, hoping to find a job with inventor Elisha Gray.

Barton was a bright young man with a receding hairline, a retiring chin, sharp eyes, and a head for business. He was immediately impressed with Gray's product line—bells and alarms and new-fangled electrical gadgets. Barton decided he didn't just want to work for Gray; he wanted to co-own the business. There was only one problem. Barton didn't have any money to invest.

Sitting down with his mother, Barton shared his ideas and told her it was a great investment opportunity. She was impressed enough to mortgage the family farm and give him the $400 he needed to buy into the business, which became Gray and Barton (and later, Graybar). It was one of the best investments in history. Mrs. Barton's $400 investment has become a $5.4 billion FORTUNE 500 company and a leader in the telecommunications world.

It's amazing what you can do with $400—if you're the mother of a bright young man with a head for business and a knack for being at the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, few investments pay off like that. Millions of us have suffered loss during the last few years as the stock market has risen and plunged like a rollercoaster at Wacky World. Individual investors, senior citizens with mutual funds, charitable institutions with endowments, and most people who have a pension plan—have all suffered from the fragile and fluctuating world economy.

Not even the experts know what to do. "One of the funny things about the stock market," said the American publisher William Feather, "is that every time one person buys, another person sells, and both think they are astute."1

Astute Investments

The Bible tells us to handle our money as wisely as we can. It's God who gives us the ability to earn a living and gain wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus commended the wise stewards who made good investments of what had been entrusted to them. Proverbs 13:11b (NIV) says, "He who gathers money little by little makes it grow." That's why John Wesley famously said, "Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can."

But the Bible's fundamental investment strategy has little to do with accumulating money. Jesus Christ wasn't a stockbroker, but He gave the best investment tip in history when He said: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).

The world is full of investment advisors, but none of them has a better plan. We have entire cable channels, like CNBC, Fox Business Network, and Bloomberg Television. We have talking heads like Jim Cramer and his ilk hawking investment advice day and night. The Wall Street Journal has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the United States. Dozens of magazines are devoted to investment strategy and money management.

But Jesus perfectly understood the law of returns when He said in John 6:27a, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life." Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth."  The apostle Paul warned us not to put our hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to be rich in good works, thus laying up a treasure for ourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age (1 Timothy 6:19). We need to take stock of our lives and make sure we're investing ourselves in eternity. As Colonel Harlan Sanders put it, "There's no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery. You can't do any business from there."