Turmoil… or empowered by contentment?

Turmoil… or empowered by contentment?

I was overseas for most of August. I had a great time, but was looking forward to getting home. What I would come home to seemed uncertain, though, as the headlines on my phone told me that Australia was gripped with fear and dealing with carnage on a daily basis. Maybe I should stay in Italy a bit longer?

Of course, what the headlines were referring to was the decline in the stock market, not something really serious for the nation. Things like the stock market are normally mentioned quickly at the back of the news but, in late August, front pages lit up as the ASX200 stock index fell by 13 per cent from where it had been at end of July.

According to what I was reading, all of you back home were in despair as you watched the value of your superannuation be decimated, along with the value of the shares held in your funds. All sorts of reasons were given by the journalists to try to help you understand why this devastation was being unleashed upon you and why you should worry that the crisis was only going to get worse!

As the manager of the Uniting Church’s funds and a personal investor in the share market, I’m keenly interested in what goes on in investment markets. I’m not making light of the sharp fall in share prices that took place. It was, without doubt, a significant downwards move and the portfolio managers at Uniting Financial Services researched to understand what was behind the fall so we could make appropriate decisions.

However, the media headlines were far from helpful. There was no need for anyone to be deeply afraid. In fact, sharp falls in the share market happen fairly regularly. As do significant increases in share prices.

Media coverage of investment markets is terribly biased. I don’t remember headlines back in February talking about people dancing in the streets, filled with joy and wonder at the blessings we were having poured out on us because share prices had risen by 12 per cent. No, it’s only when the market gives back those gains that the media decides to try to play on our dark emotions.

Fiddlesticks. Sensible investors know that an investment in the stock market is a long term thing, playing out over years, not weeks. They also know that, whatever is happening to share prices from week to week, the income that the shares are generating for them is fairly stable. Sensible investors know, therefore, that the swings in the value of their share portfolios do not need to be accompanied by swings in their state of emotional well-being.

I’m sure that, in reality, the vast majority of Insights readers barely gave a second thought to what was going on in the share market in late August. However, as I became agitated about the sensationalism of the media’s coverage, I couldn’t help but think of what the apostle Paul said about changes in his economic fortunes.

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” he wrote to the Philippians. “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (4:11-13)

Our media seem to think that ordinary Australians’ spirituality is so connected with wealth that we experience inner turmoil and are ripped apart when the stock market falls. That is very different to the contentment of someone like Paul, whose trust in the Lord Jesus empowered him to remain functional and effective no matter what financial volatility raged around him.

Weakened by inner turmoil or empowered by contentment?

I know which I prefer.

Warren Bird, Executive Director, Uniting Financial Services

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