Economic news was soft to mixed this week. On the positive side, March existing home sales increased to 5.710 million units for an annualized monthly increase of 4.4 % — the highest rate in more than10 years. Single-family units were up 4.3 percent and condos were up 5.0 percent. The monthly change in March industrial production was 0.5 percent compared to 0.1 percent for February. Unfortunately, an increase in weather-related utility output accounted for much of the production increase (monthly manufacturing was down 0.4 percent). Housing permits were up 3.6 percent for the month.
On the negative side, the purchasing managers' composite index fell from 53.2 to 52.7 in April. MBA's weekly mortgage applications composite index fell 1.8 percent, with the purchase index down 3.0 percent and the refinance index up 0.2 percent. The National Association of Home Builders housing market index fell from 71 to a still-strong 68. March housing starts were down an annualized 6.8 percent to 1.215 million units.
This week, economic news was less important than geopolitical uncertainty. The continuing drama with North Korea keeps the markets on edge. Involvement of China, Japan and South Korea (and the interest of Russia) increases the stakes. North Korea seems to be as belligerent as always, but China's expressed willingness to apply pressure to North Korea is a new factor. The stakes could not be higher.
In Europe, French presidential elections have grabbed headlines and the markets' attention. Far-right Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron have made it to the second round. Both defeated two major political parties in winning. Le Pen wants to hold a referendum to decide whether France will remain in the European Union and wants to more tightly control the borders. Macron is pro-EC and pro-immigrant. Since the EU would probably not survive without France, the stakes could not be higher.
Other risk factors the economy faces include an unsustainable global debt, unsustainable domestic debt in many countries, turmoil in Venezuela, the situation in Syria and low population growth in many industrialized parts of the world. Many economists believe the world will eventually have to pay for past economic excesses; much of the debate concerns timing. Recognizing that no one can consistently and accurately predict future economic events, diversification is the preferred strategy.
What about believers? What should believers do in these uncertain times? Does the Bible provide insight? Do we have promises in this life which are unavailable to the unbelieving world? As believers, we are not alone. We do not have to fight our battle by ourselves. The Bible provides many examples and promises.
Three verses in 1 Chronicles (5:18-20) give us great insight into biblical actions which lead to success. The verses tell of a group of 44,000 warriors that experienced victory in battle. Specifically, we should
- be courageous (valiant),
- be skillful,
- pray and
- trust in the Lord.
Too often, believers sit back without improving their skills and believe that everything will be OK. We have a stewardship responsibility as well as the injunction to believe. Others, wrongly, overemphasize skills and natural circumstances to the exclusion of the Lord's role. The union of faith and good stewardship is the biblical injunction to success. We should pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on us.
The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh numbered forty-four thousand seven hundred and sixty valiant men, men able to bear shield and sword, to shoot with a bow, and who were skillful in battle, who went to war. They made war with the Hagrites, namely Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. They were helped against them, and the Hagrites and all who were with them were delivered into their hand, for they cried to God in the battle, and He heard their prayer because they trusted in Him (1 Chron. 5:18-20).
"Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you." — Saint Augustine.
Irrespective of the obstacles, uncertainty, or our circumstances, we can be successful. Joseph was a slave to Potiphar, but the Lord was with him and he prospered (Gen. 29:2-3). Joseph was thrown into jail, but the Lord was with him, and he received kindness and favor from the chief jailer (Gen. 39:21-23). Pharaoh recognized the Spirit of God in Joseph, and he became the second most powerful ruler in Egypt (Gen. 41:38-40).
We have been promised that the Lord will never leave nor forsake us. The Lord is faithful. But we have a responsibility to never leave the vine. All believers are called to believe, trust, love and obey the Lord. True power originates in our relationship to the Lord and His Spirit. True success, and its definition, comes from the Lord. Let us be faithful. Let us be good stewards. Let us align our actions with the word of God. Let us allow the Spirit of God to flow freely through us. Success is assured, even in uncertain times.
"If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7).
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works in us" (Eph. 3:20).
Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics and undergraduate chair of the College of Business at Oral Roberts University.
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