“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.” Philippians 4:11
Part of good stewardship is being contented. After all, how can we share what we have, if we’re convinced it isn’t enough? Everything about our society seems based on consumerism and having more, more, more. Ads constantly barrage us with the latest or better new product we need to purchase. The lifestyle of a family on the average television show would require an income of $200,000. Styles change quickly so we feel compelled to add to or change our wardrobe. Phones and other technology are constantly updated, so that older models become “obsolete.” We’re always sure we’ll be satisfied when we get one more raise, the next new car, the slightly bigger house, and so on. Unfortunately as sinful humans, that little bit more doesn’t satisfy, it just whets our desire for the next thing. We never reach the point of being content, so we’re never thankful for what God has given us, and we’re never willing to be generous with what we have. We don’t have time to serve others, because we’re so busy chasing after the latest and greatest toy on our list. According to the apostle Paul, this kind of discontent leads to disaster.
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6:4-10
If you’re an older person, you’ve seen that money, jobs, hobbies, trips and all the fancy trappings we try to surround ourselves with don’t last. When we’re gone, people won’t remember what we had, they’ll remember what we did with what we had. Did you live a life of integrity? Did you serve God? Did you love others? Those are the things that will be important. So practice the art of contentment — it’s one of the keys to good stewardship.
“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of Gods’ varied grace….” 1 Peter 4:10
My devotional reading today was on the book of Jonah, and I’m actually going to be teaching about that book in adult Sunday School in a few weeks … funny how God sends us these little messages, isn’t it? He knows just what we need at any given time. Anyway, the gist of the article was grace. God extended His grace to Jonah, even though he was a sulky and reluctant prophet. He saved him from the belly of the whale, he sent a plant to shade him … Jonah didn’t deserve those things. He tried to run from his calling. He wasn’t very appreciative of Gods’ care. The very worst thing about Jonah — although he accepted Gods’ grace, he was angry when God extended that same grace to the people Jonah hated, the Assyrians.
I think there’s a lesson in this. In the verse above, Peter calls us stewards of Gods’ grace. We’ve all received gifts. I know that I have certain talents, and I also have my health, a good bit of free time as a retiree, an adequate income. Since all these are gifts of Gods’ grace in my life, I need to share them willingly when I see a need. In fact, I should be excited when I can spread some of Gods’ grace around. Most of all, I should be excited to share the good news of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. That’s truly amazing grace.
Unfortunately, I’m often like Jonah. I may be willing to share with those I love, or those I find deserving. I’m less willing to share with people I don’t know, don’t like or find unworthy in some way. Why should I serve them? They don’t deserve it and may not appreciate it. However, here’s the thing — it’s only grace because we don’t deserve it. If we could earn grace, we wouldn’t need God (or anyone else) to give it to us.
So today, let’s spread some grace around: lend a hand; forgive; bake some cupcakes for your neighbor; give up your place in line. You need it; I need it; everyone needs it, whether they know it or not.
A friend at church loaned me a book I’ve been using recently for my morning devotional time. It’s called “Lessons I Learned in the Light” by Jennifer Rothschild. This morning’s chapter was titled “Carry No Baggage” and it got me thinking about how as good stewards, we need to travel light. We can’t take care of God’s stuff if we’re too worried about our own stuff. Maybe you’re thinking about now, didn’t the Lutheran Ladies say it’s all God’s stuff? Well, here’s the thing …all the good things are God’s, but there are still plenty of bad things that belong to us alone. They start with that little word SIN. Do you notice what’s in the middle of the word sin? The letter “I.” Sin happens when we’re turned into ourselves, when life becomes all about me, me, me.
What baggage are you carrying around? It might be selfishness (that’s a big one for me), failure to forgive, anger, destructive habits you don’t want to give up, pride, lack of trust and more. All these things weigh us down and keep us from focusing on God, the good gifts He gives, and the people He wants us to serve.
Thankfully there’s a simple way to get rid of that excess cargo. Confess. Let God take care of your stuff, and then you’ll be free to take care of His. We get to do this every Sunday in our worship service, not as a work of our own, but as a reminder that God has already forgiven all our sins for the sake of His son, Jesus.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Confess so you can focus on the good things of God. Travel light.
As many readers know, I was once an English major, and I still love poetry. This poem by Mary Oliver, a contemporary poet, expresses, for me, how we should be good stewards of our time. It’s from the book, “Devotions.”
Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock,
and your walk, that was confident and quick
has become slow.
So, be slow, if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful
That the gift has been given.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
Back at the beginning of the month, I wrote about how Beth Ann called stewardship “taking care of Gods’ stuff” and that everything is really Gods’ stuff. As we’ve explored the topic we’ve talked about all sorts of things — our gifts, our pain, our reading, our singing, our words, the roles we play in the family and in life. I’ve come to see that God not only made us, he also made everything we experience in this life. He planned it all so that we would have the talents, tools and opportunity to do specific tasks for Him.
When something we don’t understand or don’t like comes our way, instead of whining or becoming bitter, we should be thinking, “how can I use this for God?” Instead of worrying about “how am I going to get through this situation” we should be saying, “what does God want me to learn?” Instead of turning our back on an uncongenial person, we should be considering, “how can I help this child of God He has sent to me?”
I don’t know about you, but for me this is a hard teaching. I’d like to think the Christian life is about fulfilling my purpose, but guess what? That’s all wrong. It’s about fulfilling God’s purposes–I’m just the tool. I’m not the first person to realize this (not a surprise). I’m going to close with a quote from John Henry Newman, which sums it all up perfectly:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”
One day in 1873 hymnist Frances Havergal received a little book entitled “All For Jesus.” It stressed the importance of making Christ the king of every corner of one’s life. Soon afterward, she found herself visiting with a group of ten people, some of them unconverted, others not yet fully devoted to Christ. She prayed, and went to work witnessing, and before she left all ten were yielded Christians. On the last night of her visit, she wrote this great hymn about allowing God to own and control one’s entire life. In the years that followed, Frances often used it in her own devotions.
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ” Mark 6:30-31
Jesus sent the disciples out to proclaim that people should repent. They also cast out demons, and anointed and healed the sick. They were busy doing important things for others. However, when they returned, Jesus knew that they also needed to take care of themselves. They were worn out and the crowds around them were barely allowing them time to eat! Jesus told them it was okay to take a break.
All of us sometimes need a break from ministry, as well. I grew up in a home where the worst sin was being lazy, so I tend to overdo and over schedule myself. I know there are many other people like me, especially in the church. We are so intent upon doing a good job for the benefit of others, that we neglect ourselves. This isn’t good stewardship. We need to eat right; we need to get enough sleep and exercise; we need to take some time to relax. In fact, if we don’t do these things, we may burn out and find ourselves unable to do anything. That’s not what God wants.
We need to maintain our own health and well being so that we can do our best for God and others. Here’s how Robert Fulghum describes it in his book, All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten :
Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
Are you maintaining your balance?