Faithful Stewardship, Part 3
Those of you who have been following the blog since the beginning will remember that I have made a post with tips on stewarding finances, as well as a post with ideas to help churches that are struggling with their finances. This post will cover some of the same information, but will also cover some different information.
When God made mankind, he placed our first parents in paradise. He gave them everything that they needed. However, God also gave them a charge to keep the Garden in Eden. They were to take care of it, but they were free to enjoy the fruit of any tree, except one. We all know how the story ended, and how we all suffer from original sin today as a result of Adam's actions. Thanks alot, Adam.
Anyway, it appears from this that God called our first parents to exercise good stewardship over what God had given them. I believe God has called us to the same thing today. He wants us to exercise good stewardship over the resources that he has given us. This includes our finances. In the same way that God provided for Adam, and told Adam to be a good steward of the gift that God had provided, so God also calls us to be good stewards of what he has provided.
So, how do we become good stewards? What does a good steward look like, especially in regards to our finances? It may look something like what we should expect, but also a little different than what we should expect. Good financial stewardship goes beyond simply giving a tithe. In short, a tithe does not excuse the way we spend the other 90% of our income. God expects us to manage our money well rather than letting our money manage us. How can we do this. Let me offer some ideas:
First, we should be thankful for everything that we have. God was not obligated to give us anything. Everything that you have, including the every breath you take, every heartbeat you are given, and the resources that you have, are purely gifts of grace. Does this change the way that you look at what you have? It should. We cannot brag about anything that we have, because it is given to us by grace. Money cannot be a marker for success for this very reason. We have every reason to be thankful for everything that we have, and no reason to be otherwise. This is the attitude of a good steward of his or her finances: "Nothing that I have is mine. It is simply a gift from God." When we see things from this light, we start to appreciate what we have more. Paradoxically, when we start to appreciate what we have as God's gift, we are less inclined to hold onto it as if it were our own.
Second, we should be careful to watch how our money is spent. This is the part that many people do not like to hear. Are we spending our money on things that are important, or are we frivolously throwing our money away? There is a story about C.S. Lewis that I think illustrates my point. One day, C.S. Lewis and a friend were walking down the street, when they came across a beggar asking for money. C.S. Lewis reached down, grabbed his wallet, and handed all of the money in it to the beggar. After they had walked further down the street, his friend asked, "Jack, why did you give him all of your money? That was a foolish thing to do. He's just going to go waste it." C.S. Lewis replied, "Well, that's all I was going to do with it, anyway." Whether or not this actually happened, I am not sure. However, it does illustrate the point that I am making very well. Giving that ten dollar bill that you were going to spend on fast food may actually be better if given to the homeless beggar. Sure, he may take your money and spend it unwisely. But then again, so were you. On the other hand, the beggar may not spend your money unwisely. He may not have eaten in a week. You don't know. God does. If he or she takes your money and wastes it, that is on them. If you don't show kindness, that's on you. This is just one example. We can look at other causes, such as orphanages, women's shelters, drug and addiction rehabilitation programs, and the like that are far more important than getting a Big Mac. Church ministries are far more valuable than fast food.
Third, make sure that you are living within your means. My grandmother used to tell me that you can't spend a nickel of every penny you make. It is incredibly tempting, especially with the rise of social media and reality shows that show individuals in nice homes, to start coveting that lifestyle. Far too many people, in pursuing this lifestyle, take on far more debt than they can manage. Far too many of these end in bankruptcy, repossession, or worse. The fact is that, when we are thankful for what we have, it is easier to be content. God is not calling all of us to become millionaires and live a luxurious lifestyle. If he were, Christianity would be far more popular than it is. The fact is that Jesus called us to self-sacrificing love for God and for others. The only way that this is going to work is if we live within our means.
Fourth, and most importantly, place God first in the area of finances. In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus makes this point. As our Lord sat observing all of the people putting their money into the offering container, he noticed one poor widow who put in two small copper coins, which together were worth practically nothing. However, Jesus praised the widow, making it clear that she gave more than everyone else because she gave out of her poverty, while everyone else was giving out of their wealth. The widow, I think, understood something that many of us today do not understand. We are not called simply to give something to God. We are called to give it all to God. The biblical view of finances does not include the categories of "God's money" and "my money." Rather, it is all God's to begin with, and every penny that we have should be used in a manner that honors him. That is precisely what this widow did.
Honoring God with our finances may be one of the most difficult things for an American Christian to do. However, it is the right thing to do, and it is what God commands. So go do it.