Spiritual Disciplines: Stewardship

We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Stewardship. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here. Last week, we discussed the discipline of service. In that post, we discovered that God places a high call on the Christian’s life. We also learned that the daily dying a Christian does is to sin and selfishness. 

Each week I issue something similar to the following reminder: “No one,” Whitney said, “makes himself or herself acceptable to God by trying to emulate Jesus' example of service.” While Christ may be the perfect example of how to live, copying Jesus won’t save you; trusting in Him will. Practice the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus and help you become more like Him

Summary  

I would venture a guess that most of the stressful or anxious moments of your life, and mine, are in some form or fashion linked to time or money. “The clock and the dollar,” Whitney said, “are such substantial factors in so many parts of life that we must consider their role in any serious discussion of godly living.” Any effort to grow in Christlikeness must at one point or another take a look at how our two most precious resources are spent. 

The connection between how we spend money and stewardship is an easy one to make, and most often where our minds go when we hear the word. Stewardship however is about more than deploy God’s money, but also how we spend our time. “Godliness,” Whitney said, “is the result of a biblically disciplined spiritual life. But at the heart of a disciplined spiritual life is the disciplined use of time.” I am thankful Whitney makes this connection and leads his writing on stewardship with it. I can be so focused on steward our finances in way that makes much of God, and give little thought to time being a reflection of the same. 

Whitney offers the following ten biblical reasons to use time wisely. We would do well to hit pause for a moment and consider each. 

  1. Use Time Wisely “Because the Days Are Evil” - We do not drift into holiness. Our natural bent isn’t towards the things of God. “The natural course of our minds, our bodies, our world, and our days, leads us toward evil,” Whitney said, “not toward Christlikeness.” Failure to redeem our time by applying it to proper use results in our drift towards the things of this world. 
  2. Wise Use of Time Is the Preparation for Eternity - It is within the context of time that we must ready our souls for eternity. Once we die, there is no second chance to get things right or time for getting one's affairs in order. So this point has a double meaning; preparation for eternity takes place in time, and we have a limited amount of it with which to do so.  
  3. Time Is Short - Regardless of how long we live, our time on this earth is short in light of eternity. 
  4. Time Is Passing - “We should use our time wisely,” Whitney said, “but even the best use of time cannot put pages back on the calendar.” No matter our level of discipline, time doesn’t slow down for us, it keeps trucking along. 
  5. The Remaining Time Is Uncertain - We do not know what tomorrow will bring, or even if we’ll last to see it.  
  6. Time Lost Cannot Be Regained - Time is not a renewable resource. “Once gone,” Whitney said, “it is gone forever and can never be regained.” We have but the present time to discipline ourselves for godliness; there is no promise of more. 
  7. You Are Accountable to God for Your Time - Scripture is clear that each of us will be accountable to God for how we used the time He gave us. 
  8. Time Is So Easily Lost - We don’t have to work at losing time. It is wasted more easily than anything else. Minutes and hours pass like blinks of the eye, without much thought. “Time appears so plentiful,” Whitney said, “that losing much of it seems inconsequential.” We must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness to minimize our wasting of time. 
  9. We Value Time at Death - Most dying men don’t wish for more money or fame, but almost all of them would give anything for more time. It is the thing we covet most as death draws near. 
  10. Time’s Value in Eternity - We have the opportunity to use our time for godly purposes here and now, but that clock will run out eventually. At that time, what we’ve done in time will reverberate throughout eternity. 

The disciplined use of time however, is only half of Whitney’s aim. Our disciplined use of money is his second target for us. How we spend money is a clear indicator of where our heart is. “How we use it reveals who we are, for it manifests our priorities, our values, and our heart.” Most of us play our spending habits and routines close to the vest for this very reason. One thoughtful glance at our budget would lay us bare. 

All our growth in godliness would be shone false if we neglected our pocketbook as in our journey to become more like Jesus. “How we use money for ourselves, for others, and especially for the sake of God’s kingdom,” Whitney said, “is from first to last a spiritual issue.” The change of heart and life we are after is most poignantly seen in our use of money. 

“Growth in godliness” Whitney said, “will express itself in a growing understanding of these ten New Testament principles of giving: 

  1. God Owns Everything You Own - “There is not one square inch” Abraham Kuyper said, “in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” We are but temporary stewards of God’s stuff. 
  2. Giving Is an Act of Worship 
  3. Giving Reflects Faith in God’s Provision - God is the owner of all and the hand from which our provision comes. We may work hard, but it is ultimately He who supplies what we need. “The proportion of your income that you give back to God,” Whitney said, “testifies to how much you trust Him to provide for your needs.” 
  4. Giving Should Be Sacrificial and Generous - Scripture commends those who give sacrificially. “Giving,” Whitney said, “isn’t sacrificial unless you sacrifice to give.” It has to cost us something. 
  5. Giving Reflects Spiritual Trustworthiness - We often desire greater income and resources without pausing to reflect on our use of what we already have. We seldom ask ourselves if we are good investments of God’s resources. “If we are not faithful with the money God entrusts to us,” Whitney said, “the Bible says God will deem us untrustworthy to handle spiritual riches.”  
  6. Giving—Love, Not Legalism - Our ultimate motivation for giving should be love. The believer in Christ is not bound to a required rule for giving, but set free to give out of love. “Paul,” Whitney said, “never gave his readers an external, measurable standard of giving. Instead, he maintained that giving to God should be measured in the heart, and the standard of that measurement was the depth of their love for God.” 
  7. Give Willingly, Thankfully, and Cheerfully
  8. Giving—an Appropriate Response to Real Needs 
  9. Giving Should Be Planned and Systematic - While responding to needs as they arise is good, right and necessary, most of our giving shouldn’t be lacking in structure. There should be a planned aspect to our giving. We should think ahead. Feelings shouldn’t guide our giving, faithfulness should. 
  10. Generous Giving Results in Bountiful Blessing - Prosperity preachers take this way too far, but there are real promises in Scripture associated with our faithfulness in giving. There are rewards to be had. Salvation may come by grace through faith, but eternal rewards come through faithfulness in doing. Lest we wander off into heresy, not all rewards are money or even experienced in this life, but rewards most certainly come to those who steward money well. 

Reflection

 

Most churches do the body a great disservice by not ask anything of the believer. The more I read this book, the more I realize how seldom the pulpit calls Christians to pursue God in the Spiritual Disciplines. We seem to be settling for good or good enough, instead of striving for greatness. This book doesn’t beat me down however, but provides just the right encouragement I need week after week.  

I enjoyed Whitney’s discussion of time. Even among churches that encourage believers to discipline themselves for godliness, few talk about how people should spend their time. Instead of moving to reorient people’s minds, the church tends to concede the area of time management to the culture. We have the highest and grandest reason of all to leverage our time well—the pursuit of Christlikeness. Becoming more and more and more like Jesus should not only be our chief concern but the lens through which we make decisions about how we spend our time.  

By way of happy coincidence, I audited my time as I read through the chapter. It wasn’t something I planned out in advance, but rather an idea that took hold as I opened the book. Looking at my time in ten minute chunks throughout the day helped me see not only where my time is going, and what I’m accomplishing with it, but the times of day I am at my best. Those are the windows of time for intentional pursuit of not only important tasks but God Himself.

 My mind is at its peak from 5am to noon for example. This is when I do my best thinking and am most efficient. After lunch, I’m much slower and my mind not as crisp. As a result I plan to spend time in God’s Word, prayer and working on Scripture memory when my mind is at its best. 

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter nine) of the book next Sunday. We’re in the middle of a series on Spiritual Disciplines, and would love for you to get the book and join in. The chapters can be read in any order so there is no reason you couldn’t jump in and run with us. Click here to see what we’ve covered so far. 

Your Turn

Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. Simply share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read. 

Spiritual Disciplines: Service

We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Serving. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Will You Read Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life With Me? Last week, we discussed the discipline of evangelism. In that post, we discovered that few aspects of the Christian life generate more anxiety in the life of believers than sharing their faith. We also learned that few things overflow from a heart gripped by God’s grace, like telling others about it.   

Each week I issue something similar to the following reminder: “No one,” Whitney said, “makes himself or herself acceptable to God by trying to emulate Jesus' example of service.” While Christ may be the perfect example of how to live, copying Jesus won’t save you; trusting in Him will. Practice the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus and help you become more like Him. Keep this in mind as you study and read this week.

Summary

“Serving God,” Whitney said, “ is not a job for the casually interested. It’s costly service. God asks for your life. He requires that service to Him become a priority, not a pastime. He doesn't want servants who offer Him the leftovers after their other commitments.” God places a high call upon the Christian’s life. He wants not parts and parcels but the whole. “When Christ calls a man,” Bonhoeffer said, “he bids him come and die.” 

Images of faithful martyrs who put it all on the line are easy to conjure when reading that Christ lays claim to every part of your life. Most often, the daily dying a Christian does is to sin and selfishness. That’s not sexy work however. “We’re drawn to the appeal of service,” Whitney said, “when it holds out the promise of bold adventure, but repelled when it means—as it more often does—feeling banished to serve Christ in a dreary corner of a seemingly inconsequential place.” We want to “play the man” and charge into the fray sword drawn, ready for battle, seldom realizing that to play the man, most often means being faithful in the solitary posting away from the action. “Serving typically looks as unspectacular,” Whitney said, “as the practical needs it seeks to meet.” 

This call to denial of self and conquering of the flesh are why serving God takes discipline. We don’t naturally drift towards it. There are occasions where serving flows from our love for God and others, but on the whole serving God requires discipline on our part. We must intentionally seek it. “Those who do,” Whitney said, “will find serving one of the most sure and practical means of growth in grace.” 

Service is part of God’s plan for our becoming more like Jesus. He is at work in our service, not just in the tangible things we actually do, but deep in our hearts. You’ve probably heard that mission trips do far more to change the hearts of those who travel and serve, than those of the people on the receiving end. Something similar happens when we serve. God is at work within us. 

“Of course, motives matter in the service we offer to God,” Whitney said. He identified six motives for our serving found in Scripture.  

1. Obedience — God has called us to serve. At least one of our motivations towards service should spring from a desire to be obedient. 

2. Gratitude — When the fire of service to God grows cold, consider what great things the Lord has done for you.

3. Gladness — God expects His servants to serve—not grudgingly, grimly, or glumly—but gladly.

4. Forgiveness not guilt — "The child of God,” Spurgeon said, “works not for life, but from life; he does not work to be saved, he works because he is saved." We work not to merit or earn God’s forgiveness, but because we’ve already been forgiven in Christ.

5. Humility — Christians aren’t to serve in order to receive the applause of men. 

6. Love — No fuel for service burns longer and provides more energy than love. It will lead us to do things we wouldn’t do for money, but that serve others extremely well. A missionary to Africa put it like this, "But is a man to do nothing for Christ he does not like?...Liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. We have orders to 'Go' and we go. Love constrains us."

While service to God and others should spring forth from the redeemed heart unbidden and unplanned, more often than not effort will be required. “For most Christians,” Jerry White said, “serving requires conscious effort.”  

Reflection

Serving is part of what we do as Christians. At least it should be. I was reminded of this as I read this week, and what a great reminder it is. There is a direct link between our growth in godliness and our being of service to God and others. Those who give much of themselves in service, will have gained much in growth and maturation. 

What does my level of serving say about my walk with Christ? Do I serve in a manner commensurate with the blessings and grace I have received from the Lord? Or do I take and take and take from the Lord without moving forward to serve? Do I serve only when it’s convenient? 

These questions and a hundred like them challenged me to take a long hard look at what motivates me to serve, and I’m thankful for it. 

"Fellowship with God,” A.W. Tozer said, “leads straight to obedience and good works. That is the divine order and it can never be reversed." 

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter eight) of the book next Sunday. We’re in the middle of a series on Spiritual Disciplines, and would love for you to get the book and join in. Click here to see what we’ve covered so far. 

Spiritual Disciplines: Evangelism

We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Evangelism. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Will You Read Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life With Me? Last week, we discussed worship. In that post, we discovered that meditating on Scripture is unlocks yet another door to experiencing more of God. As we dwell on His Word our affections are stirred towards worship.  

Each week I issue something similar to the following reminder: delight not ritual and routine lead to the growth we seek. Simply walking through the motions won’t help you grow in godliness. Engaging in the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus helps you become more like Him. Keep this in mind each week as you study and read. 

Summary

Nothing causes more anxiety among Christians than to be reminded of the call to evangelism. Fear of rejection and what others might think keep too many of us from engaging our friends, family and especially strangers with the gospel. “Godliness requires that we discipline ourselves,” Whitney said, “in the practice of evangelism.” 

Evangelism is first and foremost a faithfulness issue. Will we be faithful to what the Lord calls us to do, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel? That’s exactly what God is calling Christians to do in every area of their lives—trust and obey Him—and talking about Jesus is no different. Yet so many of us remain content to seek obedience in other areas, while neglecting God’s clear call to point others to Him.  

Sharing the faith is expected to be natural and normative for the believer. “He calls all believers to be His witnesses,” Whitney said, “and provides them with both the power to witness and a powerful message.” Not only is it the calling on the believer's life, but an empowered calling. The Christian’s, “efforts in evangelism,” Whitney said, “are empowered by The Holy Spirit.”

He is with you, and working through your words to change hearts. It may not seem like it, but He is at work. Even when the door is slammed in your face, or when the person is hostile and aggressive towards you, The Spirit is doing His thing. Success in evangelism isn’t measured by outcomes, it’s measured by faithfulness.  

The gospel is the power of God for salvation and sharing it with others is His prescribed method for saving. “The goal is not just to rub shoulders with unbelievers,” Whitney said, “but to dialogue with them in such a way that their hearts and minds might be opened to the gospel.” In short, Christians are to build real, genuine and deep friendships with those far from God. 

Relationships are imperative for they provide the context in which we can ask good questions, comfort the hurting and love people well. Evangelism is at its heart relationship oriented. Yes there is much fruit in sharing Christ with strangers, but more often than not we are going to find a soft spot to land the plane and discuss deeper issues with those we know.  

This of course assumes we can clearly articulate the story of the Bible. “You can’t be saved by a gospel,” Whitney said, “you don’t understand and believe.” Christians must get comfortable having spiritual conversations and comfortable with discussing what God in Christ has done for them. They must learn the gospel inside and out. “There is a correlation between the pursuit of godliness and a passion for God’s message.” Whitney said, “The more we pursue Christ, the more we want to proclaim Christ.”  

The overarching principle of this chapter is this: God has called believers to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t know Him. You have been shown much grace. Share it with others.  

Reflection

I used to think that I wasn’t being faithful if I didn’t get a full gospel presentation into a conversation with a non-Christian. It wasn’t until I read Tactics by Greg Koukl that I realized that not every conversation needed one. Some encounters are brief and leave only the time for a question or two. Which is why I have found Greg’s guidance so helpful. Over the last year or so my goal has shifted from “get to the gospel as quickly as possible” to “ask them a good question that leaves them thinking.” 

The following two questions from Greg completely changed how I have spiritual conversations. When someone puts forth a differing view I quickly pull out these two questions. They help me learn what they mean in their own words and give me the lay of the land so that I know how to proceed.  

1. What do you mean by that?
2. How did you come to that conclusion?

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter seven) of the book next Sunday. We’re in the middle of a series on Spiritual Disciplines, and would love for you to get the book and join in. Click here to see what ground we’ve covered so far. 

Your Turn

I’d like to hear what stood out to you this week. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. If you have shared your thoughts on your own blog, please link to it as well. Do not feel the need to be profound or to share something new. Simply share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.