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. 

The disciplined path of doing

Learning how and what to do is easy. 

All you need is the right blog, podcast, book or friend. 

Which is only a click away thanks to the connecting power of the Internet.

Turning what you know into action, however, is hard work. 

It requires the painstaking work of moving things from the theoretical to the practical. From idea to reality. From thought to deed. 

Once more, it requires discipline. 

The discipline to make it a habit. 

The discipline to keep at it until you master it. 

To do it again, and again, and again. To drive it deep into your heart so that it flows from you like water from a well. 

So much time gets spent on learning. And rightfully so. 

Don’t swim so deeply in the waters of knowledge and forget the disciplined path of doing. 

Marching Into The Unknown

You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are a powerhouse duo exchanging witty banter wrapped in an Affair To Remember esk story. At least once each year, I beg Hannah to let me dig it out and throw it in the ol’ DVD player. Every time, is almost like the first time all over again. Isn’t it that way with our favorites? No matter how many times we’ve seen them, we never get tired of them. As I sat down to write this morning, it popped into my mind. Scene after scene, line after line. In fact, I’m replaying the scene about the Godfather in my head as I type. Greatness!   

As I sat here replaying it in my head, another scene came to mind. Less funny, more serious, yet something I find immensely helpful in this season of life. Midway through the film, Meg Ryan and a character named Birdie have lunch. Meg Ryan’s character has just made the decision to close her charming little bookstore. In the exchange, Birdie issues a series of lines that have stuck with me. They hit me each and every year.

“You are daring to imagine,” Birdie says, “that you could have a different life. Oh, I know it doesn't feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure now. But you're not. You are marching into the unknown armed with...Nothing. Have a sandwich.”

Everything about those lines is lovely. Meg Ryan’s character is feeling low because the business her mother built and left to her, is closing. In the midst of this deep pain, Birdie reminds her of the immense bravery it takes to face the unknown, to do the thing you find particularly hard and difficult.

I feel Hannah and I are marching into the unknown ourselves. In just a few short days, our first son will arrive. Talk about a life changer. Our whole world is about to be upended, in a good way. While we’ve done everything we can think of to prepare, there remains a great deal we are unaware of.

I’m freaking out inside. There are so many questions swirling around in my head, that it hurts. How little sleep is in my future? How will that stress impact our marriage? Do we have enough diapers? Is there anything I’m forgetting? Do we have everything we need for the nursery? Will I drop him? Will we be good parents? What will this new adventure bring into our lives? So many questions, so little answers.

How do you prepare for unknown situations, when you’re freaked out and haven’t a clue what to expect? I’ve thought about that question and a hundred like it. They’ve kept me up at night, and haunted my dreams. They’ve followed me around and lived with me for months on end. Today, I’d like to share with you the result, and how we are preparing to face the unknown once more.

The truth is, this isn’t the first time we’ve “marched into the unknown” and it certainly won’t be the last. We’ve walked this path before, and so have you. Facing situations, events and circumstances you aren’t entirely sure of, is as common as it gets. You don’t know the future, and as a result everything comes with a side of doubt and uncertainty.

Your level of uncertainty changes minute by minute, day by day. While uncertain of every aspect of most situations, you have a reasonable expectation for how it will go. You’ve had similar experiences before and have formed some idea of what most things on your calendar will look like. Other events however, throw massive amounts of uncertainty your way. The more that stands to change in your life, the more unknowns you have to be stressed over. Whether something big or small, the uncertainty is headed your way.

Abide with Christ

Don’t allow uncertainty and stress to threaten your world, and hold you captive. The surest way I know to throw off the heavy yoke the things of this world attempt to lay upon me is to look to Jesus. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Abiding with Christ is the only path to peace in this life, and joy everlasting. One mark of walking with Him is peace in the midst of chaos. You have no need to worry, because you know who’s in control. There is never a moment in your life, during which the Lord wants you to worry. To worry is sin. It communicates your concern that God might get things wrong and that if you just had control things would turn out alright. How often does this pattern play out? How many of the things you’ve prayed the Lord would spare you from, are the very things that ended up shaping who you are the most?

Abiding with Christ involves spending time with His word and doing what it says. Abiding and obedience are inextricably linked, so what does God’s word tell us to do, with our anxiety and fear?   

Pray

“Don’t be anxious in anything,” Paul said, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Worry, anxiety and stress are heavy burdens you just don’t have to carry. Cast them off and let Christ deal with it. What keeps us up and costs us sleep, makes Him laugh. He is not worried and He has it under control. Lay your burdens down at the feet of Jesus in prayer because He cares for you. While the burden may be too much for you to bear, it’s not too much for Him. Let Him carry it.

Prayer is a powerful tool God has given you to fight the stress and anxiety uncertainty sends your way. Lay it all out there. "Tell God all that is in your heart,” Francois Fenelon said, “as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself as to others."

God can do something about what’s troubling you and He wants to. What you have in Him is a loving father. Loving fathers are concerned with what’s keeping their kids up at night and want to alleviate their burdens. The Lord is no different. Put it all out there in very real, and raw terms. He loves you and wants to hear what’s on your heart.  

Focus On Truth

“The most important battle you will ever fight,” Todd Wagner said, “is the battle for your mind and the most important weapon in this fight is truth.” Your mind is flooded with a million different thoughts each day, and not all of them are good, helpful or even true. What you do with each of those thoughts will determine everything.

You have to train yourself to think rightly in all circumstances by constantly reminding yourself of what’s true. You facedown what you don’t know by focusing on what you do. You may not know exactly what the future holds, but you can know who holds it. Fix your gaze on Him.

Consistent time in God’s word is the only way this happens. There’s just no way around it. No matter how many times you hear it, daily time in the Bible is the lifeblood of the Christian life. It offers practical and helpful instruction for every aspect of life, especially when staring down anxiety, but most importantly the Bible connects you with the author of life Himself.  

“Finally, brothers,” Paul said, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Releasing your anxiety is only half the battle, you have to embrace truth in its place. Focus on what is true, honorable, pure and more. This is how you transform your mind, so that you know how to respond rightly no matter what comes your way.

Seek The Wisdom of Others

“The physical presence,” Bonhoeffer said, “of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” The Lord has been incredibly kind to you in that He has made you a part of the body of Christ. Within the body are countless men and women who have walked your steps before. What is uncertain to you, may not be to someone else. Ask good questions, seek counsel and wisdom, and avail yourself to the wisdom of others.  

The input and experience of your fellow believers can help alleviate a great deal of stress. Their insights can be huge. Go find someone who's walked the path you’re headed down. Regardless what the road ahead looks like, you can face it. Lock arms with other believers and wade into ambivalent seas ready to tackle what comes together. Remember that we is stronger than me. You don’t have to go it alone.