Focus on the Family

Stewardship: Being Co-Managers With God

byHarvey Nowland

stew·ard·ship (stü-ərd–ship)

Carefully and responsibly managing something entrusted to one’s care.

Most Christians could probably give a fairly accurate definition of stewardship – but far too many don’t practice good stewardship.

As a matter of fact, we don’t use the word stewardship much in everyday conversation, but we’re all familiar with the term management. A business manager oversees the use of a company’s resources including money, machinery and personnel in order to profitably provide a product or service in harmony with the company’s purpose and values – and that’s stewardship.

Whatever else “created in God’s image” indicates, at least it implies that we have the prospect and privilege to be full partners with God in maintaining His vast creation, not as slaves of menial tasks, but as gifted managers commissioned to creatively oversee the resources around us in order to produce what God values most.

However, problems can arise in the struggles of day-to-day living that cause us to lose sight of our awesome and honorable assignment as managers, or stewards, of God’s property. God has divided the job among so many of us that most of us have direct responsibility for what may be only a very small amount of resources.

What resources has God asked you to manage? Of course you’ve got a car, maybe a house with a mortgage and possibly some money in the bank. Chances are that you don’t see those things as assets you’re managing on behalf of God – you see them as your possessions. But, are they yours?

What might happen if you were to understand that those things that you consider yours really belong to God? Your life would dramatically change if you were to understand that what you’ve thought of as yours really belongs to God, and you need to manage those things according to His values and in pursuit of His extremely important agenda.

Admitting that what you have belongs to God doesn’t limit your importance in a faulty world. Instead, this perspective actually gives you dignity you may not have known was yours.

God’s goal isn’t simply to keep you and your family reasonably comfortable – He has a kingdom to build, and you’re a part of His management team in accomplishing that plan.

Christians need to understand that opportunities to achieve God’s agenda in building His kingdom involves not only our material possessions, but also our abilities, knowledge, skills and relationships.

To make it really simple – everything from your backyard and bank account to your mind and body - is a resource that you must manage for God. No false humility required here, you are an important member of God’s management team – stewardship.

You may be thinking, Sure, sounds good, but I have a job, medical bills, the car needs tires, the kids need braces and the economy has all but flat-lined. So, if God owns everything – can’t He do most of this stuff Himself or at least help with some of my bills?

Building the kingdom of God and stewardship aren’t simply “nice ideas” for which missionaries, pastors, Bible teachers and youth workers are responsible. Kingdom building certainly includes those responsibilities, but ministry and stewardship begins with God working inside of you and me.

The key to having an appropriate sense of stewardship, with the ability to make clear and wise choices, is to consciously take this first step: hand over ownership of all your resources to God. You could look at it this way. You don’t have – and you never will have – enough money, possessions or time not to take this step. The alternative will draw you to, or keep you in, the modern rat race that leads nowhere.

Stewardship can seem daunting. After all, being managers of our families, possessions, the earth and builders of a kingdom isn’t small stuff. But remember, God promises us that He’ll never require something of us that we cannot accomplish. Furthermore, whatever God may require of us, He provides the ability to achieve.

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB).

Stewardship Guidelines

The way we handle our money reveals whether we trust God and are willing to be good stewards – obedient managers of the blessings that He provides.

byHarvey Nowland

The way we handle our money accurately reflects our faith – it’s an outward indicator of what’s going on in our spiritual lives.

Unfortunately, for years many of us have bought into what our consumer-oriented culture has encouraged us to do, overspend by using routine marketing messages such as:

Following suggestions like these has played a major role in getting individuals, our nation and much of the world into the current economic mess.

So, how can Christians even be expected to give when we’re under such economic pressure? The main reason we should give to God is really for our own sakes. When we give, we confess that He’s the owner of all we have. We’re only managers.

Keeping what we have to ourselves reveals a serious problem in our spiritual perspective. The Lord cautions us to guard our hearts against greed, covetousness, ego and pride – tools Satan uses to control and manipulate us.

“Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions (Luke 12:15 NASB).

Governments and marketers may want us to believe that the best way to get out of debt is to spend more, but God certainly tells us different. And the way we handle our money reveals whether we trust God and are willing to be good stewards – obedient managers of the blessings that He provides.

Get the Connection

Managing what belongs to God. Stewardship – God, money and faith – do you get the connection?

When Psalm 24:1 declares: “The earth is the Lords, and all it contains,” it means God owns everything and all blessings come from Him. We are to manage well those many blessings, and that includes money. It isn’t our possession; it’s Gods and we hold it in trust.

Giving is an external testimony of Gods ownership of everything in our lives, and tithing is one of the first principles of giving found in the Bible. But, the tithe is not to be understood as a limit. Keep in mind that God doesn’t own just 10 percent of our money; the other 90 percent belongs to Him too.

We should tithe and give with a willing attitude, and be sure our children and grandchildren witness our joyful giving so they’ll learn the importance of commitment.

Once a good steward establishes the tithe as the basic indication of Gods ownership, three progressive steps follow in God’s giving plan, each building on the previous. We are to give:

  1. Obediently – Sharing out of respect to God’s Word, to help with genuine needs of others.
  2. Abundantly – Sharing out of love from an abundance God may provide.
  3. Sacrificially – Surrendering individual wants in order to meet the needs of others.

Yes, the first 10 percent belongs to God, and what remains belongs to Him as well.

That Other 90 Percent

Giving expresses the spiritual commitment of a willing and obedient heart. When giving beyond the tithe, we give out of our abundance, according to the principle taught in 2 Corinthians 8:14.

We can honor God with our sacrificial giving, but this should only be the result of a heart attitude and not a desire to impress others. God is more concerned about the attitude of our hearts in giving than the percentage or the amount given.

Why Give?

Giving to God reminds us who He is, who we are, and what our relationship should be to those things He has allowed us to manage in His name.

God returns and multiplies to those who give freely. And even though He is under no obligation to multiply our gifts, He does so because He loves us.

It isn’t the amount of money given that concerns God, after all it’s all His. But, how the money is used is very important:

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB).

Don't Give Until It Hurts

The Bible presents us with a very simple and heartening illustration – we simply can’t out-give God. So, don’t worry, you’re not going to go broke by being generous.

byHarvey Nowland

When speaking of giving guidelines, we mentioned that giving to God reminds us who He is, who we are and what our relationship should be to that which He allows us to manage in His name. And this responsibility of managing what belongs to God, stewardship, is an important task.

However, good stewardship doesn’t require us to deny the real needs of our families or give until there’s nothing left to give; and it certainly doesn’t mean that we’re to give until it hurts.

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NASB).

That phrase, “God loves a cheerful giver,” is significant, because of the word cheerful. No doubt you have heard a sermon where the preacher pointed out that the Greek word for cheerful is the root word from which we get our English word hilarious. Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone should start laughing when an offering plate is passed around, but it wouldn't be a bad idea at that.

In 1994 I had the privilege of attending the National Prayer Breakfast, in Washington, D.C. Mother Teresa was the speaker. One of her statements with which I full agreed was:

“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

Those were bold words from a fearless little snippet of a woman who gave her life to tend to the needs and lives of others. But she also said something with which I couldn’t agree. She said: “This is the meaning of true love – to give until it hurts.”

Of course, I suppose we’ve all heard that statement, “Give until it hurts.” Obviously, giving until it hurts must be easy for some folks to do, because they display such a painful expression when asked to give even the minimum, whether of finances or service.

However, the Bible presents us with a very simple and heartening illustration – we simply can’t out-give God. So, don’t worry, you’re not going to go broke by being generous.

And it really doesn’t hurt. In fact, here’s an encouraging promise:

“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38 NASB).

That profoundity simply means that a generous person who gives freely to God in order to benefit others is going to prosper. If you help others with the right motivation, you’re going to be helped. When you refresh others, you will be refreshed.

Get it? You reap what you sow.

Don’t give simply for some tax advantage. Don’t give expecting the recipients to be grateful. Most will be extremely thankful, but some may not only be ungrateful, they might even resent those who give.

So, don’t give until it hurts. And, don’t give in order to be admired for your generosity. Give because giving reflects the loving and generous God who gave His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we would have the opportunity to be blessed and to bless others by giving.

Remember, giving to God reminds us who He is, who we are and what our relationship should be to Him and those things that He allows us to manage in His name.

While there may be those who encourage us to give until it hurts, it seems that God really has a much better plan. God wants us to give because it’s the right thing to do. I think that it looks as though we should feel good, even joyful, about giving – if that’s what God wants us to do.

Please, please, don’t give until it hurts. Instead, give until you feel so good about giving that you might fall down laughing (all right, maybe not that happy). But, you get the idea, so let’s remember that “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Giving During Tough Economic Times

Perhaps a better question would be: what better time than now to prove that God continues to provide for His own?

byHarvey Nowland

Sub-prime mortgage housing crisis, dramatic shifts in the global economy, bankruptcies and bailouts of companies that had been the economic backbone of our country – oh yes, the times haven't just changed, they’ve changed big-time.

We are experiencing a financial blowout that impacts our total economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2009 the growing army of the unemployed reached more than 14.5 million and counting. That means hundreds of thousands of individuals and families across our nation suffer from job loss – or the specter of that possibility.

Reaping the Burden

We’re reaping the burden of overwhelming excessive debt. God’s financial principles and instructions aren’t complicated. In fact, He designed them to be easily understood. Nevertheless, we’ve ignored Him.

Obviously, reduced income increases the need to make sound financial choices and the economic downswing we’re in amplifies that need. So, how can we be expected to continue giving during such a desperate economic time as this?

Perhaps a better question would be: What better time than now to prove that God continues to provide for His own? After all, biblical financial principles do work, and we can continue to give even during this hard-hitting economy.

It may be too late to practice prevention, but the best way for us to correct a downward financial spiral is to apply measures that will counterbalance any unbiblical financial practices and prevent further economic problems. Here are four steps to get you going – and you may want to suggest these to your state and federal government representatives.

1. The first is obvious. Stop borrowing.

“The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives” (Psalm 37:21 NASB).

Borrowing isn’t God’s best for His people and should never be used as a routine part of financial planning.

2. Start saving.

“There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up” (Proverbs 21:20 NASB).

The good news is that for the first time in decades, Americans have begun to save. Biblical principles encourage us to save for future needs instead of borrowing or using credit.

3. Ignore sales pitches such as, “buy now, before it’s too late.”

“The plans of the diligent lead certainly to advantage, but anyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5 NASB).

Patience and consistent discipline – not quick decisions – are the ways to financial security.

4. Develop and live by a budget.

“Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but the one who regards reproof will be honored” (Proverbs 13:18 NASB).

Develop and live on a monthly spending plan – and that includes giving!

Importance of a Plan

Of course, tough economic times may translate to “not enough money to make ends meet” – and that can make it very frustrating as we try to manage by living on a budget. But a spending plan is even more important now, during a tough economy. We must be good managers of what we have, especially when living on limited incomes, and a budget (spending plan) will help you do that.

Organizations such as Crown Financial Ministries can help you get started. .Or, perhaps someone in your church can help you with an in-depth evaluation of your whole financial situation, including your income, spending, debt, savings and of course your giving.

Giving – and especially giving to God – is a matter of the heart. Even though a job loss or cutback in pay may make it difficult to give, you should determine that you will commit to give something to the Lord.

Presently, you may not have a lot of spendable income, but you do have time. Perhaps you could offer to provide some sort of volunteer service to your church or to people in need within the body of Christ as a way of giving until you have found some economic relief. However, under no circumstances should you slack off from giving to the Lord.

Low income or no income is a serious difficulty for millions of people, so this would be an excellent time for each of us to adopt an “Apostle Paul attitude.” Paul said that he knew:

“How to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:12).

The remarkable part of that statement is that Paul wrote it when he materially had nothing. Economies and circumstances change, but our God is unchanging. He remains the same faithful and loving provider.

Consider this. Now would be an excellent time to prove how God provides for His own – and we can continue to give even during difficult economies. Christians should always be looking for reasons to give rather than looking for ways not to give. After all, it’s all about God, and how He provides for His children – and that’s what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 6:33.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matt. 6:33 NASB)

Balancing Giving to Church and Para-Church Organizations

byHarvey Nowland

You would think that once we recognize that everything belongs to God and all blessings come from Him, our role as stewards should be crystal clear. But are things that obvious and does being good managers of God’s provision mean that we must give back to God only through the church?

Brief history lesson

If you were to calculate the tithe and all of the various offerings given by the people of Israel in the Old Testament during the course of a year, you’d discover that they were bringing almost 25 percent of what the Bible calls their increase to the Lord’s storehouse.

The Levites were keepers of the storehouse and their job was to use what was brought in to care for the widows, needy foreigners in the area, orphans and themselves. That must have worked pretty well, because God said:

“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and… [I will]… pour out for you a blessing until it overflows…All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:10-12 NASB).

Now, fast forward

Advance the scenario through the New Testament to our day. Remember, we give not because God is running out of money, but because our giving serves as an external testimony that we understand and agree that God owns both the material and the spiritual things of our lives. He’s the source of all we need.

For most of us today, our increase isn’t crops and animals as it was in the Old Testament. Instead, it’s in the form of monetary tithes and offerings, usually given to a local fellowship of believers. Let’s say it’s the church we attend.

In turn, that church uses our tithes and gifts to spread the gospel, for the general support of the church, and to care for widows, orphans, the poor and needy. In other words, ideally, the church should serve as the storehouse in God’s economy today. Christians give to the church and then God holds the leaders of the church responsible for the distribution of those funds.

“Men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served” (Nehemiah 12:44 NASB).

In this sense, we could say that pastors and church staff, evangelists and missionaries connected to local churches are comparable to the Old Testament Levites and priests. However, a large number of local churches – perhaps the majority – do not minister fully in all the areas of ministry that are to be covered by distributions from a biblical storehouse.

If you can agree that the church encompasses the entire fellowship of believers, and not just the individual church on the street corner, then when believers give to the church we should regard this as giving to the Body of Christ, not just a local facility or denomination.

Accordingly, to the extent that a local church may be unable or unwilling to fulfill specific areas of ministry, it would seem acceptable to give funds to a non-church ministry – as long as that para-church or mission organization is biblically satisfying the gap left by the local church.

In other words, if another local church or para-church group is motivated by biblical principles to fulfill the standards described in God’s Word, they could be recipients of believers’ giving.

Use caution and discernment

In recent years, several well-known ministries have come under fire because of misusing funds for such things as buying luxuries for leaders including elaborate personal homes, extravagant cars and even jet planes.

Definitely avoid giving to ministries whose leaders maintain lavish lifestyles or use high-pressure fund-raising techniques. Of course, the Bible tells us that the “laborer is worthy of his hire,” but true ministers of Christ have servants’ attitudes concerning material possessions.

For these very reasons, it is important, before committing the Lord’s money to any organization whether Christian or secular, to ask basic questions before giving.

When God encourages Christians to help ministries outside of their local churches, it would be hard to say they were disobeying God’s Word if they’re giving as God directs them. Believers shouldn’t be encouraged to redirect giving from their local churches, but there certainly should be no legalistic attitudes involved in how and to whom we give the Lord’s money.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5 NASB).

Remember, God is concerned more with our attitude and motivation in giving rather than with how we might designate the actual gift. With hearts desiring to please God and observe biblical principle, balanced giving to church and para-church organizations can be accomplished.

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