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Tagged ‘Stewardship‘

The Anxiety Cure

If you have not heard, God recently gave me a sailboat, and by fall I hope to live aboard the vessel. I wrote about it in a recent blog post. As you read this, I am aboard the vessel, working my way home from St. Augustine, Florida, down the Intracoastal Waterway, across the Okeechobee Waterway, and north from Fort Myers to home. It will likely take a week to motor it home.

A strange thing happened the night I took ownership of the boat. In the process, I was reminded of a simple truth I’ll share with you today.

I purchased the vessel in an online auction through a charity. The boat was donated to the Christian ministry, and the ministry auctioned the boat. I was thrilled when I won the auction. As a bonus, all the funds I spent for the boat went to a Christian ministry. I made arrangements to drive to St. Augustine, Florida, to meet the donor and to inspect the vessel. Everything was better than it looked in the auction pictures, and soon I was driving home with the title and keys in hand.

I had dreamed of this day for many years, but honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed. The reality of owning a thirty-foot vessel settled in. Though I have some experience as a first mate aboard a charter sailboat, this was the first time I was responsible for everything.

At home, as I lay in bed trying to sleep, anxiety rose within me. The boat was four and a half hours away in a marina on the other side of the state. I couldn’t check on it. What if I didn’t close it up properly? What if I left a seacock open, and the boat was filling with water? What if it sank at the dock? What if the bilge pump failed? What if…?

I felt my blood pressure rising. Anxiety spread like a burning grass-fire within. But as the angst grew, God reminded me of an important truth. As he did, peace flooded the space where anxiety had swept in. A smile spread across my face. A restful sleep followed.

What made the difference? What was the truth God brought to mind? It was this: Anxiety comes when I take ownership of things that don’t belong to me. Let me explain.

I live with a stewardship mentality. I don’t own anything. The money in the bank is not mine. The house I live in is not mine. The car in my driveway is not mine. It all belongs to God. I take care of his things for him to the best of my ability. I try to steward his resources for him in a God-honoring way. It is all about God, not about me. Sometimes this means I give away large portions of the resources I manage, whenever God directs me to do so. What fun! It also frees me from the trap of loving things of this world.

Jesus spoke about this in his first major address to the throng of people who followed him.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…. No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-21, 24, ESV)

At this point in his speech, most translations insert a new paragraph before the following words. But I want you to consider with me a fresh way of looking at the words Jesus says next.

He continues by saying, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25, ESV).

Jesus seems to connect anxiety with a misplaced heart. Whenever I see the phrase, “therefore,” I look to see what it’s there for. I look to see what it is connected with. In this case, it seems it is connected with the passage immediately prior to it. He teaches us to carefully keep our love in heaven and not on things of this world. He reminds us we cannot serve God and money. Then he says, “therefore I tell you, do not be anxious…”

It seems to me the vast majority of anxiety we face is related to a failure to observe this truth. We love things of this world. Something physical, like a house, car, or, in my case, a boat, can draw our hearts away from God. Even something we cannot hold in our hands, such as a relationship or physical health, can consume our thoughts as we struggle to maintain it. A sense of security, because of the money we have saved, can pull our hearts away from God. Fill in the blank. When we love things of this world, we fear losing them. Anxiety rears its ugly head and steals into our hearts. Instead of our hearts’ dwelling in heaven, they are here on this earth. When our hearts are misplaced, anxiety is sure to follow.

Consider also the words of David: “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1, ESV).

According to Scripture, God owns all things. I may think I own something, but in the end, God can and will do whatever he pleases with the things he gives me to manage. I can choose ownership, or I can choose stewardship. The choice is mine. The consequence of taking ownership is that I bear the weight of responsibility for those things I think I own. If I am only the steward of God’s things, then my only responsibility is to manage his resources to the best of my abilities. I manage his resources as he directs me. How freeing this is! This attitude protects me from greed. It makes a significant difference in my attitude toward the things of this world. It protects me from misplacing my love for God on lesser things. My affection stays with God where it belongs.

As I lay there in bed with anxiety sweeping through my heart, I realized I had taken ownership where I should have had stewardship. Stewardship is the cure for anxiety. My heart stays solely on God. I love God with abandon. I steward what he gives me to steward. But at the end of the day, the “things” are not mine. I am just the First Mate, God is the Captain. It is his vessel. This way of thinking is so much easier.

I take care of God’s things to the best of my abilities. Knowing he is fully in control gives me rest. I am not in control. My wisdom is limited. His is unlimited. He is a far better owner than I am. I’m content to steward what he gives to me.

My friend, are you anxious today? Is something weighing heavily on your mind? Is it possible you have taken ownership where you shouldn’t? Try stewardship instead. Is your heart focused on things of this world, or the things of heaven?

Whenever we feel anxious, we should look to see if the cause is a misplaced affection. In a moment, anxiety ceases when we understand the difference between ownership and stewardship and place our hearts where they were always meant to dwell.

It is the cure for anxiety. Will you embrace it today? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stewardship and Contentment

Last week I returned from a trip to Central America. I was in Guatemala as part of a team from my home church to review several orphan care ministries with whom we were considering partnership. It was a privilege to see what God is doing there. In the coming days, I will write more about this trip. In all, it was a fantastic week.

By the time I flew home Saturday I was tired and not feeling well. I rested Sunday and then on Monday I dove into the pile of work in my office. I was still a bit drained, and my stomach was rumbling, but the workload was piling up swiftly. To complicate matters, several appliances in my home had broken while I was gone and urgently needed repair. Then a last minute invitation for an overseas ministry event arrived in the office. I needed to make decisions. I needed to order parts. I needed to purchase parts. At one point I was juggling three different text conversations at the same time. Then my laptop crashed. It felt to me like a sinkhole had opened up, and I was clawing in loose gravel to keep from sliding into the abyss. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea. It was not a good feeling!

By the time the dust had cleared, I had spent 30% of my savings in one day’s time. I was a bit shell-shocked. Like most of us, I have to carefully manage my resources. I try to plan ahead. I try to follow a budget. I try to keep a certain amount in reserve for emergencies. I try to earn extra income on the side to help with expenses. But then the ground shifts, and all of it can be wiped out in a moment.

By the time the laptop crashed for the third time, I figured out that God was trying to get my attention. Everything came to a stop as the screen suddenly went dark. I sat staring at the black hole that was my laptop as an eerie hush settled into the room. “Okay, God,” I said aloud, “what’s going on? What are you trying to tell me?”

I made a cup of coffee and settled into my chair to hear what he had to say.

God reminded me that I am supposed to live by faith. I made a commitment in 1997 that it would be God or nothing in my life. I could fill volumes with stories of God’s faithfulness since that point. It has been a miraculous journey as I have trusted him alone for my needs. But somehow lately I had forgotten that point. I take seriously the role of stewarding his resources. But I had made the mistake of becoming a better money manager than a steward. There is a difference. Let me explain.

Being a good money manager is relatively simple. Lots of people do this. You follow a budget, invest your resources for the best possible return, and plan for your retirement. You put together an emergency fund to cover six months’ worth of expenses. These are all good things for a money manager to do.

But being a steward is different. A steward is one who manages the resources of someone else. The steward does not actually own the resources he manages. The steward simply manages the assets in a way that will please the owner. A steward can be a good money manager, but a good money manager is not necessarily a good steward.

As a follower of Jesus, I am a steward of the resources God gives me to manage. I don’t actually own the resources he gives me to manage. I merely use his resources in a way that pleases him. Along the way, as I steward his things, he provides for my personal needs as well.

I think the reason the drain on my savings account hit me so hard was that I had forgotten that it wasn’t actually my savings account. I had unknowingly slipped over the line from steward to money manager. I had forgotten that I was managing God’s resources. Instead, I was frustrated because my plan for financial security was crumbling around me. I had forgotten that I was investing his resources in the way he wanted to invest them. When I use money management as a tool to provide a sense of security for myself, I cross a dangerous line. If my security is in anything but God, I am guilty of idolatry.

For me personally, the question was this: Have I used good money management to avoid having to live by faith? Ouch. It is such a subtle line to cross.

Being a good money manager is relatively easy. But being a good steward requires faith, and that can be daunting. Being a steward means that God may put me in a situation that does not make sense to me as a money manager. I have to have faith that God knows better than I do how to manage my life and ministry. God may lead me to give away the home I live in or to give away everything I have in the bank. If you are a good money manager, none of this would make sense. But when you understand stewardship, then it all becomes clear. And while it may be clear, it is not always easy. Naturally, I do not want to be in a position where I have no real control. But do we really have any control at all? Are we not all at the mercy of God’s kind hand? Are we not all moments away from financial ruin if he so chooses? How misguided we can be!

In Guatemala I visited the home of some folks who knew what it means to have next to nothing. Their homes consisted of tarps stretched over tree branches that had been stuck into the muddy ground. I don’t have the space to tell all the details here. But these people had nothing except the clothes they were wearing and food for that day. When I remember them, I can’t help but think of what Paul wrote in his first letter to his friend Timothy. This is what he said:

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV).

I hope this could be said about me.

I understand the human element of living by faith and being a steward. I know what it feels like to live with that tension between money management and stewardship. I understand the importance of contentment in every circumstance. In those moments when we feel like the ground is giving way and we are losing our grip, we can let go and find that he is waiting to catch us.

I am grateful to tell you that all these challenges did, in fact, work out for good. I booked the flights. The appliances have all been repaired. I am well rested and feeling better. And, most importantly, I am once again stewarding the riches of God’s kindness to me instead of trying to be a better money manager. I brought nothing into this world, and I will take nothing out of it. If I have food and clothing, with these I will be content.

This article was originally published in the November 2015 Newsletter.

Life is Worship

On a personal level, I often struggle to balance the responsibilities of ministry with the responsibilities I have in other areas of life. I’m referring to the responsibilities of owning and maintaining a home, a car, and all the other things that crowd into my life. I imagine many of you can relate. As a single adult, I don’t have a helpmate to assist me with the multitude of things that need attention in a home. If something needs to be taken care of around the house, I’m the one who will do it. I’m the one who mows the lawn, empties the dishwasher, vacuums the floor, dusts the furniture, pays the bills, checks the mail, trims the bushes, reconciles the bank statement, washes the windows, cleans the toilets, cleans those little bits of dried toothpaste out of the sink, checks the oil in the car, buys the groceries, and cooks the meals. If you are a single parent, you can multiply this list by one hundred. I feel your pain. I do all these things and more while trying to maintain a ministry career that often takes me away from home for extended periods of time. It can be a bit overwhelming. The grass doesn’t stop growing while I am gone.

Sometimes I feel guilty if I am working on the house while I know there are things related to ministry on which I could be focusing. Frankly, sometimes I get a bad attitude towards it and feel sorry for myself. This is where I found myself last week. I was painting the garage when it happened.

I live with a stewardship mentality. God owns everything, and I just manage what he has entrusted to me. My home is an example of this. I do not own my home. My name may be on the deed, but the reality is that God owns my home. He gave me this home, for this time, for me to live in. I am grateful for it. It is a beautiful place. But it is his, not mine. I merely take care of it for now. At any moment, God could lead me to sell the house and give away all the proceeds. It would be of no consequence to me because it is not my home. When I live this way, I receive an immense freedom to enjoy all that God has given to me. My only responsibility is to be a steward of what he has given to me. I manage it on his behalf, in the way he wants it managed.

Last week I was painting the inside of the garage. It was a project that was long overdue. I had put if off because it really was not that important to me. We’re talking about the garage after all. It was a hot day. The heat index was nearly 100 degrees. As I painted, sweat ran down my arm and dripped off my elbow, spattering the concrete floor. I was tired, and my attitude was sour. Finally I paused and looked around the room, surveying the work that still needed to be completed.

“You know, God,” I said, “If I made more money I could hire someone to do this, and I could be in the house working on an article. I could be working on something that mattered instead of just painting this stupid garage.”

I know it wasn’t fair to speak to him like that, but we have the kind of relationship where we can talk openly to one another. His reply was as frank and direct as my complaint.

“So what you’re saying to me, Tim,” he replied, “is that you think that taking care of my home is not important.”

I was immediately taken aback. It hit me hard because it was true.

I stood there with the brush in my hand and thought about a trip I took a few years ago to Kenya. One day, in the broiling African sun, I served alongside other volunteers painting a large steel gate. I did it with joy because I was serving God as I served the missionary family. It was a privilege! I worshiped God as I worked, thankful for the opportunity to serve him in this way. So what is the difference between painting a gate in Africa and painting a garage in the United States?

In that moment, everything changed for me. I looked around the garage, and I thought about how kind God had been to give me this place to live. That he would entrust me to take care of such a beautiful home was humbling to me. Immediately I hung my head and whispered, “Oh God, forgive me.”

I think for the first time in my life I understood that work could be worship. All these so-called mundane tasks can be moments for worship when I understand that I am serving the King of all Kings in the process. I had made the mistake of separating the work of ministry from the work of living and in the process had missed the wonder of worshiping and serving God in all areas of life.

David wrote,

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2, ESV).

Everything belongs to God. He created it all, so therefore it belongs to him. Everything in this world, even the animals and people that live on it, belong to him. That means your house, your car, your job, your body, your kids, your parents, or your spouse all belong to him. We simply take care of what he gives us to manage.

Paul wrote,

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him…Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24, ESV)

Whatever I do, I should do it for God. It does not matter if it is done on the mission field or at home. Everything I say and do should be done in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. I should do it with all my heart, as for the Lord and not for myself or for anyone else. I am serving Jesus when I do this.

It was a profound moment for me, and it changed the way I live my life. Yes, all these tasks still need to be taken care of, but now they are moments for worship. If I am trimming the bushes, I am tending God’s garden. If I am reconciling the bank statement, I am managing God’s money. If I am cleaning the little bits of toothpaste out of the sink, I am making God’s bathroom sparkle. I’m doing it for him, not for me, and that changes everything. I’m doing it for someone I love dearly. What a privilege it is to serve him in the mundane things.

Worship is no longer just an event on Sunday. It is that moment on Monday when I am emptying the dishwasher. It is that moment on Tuesday when I am cleaning the house for a small group meeting. It is that moment on Wednesday when I am grocery shopping, and I consider his faithfulness to provide food for me to eat. It is that moment on Thursday when I am writing a devotional. It is that moment on Friday when I am sharing an evening with friends. It is that moment on Saturday when I am fishing from the shore and marveling that I get to live in such a beautiful place. Every moment of my life is an opportunity for worship.

Friend, what is it in your life right now with which you are struggling? Perhaps, like me, you find yourself in a place where you are having a pity party over some challenge you are facing. That person, problem, or situation belongs to God, not to you. Our responsibility is not to balance all the competing needs, but to remember that they all belong to God alone. We are merely serving God in the process.

I close with the words of the psalmist David who wrote:

Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:2-4, ESV)

That day in my garage, I turned on some worship music and continued to paint. The sweat still dripped from my elbow in the heat, and my arm was still tired from dragging the paint brush across the concrete block, but everything had changed. Suddenly that humble garage had become the temple of the Most High God. I was painting his temple. I was painting his home. I was humbled by the privilege to serve him in this way, and I was worshiping him in the process. I was no longer trying to balance the work of ministry with the other responsibilities in life. All of my life had become ministry. All of my life had become a moment to worship, and I had been changed as a result.

Life is worship. Worship is life.

This article was originally published in the August 2015 Newsletter.