Erika F. Puni, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: Stewardship is the lifestyle of one who makes his or her plans, but lives the will of God, daily. In ministry and life, we are challenged to let go of the remote control and let Jesus reign supremely in our hearts.
I was waiting for my car at a suburbia Ford dealer in Sydney, Australia, when a framed statement on the office wall caught my eye. The statement was an acronym of the word PLANS which expressed “Ford’s Management Commitment Plans.” As a preacher who is always looking for sermon illustrations, I was interested in what I saw. Here is what that Ford PLANS stood for:
Plan for success and perform to the plan
Lead not just manage
Accountable for actions, and Act to achieve best results
Concentrate on Necessities and be Necessary to add value
Create Satisfactory workplace and totally Satisfy customers
When I read these words, I could not help but think of how Christians can learn from this commitment plan and its values, and my mind went to the New Testament passage in James 4:13-17. The apostle James was interested in practical Christianity, and he wanted God’s people to live out their faith in the ordinary things of life. One of those important aspects of Christian living was planning—thus his observations and emphasis of James 4:13.
Message 1: Make your plans today
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money”(Jm 4:13). James may have heard of Christian traders (or businessmen) in the church, talking about their plans to travel from one location to another, set up shop, and make profit from the sale of their services or products. In this verse, he compliments these industrious individuals who understand the principles and value of good organization and planning. In his view, such an approach to life is consistent with Christianity—living life to the full in the present, and planning for the future.
In the twenty-first century, this same emphasis is evident in the corporate world where we hear terms like “corporate plans,” “strategic plans,” and “annual plans.” All these business concepts and practices make one point: success is contingent on good planning. God’s people, Christian stewards, are encouraged to do the same for themselves, their families, and their churches. Planning is not only biblical, it is good stewardship practice.
However, it is one thing to have plans established, but another to develop “smart” plans. This understanding of the difference between “smart” and “dumb” plans became more apparent to me during the first Gulf War when America and its allies used “smart” bombs to hit far-away targets that were too difficult or risky to approach at close range. Microchips inserted in the electronic systems of these bombs ensured that these weapons would be able to hit their targets more accurately than before. Using another acronym—SMART—we are reminded of these important components of planning:
S = Smart plans are specific, and are clearly defined.
M = Smart plans are measurable and can be assessed at any time.
A = Smart plans have a good fit, appropriate to the environment and situation.
R = Smart plans are realistic, and have been carefully thought through.
T = Smart plans are developed with a due date in mind, they are time specific.
Message 2: Life is uncertain and brief
While James encourages Christians to be organized and to plan wisely, he balances this futuristic view with the message that human life in this world is brief. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Jm 4:14). His rhetorical question is meant to challenge the casual mind about the purpose of human existence.
So, what is life? James answers with an object lesson about a thin cloud of vapor that is visible in the morning, but when the sun rises or the winds blow, the mist disappears. His point is, life is short! And so, while we should plan our daily schedule for the office and home; while it is OK to set out our travel itinerary for the year and our family vacations; we must always remind ourselves that these are only plans. That as humans we are subject to ill health, we are prone to personal accidents, we can be the victim of natural disasters, and death is also waiting at the door.
Given this reality, Christians must make use of every opportunity they have in life, and must heed the testimony of the preacher “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” for today is all that is given to us (Ec 9:10). Life is even too short to be miserable. Yes, life is unfair and suffering and trials are part of our lot on this side of the second coming, but we must learn to look at life each day and say “Lord, thank you for another opportunity to live, to love, and to serve you.”
Message 3: Seek God’s will in all things
While James affirms the practice of smart planning, he also reminds believers to maximize life’s opportunities, because human existence is temporal. With this picture clearly painted, he now turns to the thesis of this part of his letter, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (Jm 4:15). In James’ heart, as a leader of God’s people, his desire and primary concern is that church members make the matter of living God’s will a priority.
The apostle does not discourage human effort and initiative, as demonstrated in his emphasis on planning, but he offers a spiritual perspective that puts God first and foremost in all our endeavors. Simply put, the will of God is the constant factor that brings success, joy, peace, contentment, satisfaction, and a sense of wholeness. This view is fundamental for Christians, given the temporality of life on earth.
So where should God’s will be applied? It ought to dictate every facet of our Christian life and experience. In our homes, our workplace, our churches, in our relationships, business proposals, and even in our personal plans. Everything must come under the lordship of Jesus Christ—His will. If He really is Lord, then He is Lord of all: our worship, our leadership, our families, our technology, our economy, and our conversation.
Message 4: Sin is living outside God’s will
In some parts of the Bible, sin is defined as the breaking of God’s law (1Jn 3:4). In James’ mind, however, sin is when Christians seek to live outside the realm of God’s reign and control. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, sins” (Jm 4:17). In other words, when we place our trust in ourselves and our abilities, without any consideration of God, we sin. When we thrust God to the side and take no notice of His presence; when we commit to our plans and do not consult Him, we sin.
As Christian stewards and God’s people today, we can learn the lessons of yielding to God’s will from the example of Christ Himself. Jesus’ desire was to always do the will of His Father. This was the underlying factor in His relationship with God. Nothing took the place of God in His heart. When teaching the disciples how to pray He said, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). In the Garden of Gethsemane and before the cross, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Mt 26:42).
There was no situation too big or too small that Jesus did not share with His Father. And when he was tested with abuse, isolation and suffering, and the cross loomed ever so near, He continued to trust His Father and allowed God’s will to rule, whatever the cost. In your ministry and life today, will you let go of the remote control you hold and let Jesus reign supremely in your heart? If you do, then you are living the principles of Christian stewardship. Stewardship is the lifestyle of one who makes his or her plans, but lives the will of God, daily.