Stewardship: How I lost It and My Journey Back

Patrick G. McLaughlin, President/Founder, The Timothy Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Summary: The author in this article redefines stewardship as “Obedient ownership.”Many of us have lost our way and our perspective of God’s expectations and commands and have become “disobedient owners. The way to get back on course is to acknowledge you need help in this “obedient ownership” journey. God wants us to consider our ways, our lifestyles, our investments, but most of all—our giving patterns.

In my new book, Haggai and Friends: Sixty-six Perspectives on Stewardship, I redefined the practice of biblical stewardship as “Obedient Ownership.” If stewardship is everything we do after we say we believe (becoming a Christian), this journey here on earth as a steward is very important. It is easier to be a disobedient owner, than an obedient one. It is so easy to lose our way on this stewardship journey. Yes, God is concerned about how we manage our time, our talent, our treasure, our vocational call, our mission and our ministry, our children, our homes, our automobiles, all that the Ultimate Owner (God the Father) has entrusted us to manage here on earth.

Losing Our Way
Just like the children of Israel, many of us have lost our way and our perspective of God’s expectations and commands and have become “disobedient owners.” We have lost our true love of God and His Son the Lord Jesus. The deity being worshipped today by many in our churches is the god of materialism and possessions. This worldwide economic meltdown seems to have originated from our personal greed. Let’s face it we want more! Many believers have sold out to the world’s system and have their self worth and their net worth confused.

In 522 BC, a group of Jewish exiles were set free from Babylon, to go back home to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. They started rebuilding, and then quit. They lost their way on their “obedient ownership" journey and had stopped building for 14 years. God used a prophet named Haggai to get their attention and encouraged them to get back on track, back on the path:

Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD (Haggai 1:3-8 NIV).

Go ahead, ask yourself, is God the owner of all things (the Ultimate Owner), attempting to get our attention because we have lost our way on this lifelong “obedient ownership” journey? Are we seeking to manage all that we have according to the will of the Ultimate Owner?

Lost
Becoming an obedient owner and managing our lives according to God’s will is not an easy task. It takes obedience and discipline. It takes saying "no" to the wrong choices and "yes" to the right choices. I need to be a steward/an obedient owner because I am constantly being seduced by covetousness, the worship of money, and the things money will buy. Even though God instructs us to use things and love people, I am constantly in danger of loving things and using people.

The worship song, Wonderful Merciful Savior, reminds us of our struggle to stay on track, “Counselor, Comforter, Keeper; Spirit we long to embrace; You offer hope when our hearts have; Hopelessly lost the way; Oh, we've hopelessly lost the way.” It is so easy to think that all of our resources belong to us and we can use them any way we choose.

Unfortunately for some Christians, lost is more than a quirky television show about a plane crash survivor—it describes their lifelong “obedient ownership/stewardship” journey that has veered off course. Many of us will admit we have lost our way. Malachi 3:8 states, “we have robbed God” and have become embezzlers. No, we can’t break into the bank of heaven and rip off God. Instead, we took the first fruits, the tithe, and our offerings and spent them on ourselves. As Christians, are our giving patterns or our spending patterns our first consideration? C.I. Scofield said, “Don’t show me the worn tattered pages of a man’s Bible, show me his checkbook and I will show you wherein his values lie.”

Revival
So I have lost my way and begun to fudge a bit with my generosity, time, and talents. How do I retrace my steps back from being a disobedient steward to living and practicing “obedient ownership?” Honestly evaluate where you are and begin a process of revival and renewal as a biblical steward.

Revival is defined “as bringing someone back to life,” “the recovery of life consciousness to full strength," “a desire to foster new, on the old," "a renewal,” or a "re-awakening.” Are you ready for revival? Are you willing to take on this kind of challenge and growth in your walk with Christ? Becoming an “obedient owner" is not easy—it is rewarding.

The Road Map
The Scriptures are the unfolding story of God’s redemption of humanity. The theme of stewardship can be found in all 66 books of the Bible. Perhaps He knew the challenge we would have with “obedient ownership.” The journey began at creation. God created man and woman and our first job description was to “be obedient” and “to steward” the garden. We blew it and we are still blowing it. Money is such an emotionally charged issue. Time can be even more valuable than our checkbook and investment accounts. How we invest our God-given talent in His work here on earth is critical to our spiritual maturity.

Now, perhaps more than ever, the message of the minor prophet Haggai speaks truth into our lives with a clear road map. If you will be “obedient owners/stewards/servants,” I will bless you and turn your turbulent times into thriving blessings. It is the same promise God makes to us today. To obey is better than sacrifice. It is the road to maturity in your walk with the Lord. It is a counter cultural thought process, but stewardship is God’s way of making us grow and mature in our faith.

The GPS
Looking for direction in your life as a steward? It’s at your finger tips. You can't find it in Forbes, Fortune, or The Wall Street Journal. The answer is found in God’s Word, the Bible. Surprise! The way to get back on course is to acknowledge you need help in this “obedient ownership” journey. There are more verses in the New Testament on stewardship than love and prayer combined. The prophet Haggai challenged Israel to “consider your ways" five different times in his short 38 verse book. The GPS will guide you on a trip across town or across the nation. I believe God wants us to consider our ways, our lifestyles, our investments, but most of all—our giving patterns.

Obedient Owners Sign Up Here
The tithe/the first fruits are not ours to spend on ourselves. Consider a plan often called the 10-10-80 plan. Start with the most important investment a 10% tithe to your church. Obedient owners, it’s not an option, it's an imperative. Invest 10% in a savings program and let it grow and learn to live on the 80%. Test God! Take a 90-day tithing/giving challenge. We cannot out give our Gracious Heavenly Father. He is The Ultimate Owner.

He has promised to bless those who will honor Him and His word in this area. Here is your job description for “obedient ownership,” “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds and be generous ready to share, in this way they will lay up treasure for the coming life which is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:18-19).

Simply stated, love your neighbor (do good), implement the great commission (rich in good deeds) and be a generous giver. This map will get your spiritual maturity journey back on track!

Article first published in the April–June, 2011 issue of the Dynamic Steward Journal.