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The Heart of a Steward Written by: Jerry Couglin
Category: Business
Article by: Nicolas
Date: 07/15/2008 10:39:50

Although these are extreme examples, I use them to illustrate a simple point—that hoarding it all is poor stewardship just as much as spending it all is. And in reality one can exercise a lack of stewardship at any point in between these extremes.

Whenever we start up another edition of Financial Peace University, my mind turns to the subject of stewardship—something we hear a lot about in Christian circles.  Stewardship and the accompanying edict to be “good stewards” are two of the foundational phrases of “church-speak.” Unfortunately, by the time a word or phrase joins this exclusive “church-speak” list, it has lost some of its potency. We are told to steward our finances, steward our time, steward the planet or, if one wants to sound particularly holy about it, steward the creation.  All this is true, but what exactly does it mean to be a good steward?

Years ago I was working with a line crew for the Boston Edison Electric Company. One afternoon we were replacing an antiquated home’s electrical service in one of Boston’s old neighborhoods. Originally this part of the city had been built up as homes for middle class families.  With the advent of suburbia in the nineteenth century, this neighborhood denigrated into a ghetto as middle class families fled the city.  In the 1980’s an upscale shopping mall was built near where this neighborhood, called the South End, transitions into hi-rise office buildings.  Almost overnight these rundown, poorly maintained buildings began to be renovated into upscale condos.  By the time my Edison crew arrived, back in the mid-90’s, one unit of these classic four- and five-story brownstones were selling for around a million dollars. 

As we parked our trucks and stepped onto the brick sidewalk, we saw small well-manicured yards shaded by old growth maple trees. Most of the yards on this particular street had tiny lawns adjacent to flower beds and ornamental plants.  The only unmaintained yard on the street was in front of the building where we were to work.  That yard was a dirt patch surrounded by shrubs that hadn’t been pruned since the invention of the seed.  The front door was weathered and needed some paint, as did all of the window frames.  The front walkway was made up of loose and broken bricks.  Inside lived an unkempt older man, who led us in.  His father had purchased this building in the 1920’s.  When his father died in the 1950’s the son had inherited it.  This man, then in his seventies, had lived there his whole life and had owned the building mortgage free since inheriting it.  He owned all five stories, each potentially worth a million dollars.  He lived on the first floor, but left the other four units unoccupied because renting them out was “too much trouble.”

This man, a retired plumber, led us through the first floor unit where he lived alone.  We were forced to carry our tools through narrow pathways lined with junk. I was shocked and saddened by what I saw.  This man was the king of all pack rats.  He slept in his living room on a queen size bed. The entire living room was stacked with old newspapers, old magazines and boxes of who knows what.  The hallway was more of the same except inside these boxes were hundreds and hundreds of copper and brass plumbing supplies.  In the kitchen there were less stacks of junk, so we got a good look at the condition of his home.  Much of the ancient horsehair plaster had fallen off of the wall exposing the wooden slats underneath.  As we climbed down the stairs, I half expected to find bodies in the basement; instead we found wall-to-wall copper pipes stacked a foot and more deep. The copper in that basement had to be worth many thousands of dollars, never mind the tools and boxes of brass and copper plumbing supplies stacked in the hallway upstairs. 

Here was a man whose net worth was easily 4 to 5 million dollars, yet he was dressed in rags and lived in conditions far worse than the people living in poverty a few miles to the west.  Was he stewarding what God had given him?  He certainly wasn’t wasting it on loose living or delving into the sin of gluttony by treating himself to the best of everything.

A few years before this incident, there was a baseball player that the Boston Red Sox had signed as a free agent.  This professional athlete was a great hitter.  During the course of his career “Player X” had been a free agent several times and had signed with a few different teams (He actually began his career with the San Francisco Giants).  By the time he arrived in Boston, his career was winding down.  Over the years, the various teams he had played for had paid him millions and millions of dollars.  Unlike our plumber friend from Boston’s South End, “Player X” did not hoard his resources.  He treated himself to a lot of the finer things in life and he collected cars as a hobby.  “Player X” ended up treating himself to so many of the nice things in life that just after he signed an  $8.7 million contract with the Red Sox, he went bankrupt.  One article about his financial woes listed him as having $11.5 million in debts and only $4.8 million in assets.  Whoops.  Good-bye cars.  Good-bye nice things.

These two men provide an interesting contrast.  We have one multi-millionaire who denies himself anything more than the barest essentials he needs to survive and another who denied himself nothing to the point of going broke.  Their tales of woe remind me of the story of the prodigal in Luke 15.   The younger son received an early inheritance, denied himself no pleasure and soon was penniless, like “Player X.”   The older brother seemed to be totally unaware of the fact that he was even entitled to an early inheritance and consequently lived the life of a servant, like the plumber.  Neither the son who spent all nor the son who spent nothing were good stewards of their father’s wealth; just as neither the plumber nor the baseball player were good stewards of what God had blessed them with in this life. 

Although these are extreme examples, I use them to illustrate a simple point—that hoarding it all is poor stewardship just as much as spending it all is.  And in reality one can exercise a lack of stewardship at any point in between these extremes.  This is true for one simple reason: at its core, stewardship is not really about money. The foundation of true biblical stewardship is renewing our hearts and minds. If we guard our hearts and minds, the other stuff will take care of itself.  To paraphrase the apostle Paul in Philippians 4, I have learned to be content with a lot of stuff and without any stuff.  The challenge we face on a daily basis is learning to steward our attitudes.

How we handle our wealth and possessions is merely an indication of our heart condition. “Where we put our treasure, there our hearts will be also” (Matt 6:21).  In verses 1-8, Jesus describes how hypocrites and heathens conduct their spiritual lives.  They pray, fast and tithe publicly in order to draw glory unto themselves.  True believers are to do similar things as the hypocrites and heathen, but believers are to do it “in secret” where only the Father can see.  In verse 8, Jesus says not to pray for stuff because the Father knows what we need before we even ask.  In verses 9-13, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Odd, isn’t it, that in verse 8 Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” but in verse 11 he tells us to pray for bread every day.  Which is true?  If the Father knows we need bread, why do we need to ask every day?  I think both things are true because I don’t think verse 11 is about bread at all.  I think it is about relationship.  This verse is more about the asker than the asking.  It is through our daily coming before Daddy-God asking for bread that we build a relationship with Him.  In that secret place mentioned in verses 5 and 7, we learn that He is eternally faithful to his word as we daily ask for bread.

It is in that unique and deep relationship with God that we discover that God will meet all of our needs and some of our wants. From the vantage point of being a child of the King of Kings, we no longer view stewardship from a place of lack—place where we must steward the little we have because if we mess up, we will run out.  When we are in a healthy relationship with a living and loving God, we steward from a place of abundance—a place where true stewardship grows out of first knowing the God who makes us stewards.

Traditionally a steward was a person who acted in another’s stead.  A steward acted on behalf of a master, a property or business owner or even ran another’s household.  Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a steward as, “a person put in charge of the affairs of a large household or estate” or “one who acts as a supervisor or administrator, as of finances and property, for another or others.”  To be a good steward one would have to understand his boss’s needs and wants, what was required to make the boss’s affairs run smoothly and to make sure the bills got paid and investments increased.  A good steward got all the things done that were expected of a “good” steward.  A great steward, however, would know his master so intimately that everything the steward did would reflect the will of the master. The closer a steward draws to his Master, the better steward he becomes, just as the closer we draw to our Master the better stewards we become.  The question before us now is “What kind of steward do you want to be?” 


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