Back in 1992, I married my best friend, Carolyn Brooks. She was a freshman at Ouachita in 1989; I was a senior. She refused to date me because, well, I had dated a lot at OBU. In fact, when I met her, I was dating one of her friends. Needless to say, our romantic relationship took a long time to develop, and as a result, we experienced an amazing depth and richness to our friendship before romance was ever a factor.
After marrying, we moved to Garland, Texas where I served on staff at First Baptist Church as a youth intern. It was a storybook time in our lives – in spite of Caro having recently undergone treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease. However, in the midst of the excitement of working with youth, living in a great, amazing house (another story for another day), we entered a prolonged and somewhat heated debate about finances. It went something like this:
Jeff: “We have to pay our bills before we “tithe.” God understands that; why can’t you?” (The reality was that I had several thousand dollars in credit card bills when we married. I had sold my share of Advantage Advertising and ended up having to forgive the debt of the guy who bought it when he was unable to make the business work. However, that had not stopped me from spending a lot of money with the assumption that the money was going to come in… Got the picture?)
Carolyn: “I don’t care what you think. We’re going to give 10% of our income to our church. I’ve always done this, and God has always been faithful.”
Jeff: “You’re absolutely crazy. You’re being so legalistic. We live in an age of grace. God expects us to pay our creditors.”
Caro: “NO, God expects us to honor Him with the firstfruits of our lives, whether that be money, time, or talents. There is no option here. I’m not budging.”
It was not just a stalemate. It was a checkmate.
So I did what any good husband would do at this point. I let her have her way so that I could prove how wrong she was. My thinking went something like this:
I’ll be glad to write this stinking check to the church. I’ll write it and just watch as we can’t pay our bills at the end of the month. Then I’ll smugly point out to Carolyn just how wrong she was, but in a gentle-twisted-sadistic way. I’m gonna love being right on this one.
Imagine my shock and incredulity when we reached the end of that first month, having written a fairly sizeable giving check, (in my eyes, any amount over $20 here or $50 there to the church was extremely generous; I was shocked at how much 10% was and was already planning on pointing out what that money could have done for us had we not given it to the church) to discover that we had money left over… Oh no. It couldn’t be.
Carolyn was incredible about it. No “I-told-you-so” dance or smug attitude. I figured it was a fluke and set out to prove my point the next month as we wrote our giving checks first, before paying our bills. 4 weeks later, however, it had happened again. All bills paid – in spite of having given so much (in my eyes) to the church.
To make a long story short, it was only a 3-month skirmish in our marriage. It couldn’t even be classified as a battle because I never got to fire a shot. Caro was right. Period. God could be trusted to take care of our finances when we worshipped Him with them first. At the end of that year, not only had I been converted into a giver, but we were completely out of debt. Several thousand dollars of debt.
That’s why stewardship is exciting to me. It’s an opportunity for me to tell people who aren’t there yet how amazing it is to witness your life being renovated from the inside out when we become stewards instead of owners. You see, owners clutch,protect, and depend upon their possessions; while a steward uses, gives, and manages another’s possessions. It is really all about your worldview.
If you consider that all you have is yours because you’ve earned it or deserved it, then you are an owner. If you consider that all you have has been given to you and that you have the privilege of managing what you have, then you become a steward.
For years I was an owner; however, after having spent the last 13 growing as a steward, I can honestly and passionately say that I will never go back. It’s not like I have “mastered” stewardship. Stewardship, rather, masters you. It requires constant vigilance upon your attitude, because ownership can sneak back into your life.
I find that it is not only Christians that have learned the amazing concept of stewardship and generosity. A quick tour through the best financial courses or books on money management today reveal that it is a world-wide, established, and proven principle. When you live on less than you make, giving a percentage, saving a percentage, and establishing a lifestyle of generosity, you become much happier, peaceful, and purposeful about life.
For Christians, I encourage you to check out generousgiving.org, particularly their page on excuses why people don’t give. In addition, Randy Alcorn’s amazing little book, The Treasure Principle will encourage you and set you on the right path. For a more secular approach (but with many of the same conclusions, I would get Peter Block’s Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest.
Learning to worship God with your possessions, time, and money through stewarship is one of the most exciting stages of growth in a person’s life. What God does in your life as a result is even more amazing. I mean, who are we, that He should stoop to bless us? He could command obedience. Yet, He chooses rather to bless it.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites had gotten stingy and forgotten the Source of all life. Malachi the prophet addresses them:
“I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse?the whole nation of you?because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
I am so thunderstruck by God’s offer to allow us to test Him in our giving. He practically begs us to. He desires that people see that He is faithful to His Word and that living a life of generosity and worship is far better than living a life of selfish ownership.
I also noticed the implication that when things we not going right for the Israelites, it was because they had failed to surrender to God their “tithe” – their willing love offerings to Him. The pests had started devouring their crops as a form of discipline from the Lord. We do not give to God in order to be blessed by Him, but in order to bless Him. It is an act of joyful worship. However, the resultant blessing from Him is established, firm, and promised.
So many folks wonder why their finances, homes, or businesses are a mess. I wonder if they have ever considered that they may be under some kind of discipline due to their lack of worship through stewardship. It’s not that they cannot afford to give; they can’t afford NOT to give.
I love the passage in Deuteronomy 8, where it’s revealed that the Israelites had long-lasting loafers during their 40 years in the wildnerness:
“Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.”
God is able to make your dishwasher go an extra mile if He so desires. I am confident that when we put God first in our finances, we experience prolonged provision and personal peace. It is vitally important that we acknowledge Him as the Source of what we have and who we are. When we cling to our things and our dollars as owners, it’s as rebels who refuse to worship the Ultimate Giver.
When the Israelites first returned to Israel after being captive in Babylon for 70 years, they were quick to establish their own homes and cultivate lifestyles of personal comfort. While they lived in relative ease, however, the work on the temple went undone, as did the service of ministry for lack of attention and the people’s giving. After some time, however, the prophet Haggai shared this message from the Lord with them:
“You have planted much, but have 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.”
In other words… it was no accident that these people who put their own homes first had begun to experience breakdown in their livelihoods (crops), their personal effects (clothes) and their income. They were working harder than ever, but they had nothing to show for it. God had created a no-win situation for them, in order to get their attention. I encourage you to read Haggai 1 in this context.
I’d love to hear from any of you who have proven God faithful through your humble stewardship and generous giving. I’d also love to help anyone who “ain’t there yet.” The important thing is beginning somewhere.
Again, check out generousgiving.org – they have a wealth of resources for everyone – wherever you are on this journey.