WHEN OUR STEWARD THEOLOGY IS PUT TO THE TEST
August 24, 2023
For the past 25 years, I have been teaching and writing about what it means to live a life of true freedom as a faithful steward of all of life. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to experience the reality of that life in a new way.
One of the exercises I most like to challenge listeners to take on is to gather all the papers and documents that symbolize the things we own in this world and place them in one big pile on your dining room table. This includes deeds to your house, titles to your car, investment accounts, bank accounts, portfolios, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and adoption papers. Once all these symbols of the world’s view of ownership have been amassed, the challenge is to gather the family around the table and surrender all of it to God. Our prayers acknowledging God’s ownership of everything demonstrates that we take seriously our understanding that, in the end, nothing belongs to us. By this simple exercise, we test the disposition of our spirits and the extent to which we can embrace the detachment from any claim to absolute ownership of anything in this world. Even ourselves. Only from this existential distance we begin to experience the freedom of the steward and the abundant life Jesus promised us.
Well, that exercise became painfully real for Linda and me yesterday. This is fire season in Spokane. From about mid-July through the blessed rains of late September, we live in the ever-present knowledge that, at any moment, wildfires could threaten our homes and even our lives. Three days ago, two large fires broke out in our area, one to our northeast and one to our southwest. Both were just far enough away to keep us in preparation but not evacuation mode.
Then, during a Zoom call, our power went out yesterday. A quick call to our utility company confirmed the worst. A new fire had broken out just a mile north of us and was the cause of our power outage. As Linda and I hung up the phone, we took a deep breath and began preparations for evacuation. We had planned this on paper and prepared for it in theory, but now the prospect was real that our home and all its contents could be in danger.
We worked on our plan, identifying all the items we would pack in the back of our car and pickup. I did an updated video of all the main rooms and contents in our house, and we watched and waited for word of the progress of the new fire. As we waited, we looked at our list and then around at our house, and an unexpected but not unwelcome feeling swept over us. We examined the things we would pack and take away that were irreplaceable or carried the greatest value for us, and the list was surprisingly short. We talked for a few minutes about what it would be like to lose everything else. We are only one year into a new house that we planned for three years and hoped would be the last place we would live before God takes us home. As much as we love this house and feel so blessed by all its contents, we were met with a deep sense of peace and contentment at the thought that it could all be gone within hours.
Part of the peace came from the realization that everything could be replaced. But beyond that, there was a deeper sense that none of this is ours. God has blessed us with so much and, as the Psalm said, “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” If He wanted all this back as a sacrifice, as smoke literally rising up to heaven, then so be it. It’s His anyway.
I take no credit for this reaction. This only happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. But when it happens, it is one of the purest forms of freedom. The story ends well. The fire that caused the power outage was small and quickly contained. The power came back on within a few hours, and glory be to God; today the landscape is blanketed in a gray, cold, steady rain. Nothing could be more life-giving and welcome than sweet summer rain on a smoky, dry, and vulnerable landscape.
My takeaway from this experience is the profound truth woven throughout this steward theology. We are only temporary travelers through this life. God truly is the provider of all we are and all we have. His provision is always good, always satisfying, and always enough. And should the Lord choose to take away part or all of what He has provided for us, His gracious hand will replenish and restore, according to His loving grace and mercy.
I like to think I could write the same words while walking through the rubble of a home that burned to the ground. Of course, I pray I will never have to know if that is true, but many in our community have, and I pray they have the peace we felt yesterday. It was genuine, and it was life-giving. My prayer for you is that your own journey toward becoming a more fully surrendered, faithful steward will produce in you the same fruit of freedom, just as it generates a heart of gratitude, generosity, and joy.
God bless you.