A devotional guide on Christian stewardship
In the present state of mankind, [money] is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. It may be a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death! It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent; that they be instructed how it may answer these glorious ends, and in the highest degree. (John Wesley, Sermon number 50, The Use of Money)
Money is a difficult topic for most Christians. It doesn’t matter whether we are clergy or laity, there’s something about money that makes us uncomfortable… especially in the context of faith.
Maybe our discomfort goes back to our commonly held belief that money is the root of all evil. Money may be necessary for our lives in the world. We may need it to provide ourselves and our loved ones with homes, food, clothing, education, medical care, transportation, and entertainment. Yet, we continue to feel as thought there’s something inherently dirty (and most likely sinful) about it. So if we have money, we don’t like to talk about it. We certainly don’t want others to know how much we have. And if we don’t have money, we try our best to pretend that it’s no big matter. Somehow we’ll get along.
We certainly don’t like to talk about money in church. It’s as if God and money have nothing to do with each other… as though sacred worship and prayer need to be separated as far as possible from unrighteous money. This may be why so many ministers (myself included) dread annual stewardship campaigns. It may also be why attendance in worship typically declines during stewardship months. And yet – believe it or not – the Bible has far more to say about money than it does about almost any other topic. Among the things the Bible tells us are:
- If riches increase, do not set your heart on them. (Psalm 62:10)
- A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. (Proverbs 10:4)
- The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
- No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24)
- For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:10)
And that’s just a small fraction of everything the Bible has to say about money. In fact, money is one of the central issues addressed by biblical authors.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, understood the importance of money both to our physical and to our spiritual lives. His sermon entitled The Use of Money provides important guidance on the role that money should play in the lives of Jesus’ followers. Unlike many, Wesley is not afraid of money. He sees it as an essential tool in people’s efforts to lead healthy and productive lives. But just like any tool, it is capable of being use for contradictory ends… to do good or to do bad… to enhance life or to cause harm… to build community or to sow chaos… to do God’s will or to defame God’s honor. More consequentially, money can be used with complete thoughtlessness, giving little or no attention at all to the impact that its use might have on individuals and communities.
Above all else, Wesley’s sermon is a call for Christians to be prayerful and mindful as they make decisions about how to earn, save and spend their money. In Wesley’s way of thinking, Christian stewardship is not just a matter of giving money to the church. It is, more fundamentally, a question of how we use all of our resources, including our money, for the glory of God and the wellbeing of God’s people.
A PRAYER BY JOHN WESLEY
O merciful God,
whatever you may deny me,
do not deny me this love.
Save me from the idolatry of loving the world,
or any of the things of the world.
Let me never love any creature but for your sake
and in subordination to your love.
Take full possession of my heart;
raise there your throne
and command there as you do in heaven.
Being created by you, let me live to you;
being created for you, let me ever act for your glory;
being redeemed by you, let me render to you what is yours;
and let my spirit ever cleave to you alone. Amen.
WEEK ONE – EARN ALL YOU CAN!
I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling! … No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might!
(John Wesley, “The Use of Money”)
Those who till their land will have plenty of food,
but those who follow worthless pursuits have no sense.
John Wesley has no use for those who disparage money as a bad or sinful thing. Money is a tool – no more, no less – and it is capable of being put to a wide variety of good and bad purposes. The real issue has never been money in and of itself, but rather the intent of the people who make use of it. So, rather than being discouraged from pursuing money, people need to be taught how to make and use it in ways that are godly and just. To do this, Wesley proposes three plain and simple rules, the first of which is “Gain all you can!”
Recognizing that money is necessary both to provide for a person’s own needs and for the needs of the wider community, Wesley nevertheless encourages his followers to be wise in their decisions about how to make money. He knows that not all work is good work. He understands that some work should be avoided, no matter how much it pays. This is why he tells his followers:
We ought to gain all we can gain, without buying gold too dear, without paying more for it than it is worth.
Wesley asserts that Christians should follow a few simple guidelines as they determine the kind of work they will do in pursuit of monetary gain:
- Don’t earn money by engaging in work that will jeopardize your life or health;
- Don’t earn money in ways that will cause harm to your mind or your conscience;
- Don’t earn money in ways that will endanger the physical, economic or spiritual wellbeing of your neighbors.
Wesley insists that it’s a Christian’s “bounden duty” to make as much money as he or she can, so long as that money is earned in ways that glorify God, edify the community of God’s people, and benefit the world that God has made and loved. Wesley’s call to “gain all you can” is not a call to selfishness or even unrestrained capitalism. It is a call for Christ’s followers to acquire the wealth and resources to survive and do God’s will in the world, using all the understanding and common sense that God has given them.
Read Deuteronomy 8:18
Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
For a few moments consider the financial and other resources that you have managed to acquire during your lifetime.
Where was the hand of God at work helping you to gain these much-needed resources?
How is God helping you now in your efforts to gain even more?
God, you are generous, and all that I have comes from you! Help me to recognize your hand at work in my life to bring me the financial and other resources I need to survive and thrive in this world. Teach me always to be grateful. Amen.
Read Luke 14:28
Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?
For a few moments, think about the plans you are making for the next few years of your life.
What are the resources you need to acquire in order to ensure you can bring these plans to fruition?
How will your efforts to carry out these plans bring glory to God or otherwise benefit God’s people?
God of the past and God of the future, guide my planning so that all I do during the course of my life will glorify you. To the extent that my goals and plans are in accordance with your will, help me to gather the resources I need to bring them to completion. Amen.
Read Proverbs 21:5
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.
For a few moments, think about some times in your life when you were actively pursuing a worthwhile goal.
How did you exercise diligence in pursuing those goals? What thought did you give to the resources you would need, the strategies you would follow, and the actions you would undertake?
Were there moments when your desire to achieve a goal led to thoughtless haste? What were the consequences of your hastiness?
To what extent did you seek God’s wisdom and will in pursuing these goals?
God who brings order out of chaos, teach me to be diligent and wise as I seek to do your will in the world. Calm my anxiety and slow down my haste so that I might be attentive to your still small voice as it leads me toward your abundance. Amen.
Read 2 Corinthians 9:8
And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
For a few moments, consider how you have received God’s blessing in abundance at various times and in various ways throughout your lifetime.
Were there times when you had difficulty seeing God’s blessings in the moment? What prevented you from recognizing the presence of God’s goodness in your life?
How is God blessing you now? Where do you see abundance beginning to take shape in the day-to-day realities of your existence? How are you giving thanks to God for these blessings?
God, you bless me with abundance in all the circumstances of my life. Open my eyes to see through the veil of anxiety and fear that too often keep me from recognizing the good that you are doing. Help me to see glimmers of hope even in the darkest of moments so that I might always live in gratitude to you. Amen.
Read Matthew 6:34
Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
For a few moments, think about the worries and anxieties that tend to dominate your thinking and keep you from living fully in the present.
How does worry about matters ranging from your personal finances to the national economy, from your individual health to the global pandemic, from the wellbeing of your family to the state of national politics, have an impact on your capacity for believing and trusting in God?
What, if any, are the signs that God’s goodness and grace are already active in the current circumstances of your life?
What practical hope and peace can you draw from knowing that God is with you, no matter what is going on in your own life or in the world around you?
God, I worry! You know that I do! And in my worry, I sometimes fail to see you… even though my faith teaches me that you are always beside me. Touch my heart with your grace. Give me faith to break free from the narrow confines of my anxieties and fears, so that I may view the world through the lens of your boundless love. Amen.
Read Matthew 6:24
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
For a few moments, consider one or two times in your life when you felt most devoted to God and most committed to God’s ways?
What are the things in your life that most readily come between you and God? How do they first intrude into your relationship with God, and by what means does your service to them gradually displace your service to God?
What role does money play in your life? How do you bring your relationship with money into harmony with your service to God? Are there changes you could or should make in light of Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 6:24?
O God of abundance, you have promised to provide for all of my needs. And yet, there are still times when I worry that I won’t have enough. Save me from becoming a slave to the pursuit of money and the things that money can buy. Teach me instead to put my relationship with your first, so that I may devote all that I am, all that I earn, and all that I have to your good purposes for me and for this world in which I live. Amen.
Read 1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
For a few moments, ponder the power that money exercises over your life, either by its presence or by its absence. Consider the time, energy and creativity that you expend thinking about money and about how to acquire it.
What do you think John Wesley means when he states: “We ought to gain all we can gain, without buying gold too dear?” What have you expended in pursuit of money? What have you sacrificed in order to acquire money?
The apostle Paul does not assert that money is the root of all evil, though many presume that he does. It is the love of money, not money itself, that too often leads to “all kinds of evil.” How does the love of money manifest itself in your life? What damage has it caused? What steps can you take to root it out?
Save me, O God, from anything that supplants you in my heart and mind. Correct me when I cease to treat money as a tool for serving you, and turn it instead into an idol that demands service from me. Free me from the love of money, so that I may love you with all my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor as myself. Amen.