December 4, 2016

Truths That Transform: Thankful Stewardship

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV

We’re familiar with the instruction of Scripture that tells us that our attitude in giving is what matters to God: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) This cheerfulness comes as a result of an attitude of thanksgiving. But thanksgiving isn’t just a mindset for giving – it’s an approach to all areas of stewardship.

Scripture teaches us the importance of a pervasive spirit of thanksgiving; here are just a couple examples:

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” — Colossians 3:17

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7.

So, how does thanksgiving apply specifically to each area of stewardship? Following are a few ideas:

Earning: With all the stress that often accompanies our jobs (and with our sometimes unbalanced lifestyle between work and personal lives), it can be counterintuitive to be thankful for our work. But work itself is a gift from God, and our ability to produce income also comes from him: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). The purpose of this instruction to Israel was to keep them from becoming conceited in their wealth and forgetting to be thankful to God. Gratitude for God’s provision of work, health, and the ability to provide for our families is a great way to remember that all we have comes from God.

Giving: Of course, gratitude forms the basis for our giving. Our gratitude for the ability to earn overflows into our giving. God is concerned more about the attitude of our hearts in giving than about the number on a check: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ideally, our giving should produce the grateful joy that we see in Israel at the giving of the leaders for the construction of the Temple: The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly (1 Chronicles 29:9). This kind of wholehearted, free, cheerful giving is only possible out of a heart of gratitude.

Saving: A heart of gratitude helps us to save wisely without crossing the line into hoarding. Paul equates greed with idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5). Jesus warned against greed in the parable of the bigger barns (Luke 12:15-21). Gratitude reminds us that God is the source of all that we have, and leads us away from hoarding and to being rich toward God (Luke 12:21). At the same time, gratitude to God as the source of all we have keeps us from squandering his provision, as the prodigal son did with his inheritance (Luke 15:13). This gratitude leads to the wisdom that guides us into prudent saving (Proverbs 6:6-8; 21:20).

Debt: Gratitude for God’s provision teaches us to be content, and that contentment is a great protection against the lure of materialism that can lead us into debt. Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13). Paul’s gratitude for the Philippians’ financial support (Philippians 4:10) further feeds his attitude of contentment, as he sees how God continually provides his needs. Paul’s gratitude to God and to the Philippians enables him to focus more on what he has than what he doesn’t have. This same focus can keep us from spending ourselves into debt.

Spending: Our lifestyle choices are also impacted by gratitude. In the same way that contentment affects our likelihood of going into debt, it also affects our spending. Paul wrote to Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). The writer to the Hebrews echoes this idea: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). The person who is grateful for God’s provision of a working, safe car is less likely to be enticed by marketers to buy a new, more expensive car.

A mindset of gratitude establishes a framework for stewardship rooted in all that God has done and continues to do in our lives – a powerful counterweight to the pull of the culture.