The smell of burning food filled my tiny kitchen.
“What is that smell?” I asked a friend who was sharing my house for the week. Every young man knows the smell—familiar from an early age—their first acquaintance comes from burnt toast and camping trips where, after burning everything you tried to cook, you end up eating your baked beans straight from the can.
As we grow and leave the protective nest of parental love, we must fend for ourselves, creating a new society of hunter-gatherers, who rely on microwaves and two-minute noodles.
I opened my archaic oven. (I am sure it was converted from wood-fire after the invention of electricity.) There, a frozen pizza cooked happily. Unfortunately, what we did not know was the bottom was already charcoal black. Since we could not find any sort of tray to place it on, the pizza had been put in as it came out of the box—frozen and firm.
I now know that a tray is useful for more than catching crumbs. After salvaging what we could, it was time to resort to a faithful friend—noodles. These are the rites of passage, the final steps to adulthood. It is the time when a young man leaves his mother and her cooking to try to fend for himself, before being rescued by his wife.
This is the transition I find myself in.
Living away from my parents is not a new experience for me. Two years living in dormitories eased me into independent living. But now that I have my first full-time job, rent my first house and am paying off my first car, I am faced with the realities of life. No more ready cooked meals from Mum.
Another reality has hit as well—no more money tree! I now earn what I have and spend what I earn. Which leads me to the topic of stewardship.
Growing up attending church, I heard a lot about godly money management.
Every time our church treasurer was listed to take the sermon, we knew the topic would be the same: money. He would give an update on our congregation's tithes and offerings—and ask for more. It hasn't concerned me much in the past. I had no income, so paid tithe only if I got money for a birthday, and any donation to the offering plate was leftover allowance or handed to me by my parents moments before. Giving what I had earned by the sweat of my brow was an irregular occurrence, something I rarely thought about.
Yet as my first pay check came in, I realised this was it—the time to make a decision on what I would give to God.
It was time to become a steward of my own life and possessions. So I set out to discover what stewardship means and what I would need to do to become a good steward of my income.
To many people, a steward is someone who smiles and serves travellers on an aeroplane. In God's eyes, stewardship is much more.
A steward is someone who manages another's property or possessions. This means they are looking after something that is not theirs in a managerial or caretaking role. This implies two important things. First, ownership is someone else's and, second, the person who owns the possession places trust in the steward. A steward on an aeroplane ensures the safety of others and the plane itself. They are trusted with serving client and company—ensuring everything runs smoothly.
These concepts can be applied to our stewardship for God. He—the author and architect of the universe, the great Creator God—owns everything. To put it simply, He made it—so it's His. Our task and responsibility is to become good stewards for Him in response to the trust He has put in us.
So what does this mean in practical terms? There are four main areas that we can manage on a personal level. They are: Our finances—often the most talked about area of stewardship; Our talents—the personality and skills that make us who we are; Ourselves—over which we have almost complete control; and Our world—the environment we enjoy and utilise to live.
In my quest to find out more about stewardship, I turned to the Bible. I tried to find a definitive steward—an example of outstanding stewardship that lived up to biblical principles.
Instead, I found a mosaic of stories that demonstrate God's divine plan for stewardship, highlighting the four areas of life outlined above.
One of my favourite Bible stories is about a boy who became king at just seven years of age, after being hidden in the temple from the evil queen who was trying to kill him. His name was Joash and you can read his story in 2 Kings 12. As he matured, he recognised his own stewardship of God's kingdom.
Joash was saddened by the disrepair of the temple, so he took a huge chest and placed it at the temple entrance to collect the people's donations.
The people gave generously and the temple was restored. This story demonstrates the importance of tithes and offerings in the upkeep of God's church and the spreading of the Gospel. It was used to pay the workers without account because they “acted with complete honesty” (2 Kings 12:15).
Some people today choose not to pay tithe because they don't like the pastor or they think the church has enough money. However, it is up to God to look after His funds. It is our responsibility to do as He requests and requires—as good stewards for Him. This is not to say that the funds are not sometimes misused, as in the earlier part of the chapter where Joash asked the priests—for 23 years!— to use money gathered from worshippers to fix the temple, during which time it remained in shambles. The people had been giving but the priests had not been good stewards and used the money for things other than what the king had requested. When both the people and the leaders acted as faithful stewards, God's house was rebuilt. As good stewards, it is our responsility to do with our money as God has asked us. How church leaders use that money is their stewardship responsibility.
Tithing raises a great burden off our shoulders. In Malachi 3:10, God says “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this ... 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.” What a wonderful promise! It may not be easy but we are merely called to be caretakers. Paul urges us in Romans 12 to give ourselves as “living sacrifices” to give up everything we are to God's will. He will look after us.
Another area in which we are able to serve God is through our talents.
A prime example of this is Joseph.
Joseph's story can be found in Genesis 37 to 50.
The son of a wealthy landowner, Joseph had it all. But his life took a turn for the worse when he ended up being sold by his brothers as a slave. After that, his life played out like the movie Gladiator—prince becomes slave, slave becomes steward, steward becomes prisoner, prisoner saves kingdom.
Joseph triumphed because he didn't let life get him down. He was the ultimate steward of his abilities—eventually running Pharaoh's kingdom. Joseph used his talents to rise above his circumstances. God blesses those who use their talents for good and strive to achieve the best of their abilities. It is our responsibility not to squander what God empowers us with. To get to where I am today, I took the opportunities life presented me. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but somehow God led me to where I find myself. Use your talents for God and He will ensure your life is both blessed and a blessing.
Another area of our lives we should take care of is our bodies. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” This proves God's ownership.
Our bodies are not our own, we are merely taking care of them. Because of this, we should be careful what we do to our bodies, internally and externally.
This thought is continued in the New Testament. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Living healthy lives is therefore an act of worship. God created us with amazing bodies and minds and all He asks is that we do not inflict harm on them. This means staying away from harmful substances that will cause us to lose our faculties or become less than capable to use our bodies to represent Him.
Our responsibility as stewards extends to the environment around us. It is also God's creation and as such is close to His heart. We have been commissioned from the very beginning to take good care of the earth. In Genesis 1:28 God gave us dominion over the Earth. All of the plants and resources are given to us to use but also to take care of.
Good stewardship means we remember the earth is God's gift to us. We should aim to recycle, use renewable energy sources and not exploit or destroy life forms and resources on our planet. After all, Revelation 11:18 reminds us what happens to those who abuse their power over the Earth— before making the world new, God is worshipped for “destroying those who destroy the Earth.” This planet is a gift to us, let us treat it with care.
So what does this mean for my own life. Well I am on a “humble wage,” as it is my first year in the workforce. I could do with extra money to save and to support myself for the future. Yet I have decided to give a tithe to God.
He will look after my future. He has already supported me with a good family— who continue to help me—a good job and a secure life. The extra money is not important.
The responsibility is on me to spend wisely the money I have. After the bills are paid, I save the rest for a rainy day or use it to travel to see my loved ones.
All the gifts God has given us are for our good but they are still His.
Is God looking after me? Certainly.
Am I worried about my future? I don't have to be because I can rest assured that God looks after his own. All I need to do now is become proficient in the kitchen!