I used to think I had a lot of stuff. My wife would probably agree. When we got engaged and I moved from California to Michigan, I had to pack up all of the stuff I had at the time, which didn’t seem like a lot until I had to put it in boxes to have it shipped back across the country. She allowed me to bring some of the stuff with me, but much of it she gently encouraged me to get rid of.
Most of it really wasn’t all that important, especially looking back. Most of it was things like silverware and plates and cups and bowls that don’t go together. There were some t-shirts - mostly from various mission trips I’d been on and hadn’t worn since, and old shoes. And probably a couple of suits. I think I might remember a few DVD’s and a guitar. I left all the fun stuff with my at-the-time roommate - like the couch I found on Craigslist for $25, and the TV and entertainment center. Oh, and I had to leave behind my bed.
Interestingly, it turns out that most of the stuff I thought I had, wasn’t even mine. It turns out that most of the stuff I thought I had, belonged to someone else. I might have been the one packing it in boxes, and stressing about whether or not it was going to make it back to Michigan, and whether there would be room for it all when we got married and had to learn to share our little condo, but it wasn’t mine. I definitely thought it was mine, and I absolutely acted like it was mine. I was proud of my stuff. Especially the t-shirts. Even the ones I never wore.
But none of it was mine.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve never had more stuff in my life than I do right now. One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about it is because the way we look at our “stuff” has a lot to do with how we treat it, and what we do with it - which is probably way more important than most of us think.
There’s a story in the Bible that really helps me put this into context. I like it because it’s straightforward and simple, and I’m very much a straightforward and simple guy. It’s in Matthew chapter 21, and it starts with a wealthy land owner who decides to plant a vineyard. It says he “put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower,” (v33). Basically, he did everything necessary for the vineyard that he planted, to be fruitful and productive.
Before he planted the vineyard, he was just a guy with a piece of land, a piece of land that he could have done anything he wanted with. Of all the things he could do with a piece of land, he chose to plant a vineyard, and he did everything necessary for it to thrive.
It actually reminds me of another story in a garden. In Genesis 2:8 it says that “the Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden… The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground.” See, like the landowner, God could have done whatever He wanted. It was His earth, and He chose to plant a garden, and it was His garden.
In fact, it’s all His.
Psalm 95: 4-5 says “In His hands are the depths of the earth, the mountain peaks belong to him, the sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” It’s all His. All of it. Even us.
“Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3
This is important because it’s easy to misunderstand our relationship to “our stuff.” The reality is it’s all His. All of it. Your home, your iPhone, your laptop, your twitter account, your shoes, your money, your time, your gifts and abilities, your family, your influence, and even those t-shirts I never wore. All of it belongs to Him.
It’s not mine, it’s not yours - despite what you might think and despite what the world tells you 24 hours of every day. This changes everything.
Look back at the parable in Matthew 21. The land owner goes away, only to return later to “collect His fruit.” You see he entrusted it to some tenants, who had a job to do while he was gone, but there was always an expectation that he was coming back.
In the meantime, they had a job to do.
There’s another story close by, over in Matthew 25, called the parable of the Talents, or the Bags of Gold. I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but the bottom line is this: a wealthy guy leaves on a journey and entrusts his property/money to his servants. After a while he comes back to see how they did and take account. Two of the servants had done their job and multiplied the owners money, and received a “well done good and faithful servant.”
One of them didn’t. Jesus’ description of this guy doesn’t spare anyone’s feelings. He calls him a “wicked and lazy servant.”
Here’s the thing. You have a job to do called stewardship. That’s a word churches use a lot when they talk about money and giving and tithing and building buildings. But it actually the word has very little do with giving. In fact, stewardship simply means to manage something that belongs to someone else.
God actually explained it like this, back in that first garden. Genesis 2:15 says that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Work it and take care of it. That’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s the thing that is expected of us as we manage the “stuff” in our lives. The NASB describes it as “cultivate and keep it,” which I like because it sort of paints a picture of the two things required of our job here. Cultivate means to make something grow, or be productive. Keep it means to protect from harm, sickness or loss. Together, they mean to make something thrive.
Think about every area of your life. Your time, your abilities, your money, your stuff, and your family. Your job is to cultivate them, and protect them. It’s your most important job - more important than anything else you’ll ever do. I don’t know about you, but for me, the struggle is thinking it’s mine to do as I wish. But to God, it’s literally why man was placed in the garden in the first place. And it’s so important that God is going to hold each of us to account.
We are accountable.
Remember the servants with the bags of gold? There is an account to be given - literally. 2 Corinthians 6:9-10 tell us that “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ… to give account.” God cares deeply about what you do with what he’s given you. He cares deeply about the way you spend your money, how you use your time, how you honor him with your gifts, and how you are raising your family.
"Be sure you know the condition of your flocks” Proverbs 27:23
Most of us never think about our family as a function of stewardship, but I think it might be the most important area of all. After all, if you can’t be trusted to cultivate and protect the people God has placed in your home, why would He ever trust you in any other area of life? You were entrusted with His greatest treasure - people. Someday, you will be called to account for what you did to cultivate and take care of your family. Let that sink in for a minute.
If you’re a father like me, you are accountable for your wife and your children. Are they thriving? Are they healthy and growing - emotionally, physically and spiritually? Do they know Jesus? Here’s a tip - if you walk with Jesus, you’ll always lead your family in the right direction.
By the way, you are accountable for your influence beyond just you family. You are accountable for the interactions you have with just about everyone in your life. God has given you gifts, abilities, and opportunities, and He is expecting a return on that investment in you. Every time any of us has an opportunity to serve or be a blessing, we are accountable for what we do with it. Are we helping the people around us thrive and grow?
I still have a lot of stuff in my life, but none of it’s mine. It’s in my house, or my pocket, or in my garage, or on my laptop, but it’s not mine. I’m just taking care of it, and trying to be faithful and productive with it for a greater purpose. It’s actually quite liberating to know that I’m simply responsible taking care of and protecting the things God has put in my life, and knowing that He’s already provided everything I need. I don’t have to worry about what I don’t have, only what I’m accountable for.
What does it look like in your life to cultivate and take care of the things that God has entrusted to you?