Stewardship, not Selfishness

I know someone that hates global warming, environmentalists, and presumably puppies and kitties. So much so they actually go out of their way to be as wasteful as possible. They use more then they need, move things from the recycling bin to the trash bin, and just generally try to act as selfishly as possible. I don’t think that you have to become a tree-hugging, whale-saving, green-voting, bleeding-heart, enviro-nazi. Though I do find this attitude completely revolting. Yet we see this selfishness every day, and in many cases act out a similar, but less severe, version of it. I think most everything in life is a stewardship. Which is just a fancy way of saying the Boy Scout creed of leaving things better off then you found them. But first, let’s expand what we’re stewarding. We’re not just stewarding our natural environment, we’re stewarding everything in life. I like the old saying, “God’s gift to us is our life, our gift to God is what we make of it.” We can be good stewards of our time, our talents, our abilities, our money, our passion, our influence, our knowledge, our wisdom… and even our mistakes. But first, why is it a stewardship? It comes down to pride and ego. We can decide that we exist for others, to make the world just slightly better than we found it, or we can decide that the world exists for us and it should make us better. A saying I heard this week was, “Don’t expect anything from the world. It was here first.” To be a bad steward of something says that you value yourself more than God. It’s a way of saying that God created it to serve you, and the effect is that God, at some level, serves you. Pride. “I don’t need God.” Or, “I don’t need you!” Stewardship and selfishness are opposite ends of the spectrum. You can’t be selfish and be a good steward, and you can’t be a good steward and be selfish. So what can you be a good steward about? Probably anything and everything can be considered a stewardship issue, but I know there are a couple that have come close to my heart lately. Influence. The best example of a wasted stewardship are gangs in city streets. Gang leaders have influence over impressionable boys and lead them down a path of hopelessness, despair, and waste. Not only do they waste the stewardship they have, they encourage their followers to waste theirs as well. As I was reading Daryl’s post on inheritance, I was really struck by the idea of the older brother being the spiritual leader of the family. There’s natural influence that is either used wisely or squandered away, multiplied. And it’s that multiplied part that is scary. If I waste my life, that sucks. But if I squander my influence, I might be a part of wasting someone else’s life. Yikes! Responsibilities. I heard the fairly famous phrase, “Success means Succession.” In other words, you can’t measure a leader by how he does, but by how his successor does. Ouch. That is really painful. Except, I think it can be expanded to all areas of responsibility, not just leadership. This hit me hard. I remember at one job, just a few weeks after starting, I was explaining a technical decision I had made to my boss and the CFO of the company. And I said something like, “The reason I chose this solution over the other one is that it is much simpler. When my tenure as the IT guy here is over, I want my successor to have something that he can quickly pick up and take over, and will work reliably for him.” I had only been in the job a short time, they must have thought I was getting ready to quit! But while I have always had great abilities (at least when it comes to IT…), I’ve had even greater responsibilities. The true test of how I did isn’t in my doing it, but in how much came toppling over when I was no longer there to babysit it. Some have this all backwards. They build hugely complex systems, zealously guard any attempts by anyone else to use or understand the system, then when they’re gone for 5 minutes and everything turns into a burning crater—they’re delighted because “HOORAY, SOMEBODY REALLY DOES NEED ME! *tear*” This is one area I think I get pretty right. I try to involve other people, I try to pass on information, I try to do cool things, then tell you all the secrets so you can hopefully be even better than me. But it’s not because I’m a saint. This strength is a weakness in another context. What I’m doing today, I do not want to do tomorrow. And that illustrates another stewardship we all have…. Time. 86,400 seconds in a day. Doesn’t matter if you’re a wage slave in India or Bill Gates. We all have the same limited time. But the crazy thing is, I think God thinks it’s a waste of time to just blow through stuff. You can move too fast. I should Do Less. Accomplish More. Live Better. Talent. God has given all of us certain things that we can do really well. I think there are two traps with talent though: first, I think we all are multi-talented. We may pigeon-hole ourselves into only one or two things, never really exploring as much as God has given to us. Not all talent is just for Kingdom work, either. Sometimes talent is given just so we can enjoy ourselves. We rob ourselves by not discovering the full complement of talents God gives us to make use of and enjoy. Second, we don’t develop all of our talents. If you have an affinity for guitar, you may give it up because you could never become an award-winning artist. This is one area that I think modern “high performance” culture gets all wrong. Modern career advice is full of “specialize!” and “focus on the one or two things that you can become the very best at”. And while it would be good to develop your top talents the most, I think it’s a tremendous mistake to focus on them exclusively. You were created with many talents. Embrace them all for the rich and full life you ought to have. Mistakes. I probably would have never thought of mistakes as a stewardship, but it’s so true. Whatever mistakes you make can’t be undone. But you can learn from them, and use them well to avoid mistakes in the future. Or you can waste them, and make the same mistakes over and over again. Tough call. We could probably come up with a list of tens of thousands of stewardships we may be entrusted with, but these have been the top ones on my mind. Here’s the burning question to ask: where have I been selfish? Those areas are probably the ones you’re not displaying good stewardship.