How would you describe your house? What type of car do you own? How much money do you have in your checking account?
All of those questions seem normal enough. But wait. Is any of that really yours?
My main mentor when it came to learning about and then teaching biblical principles of money, Dick Towner (former head of the Good $ense Ministry, now the Good $ense Movement), would encourage workshop participants to walk through their homes and imagine putting stickers on everything. “Imagine,” he would say, “that on each sticker there were these words: ‘Owned by God, to be used for God’s purposes.’”
Similarly, Howard Dayton, founder of the biblical money management ministry, Compass—Finances God’s Way, encourages people to sign a “quit-claim deed,” essentially acknowledging that they don’t own anything; God owns it all.
If you’ve been around financial stewardship circles for a while, you’ve probably heard that phrase, “God owns it all.” And you’ve probably been taught that you’re a steward or manager of everything God has temporarily entrusted to your care.
But I suspect that while many of us believe on some level those ideas are true, they may not fully inform how we live. So, let’s take a few minutes to consider what it might look like if they did.
If we lived from the truth that everything we have is a gift from God, wouldn’t we be more grateful for what we have instead of unhappy about what we don’t have? So much of the messaging we take in every day tells us we’ll be so much happier if we owned this or that. It’s designed to make us unhappy with our current situation. It’s designed to make us believe happiness is just one more purchase away.
One of the most important findings from the field of positive psychology is that we don’t base our satisfaction on what we have or what we’re experiencing or how much we earn. We base it on comparisons. We compare what we have to what we used to have or what others have and gauge our satisfaction accordingly.
This is such a big deal that God made “Do not covet” one of the 10 Commandments. Quitting the comparison game requires a conscious decision to do so. That can be tough, especially because of social media.
Gratitude is a central part of the solution—consciously, regularly giving thanks for the many blessings in our lives.
I think the first part of my mentor’s sticker is what’s most familiar to people: “Owned by God.” But the second part gets less attention: “To be used for God’s purposes.”
Do a quick mental inventory of your stuff. What’s on the list? A house? A car or two? A grill? A snow blower? A set of golf clubs? A dining room table and chairs? Some type of expertise? Money in the bank? What have you used for God’s purposes and what have you never thought of in that way?
A common mistake people make when they think of what it means to be a steward of God’s resources is they imagine God saying to them, “Here’s some of my stuff. Now don’t break or lose any of it. Be really careful with it.” Not exactly very empowering. In fact, that might have been what the third servant in the Parable of the Talents misunderstood the master’s instructions to be.
If you look at what happens in the parable, the two servants who multiplied what was entrusted to them were the ones God affirmed. And then he entrusted them with more!
It’s as if God is saying to each of us, “Here’s some of my stuff. And here’s my instruction book of what to do with it. Use it to show people who I am. Use it to help reach more people with my message of hope. Use it to love well the people I’ve put in your life. Use it to take the gifts, talents, and passions I’ve given you to make a difference in the world. Use what I’ve entrusted to you in these ways and watch me multiply it and the impact I’ll have through you. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Now, that’s empowering!
Learning to let go
I’ve written before about how my family’s move from Chicago to Louisville caused me to loosen my grip on place as a part of my identity. I loved Chicago and thought of myself as a Chicagoan. Moving was painful. We left family. And I felt like I lost part of my identity.
We still miss our family, but I’ve learned to let go of seeing where I live as part of who I am. In fact, I find it freeing. I feel like I’m living more in concert with my design. After all, the Bible that we’re just passing through this place—that our citizenship is in heaven.
Loosening our grip on stuff can be freeing as well. Marketers would have us believe we are what we drive or what we wear. But we’re not. If we’ve placed our faith in Christ, the Bible says we’re children of God. That’s a stunning reality and it has nothing to do with how much money we earn or where we can afford to go on vacation.
Just as earthly parents delight in providing for their children, God delights in providing for us. And not just our basic needs. Incredibly, the Bible says God gives us all things for our enjoyment!
The culture tells us the path toward happiness is spelled M-O-R-E. More money. More stuff. More experiences.
The Bible lays out a path toward something far more important, a path toward greater joy. The guideposts are more gratitude, more sharing, and a daily recognition that everything is a gift from God to be used for his purposes.