Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"A Steward's Prayer"

As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it is clear that some monumental challenges will follow us into 2010. A central question facing American politics is “What is the responsibility of ‘the have’s’ toward ‘the have not’s?’” This question is inherent in the debates involving diverse issues including “bank lending to homebuyers,” “fertility for childless couples,” “universal health care,” and “global climate policy.” Consider the common element among these four issues which are often discussed in the context of “social justice.”

First, the current economic crunch was precipitated in part by a crash in the housing market brought on by the unhealthy dynamic that arose when clients with limited financial resources were awarded low-interest loans. Many of these loans were offered through banking policies encouraged in part by well meaning government bureaucrats who believed that “the have’s” should help “the have not’s” to “have it now.”

Second, the current debate over embryonic stem cell research and its potential threat to the sanctity of human life has resulted in part from the population of frozen human embryos that exist as a result of couples (and individuals) claiming their right to be biological parents through use of fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization. What or who should take precedence, the rights of the unborn or newly conceived, or the rights of adults who seek to gain from human enbryos.

Third, those who favor universal health care claim that the millions of American citizens who “have not” been covered by health insurance should be able to join “the haves.” Finally, the “climate change” debate centers on whether “the haves” among nations –i.e. those with the industrial and economic capacity to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases-- should take on the responsibility and cost of limiting emissions out of concern for the planet as a whole and the “have not” nations in particular.

In each of the four issues, policies are being drafted by our elected officials that will give the federal government greater authority to redistribute monetary wealth and (supposedly) opportunity to those who have less. Many, including this writer, believe these policies will bring major changes to American society and culture. At the same time, the growing secularization of American culture is leaving us more and more divided over what is “right” and “wrong.”

The rightness or wrongness of public policy depends ultimately upon a belief in objective truths which individuals accept and are willing to implement through their decisions and actions. For example, our founding fathers believed that the “human rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are endowed from a sovereign Creator. It follows, that freedom is secure as long as the citizens recognize their responsibility to steward their time, talents, wealth, and power in cooperation with God’s divine purposes. The apostle Paul asks, “what do you have that you did not receive (I Corinthians 4:7)?”

Personally, I believe the most fundamental concept of a “free society” is the concept of stewardship. Stewards recognize that what they “have” is ultimately “on loan” from God. Such stewardship is guided and motivated by “love”—love which itself comes ultimately from the overflow of the God of the Bible Who is love. The citizen-steward who is motivated by love can do “what is required of him” as stated through the Old Testament prophet Micah; namely, “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)."

Political leaders and citizens who exercise biblical stewardship marked by a passion for justice, mercy, and humility will seek godly wisdom in matters like affordable housing, human fertility, health care provisions, and climate change. Such wisdom from above will help us correctly discern the respective roles of social institutions – family, church, and government—and how each can do its part in promoting “social justice” whose ultimate goal is “righteous living.” The best “stimulus packages” are those containing just what is needed for each individual and community of America, filled and provided through godly wisdom by members most closely acquainted with the needs at hand, motivated by the great commandment—“to love the Lord your God... and your neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37,39).”

And so, as the first decade of millennium 2000 comes to an end, leaving us with huge challenges, please be encouraged by a God Who calls us to be His children (John 1:12). As His children, we are to be stewards of the riches of His wisdom and of the time, abilities, and resources entrusted to us. God gives us the responsibility to use what we “have” in ways that promote “biblical justice and mercy” toward our neighbor and toward the creation around us.

Perhaps “A Steward’s Prayer” recently published in Flourish Magazine online will convey a stewardship perspective to you as you read and pray through it, and plan to make a difference in 2010.

3 comments:

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rustypritchard said...

Isn't it remarkable that we consider a good stimulus package one that stimulates the same old "consumptive" behavior? I hope families are taking this time to reconsider what we spend our time and fortune chasing after, and that when the economy picks up we'll be about enjoying and conserving the permanent things. Thanks, John.

tammy said...

Is it possible that some of these monumental challenges have arisen because we in the the church have abdicated our responsibility, ignoring our role as the only stewards on the planet who can truly, through God's Word, understand the charge He has vested in us? Secular lawmakers are amoral by definition, and they enact laws to fill the vacuum left in society due to our paralysis. These laws, once institutionalized, cause us to drift further and further from our moorings. Even Jonathan Cohn, Senior editor of the New Republic, recently acknowledged the likely permanence of the proposed changes to health care. "And I don't think you ever take that back once you establish that," he said. Conservative fears that once a program is instituted we can never go back are justified.

How can we bemoan government intrusion in so much of our lives when for the most part all we do is snipe and complain? We ought to be the ones who tirelessly work to effect just ends in every corner of our society. Then we will not just be spouting lip-service about how we should "act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God." Micah 6:8. The implicit trust God places in us is deeply humbling. I Cor. 4:2 says that it is required of stewards that a man be found faithful. As a teeneager, though I was by no means a "goody-two-shoes," I wanted to be worthy of my parents' respect. The thought that my actions might cause them pain was a huge motivation for me to try to do what they wanted. I don't desire to cause my loving Heavenly Father pain. The big question is how do I know what my role should be?

I was privileged to attend the Urbana missions conference at the end of December. I cannot get Lowell Bliss' challenge out of my mind: "How many of you have prayed for Copenhagen?" I had to admit that though I had tried to follow the daily updates on the conference I cannot say that my interest was joined to prayer. I learned much about the devastating effects that the developed-world's shifting of our environmental dirty laundry onto the rest of the world is having mainly on the poorest and most helpless people. It seems to me that it is fitting and just for some rules to be made so that this doesn't happen. How does Micah 6:8 speak to this? A Steward's Prayer is exactly the heart cry we all ought to be uttering as we set a course for this new year. "Citizen stewards" who rightly discern God's voice are now needed more than ever.