Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stewardship of Righteousness -- Part Two

In the previous Oikonomia entry, we considered the trend in which increasing numbers of evangelicals are responding to calls to care for God’s creation, or to the poor and powerless by taking a stand for “social justice.” Recently, creation care and social justice ministries have begun to merge into a more broadly integrated “environmental- social justice” movement in efforts to address issues formerly considered quite separate– climate change, affordable housing, immigration, and accessible health care.

We emphasized that Christian environmentalism and other forms of social activism need not be at odds with biblical evangelism. Indeed, Christian environmental stewardship can foster a biblical foundation on which to build a life and a home to be salt and light in a world that has lost its moorings and is adrift on the waves of moral relativism, economic materialism, and scientific naturalism. Yet, we need wisdom to “balance” between maintaining our individual spiritual disciplines while using our gifts and abilities to exercise influence at the community and institutional levels.

If we are to nurture a growing love and obedience to God, extend charity toward our neighbor, and exercise stewardship of God’s creation, I believe we need to adopt a “stewardship of righteousness” (see Oikonomia, June 30, 2010). Individually, we must work to keep the “spiritual fire of our hearts” burning if we are to be good followers and leaders in a corporate or social sense. With great humility and recognition of my own need of grace, I will note that we are not without examples of respected evangelical, environmental leaders who have ended up in moral and/or ethical bankruptcy.

So, how can I judge the intensity of the “spiritual fire within my heart?” Church attendance and service? Prayer life? “Amount of time spent reading the Bible? What others say about me? All of these may be expressions of righteousness, but let’s hear the psalmist speak from the fire of his love, devotion, and felt need of God:

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God? – Psalm 42: 1-2

His “spiritual fire” is expressed not by his desire to “do the things of God; or for God” but by his desperate need for the presence God Himself. Elsewhere, we read the psalmists expression of his desire for God’s temple and the opportunity to worship:

How lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. – Psalm 84: 1-2

Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God. – Psalm 43:4

My “stewardship of righteousness,” requires that I regularly “kindle afresh” (2 Timothy 1:6) the fire of the Spirit within me through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, and meditation in Scripture. As a result, the life of the Spirit within me stirs a yearning for God, for fellowship with His people, and for worship. These words from the psalmist are indeed inspired (“Spirit-breathed”) because they speak of the very desire of God in the person of His Spirit within us to be in communion with God.

Interestingly, as the psalmist expresses his longing for and need of God, he also notices that God’s welcome of him extends to His other creatures as well. Our Creator not only welcomes fellowship and intimacy with us, but His presence is also a place of welcome and safety for the sparrow of which God is mindful.

The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God. – Psalm 84:3

Could it be that when we practice the disciplines above to keep the “spiritual fire” of our heart burning for a growing desire and felt need of God in our daily lives that we gain an additional benefit? Might we also begin to see the creation, our families, our neighbor, the environmental and social needs around us as God sees them?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect on the above thoughts myself so that this inspiration may provide for me and for readers of Oikonomia the wisdom to be stewards of our gift of righteousness in Christ our Savior. Help us then to express this stewardship in our daily walk and service so that it will resemble more and more the walk of Christ as we see the world through His eyes. Amen.


tammy said...

I agree that fervent love for God produces a ripple effect of concern for others, and a desire to faithfully steward His creation.

I am struck by how you used animals as examples of spiritual devotion. They praise Him so simply, just as they were created to do. I think there must be a Bible lesson in just about every creature God ever made.

Psalm 84 has always been one of my favorites. I memorized it years ago, I guess because I was drawn to the image of the lowly sparrow seeking the safe harbor of His courts. Little did I know then how God was planting the seeds of environmental concern in me. As I consider these verses, I can't help noticing the wonderful way He has unfolded His truth to me in so many ways.

Truly, environmental activism without devotion to Him is folly.

John Silvius said...

Thanks for your meditations on spiritual devotion as a key ingredient in guiding our zeal for conservation of the creation. Reading your thoughtful responses reminds me of the importance of soul-uplifting "conversation" among believers as a means of making sure that our fires of spiritual devotion are stoked and aimed in the right direction for God's glory.