Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stewards ‘Fit into’ God’s Order and Purpose

As our grandchildren enter adolescence, Abby and I are reminded of the universal human need to “fit in.”   Rather suddenly, our grandson has become more conscious of his appearance and the need to be current with media and technology.

Wanting to “fit in” and be accepted by our peers is a common and legitimate need that influences human behavior long after adolescence.  Yet, I wonder how much attention we give to how well we “fit in” to God’s economy within the cosmos, His glorious creation.  After all, the Bible teaches in Genesis 1 and 2, and elsewhere, that humans have been created in God’s image and that we have the responsibility to represent Him as servant stewards of His creation.   Therefore, we should each ask, How well have I beenfitting in’ to my role as a steward in God’s great world?

I remember an instance one summer when I had been offended.  I’ve long since forgotten the cause, but my reaction was to take a long walk into field and forest to clear my head.   I walked for awhile and then sat in the shade of a giant oak.  As I pondered my situation I was soon pleasantly distracted by a variety of creatures large and small, each going about their work.   Ants carrying pieces of detritus, mushrooms anchored to the moist humus, birds carrying dead grass to add to a nest, squirrels scampering up and down the branches of the giant oak, and a woodchuck nibbling on a clover plant.   All the while, the giant oak was absorbing sunlight and converting carbon dioxide, water, and other inorganic compounds into carbohydrates, proteins, and other constituents necessary for its life and growth.

While I sat there stewing and “out of sorts,” each creature in the shade of the oak tree was being what it had been created to be, and doing what it had been created to do--to “fit into” the created order.  Oak and clover were capturing energy from our nearest star, the Sun, to grow and reproduce.  Squirrel and woodchuck were eating what was necessary for regular nourishment, and perhaps storing food for a later time.  Birds and ants were using detritus and, in so doing, were “processing” waste material from the land of the living as they found uses for it.  Along with the fungi (mushrooms), this “processing” would lead to decomposition and release of inorganic compounds available to re-enter the food chain through photosynthesis.

Meanwhile, as I sat pondering the complex interactions around this single oak tree, it suddenly occurred to me that I was the only living creature within view that did not “fit in.”  What’s worse, by being “out of sorts” with a loved one, I was not only “out of sync” with God’s world, I was also “out of sync” with the principles of His Word; and, ultimately, “out of fellowship” with God Himself.

Fortunately, I was able to return and resolve the quibble that prompted my hike.  Since then, the experience under the oak has become a metaphor which, with the help of God’s Spirit, I have recalled on many occasions.  The creatures around the oak tree taught me that each one has a purpose to fulfill.   When I am “out of sorts,” I am NOT “fitting in” with either the order of creation or with the purpose and plan God has for me.   My goal must be to “fit in” with God’s plan which, in turn, brings glory to Him.

As we have stated elsewhere in Oikonomia (see links below), our fundamental role and purpose is to be stewards.  According to His plan, God’s stewards serve Him with thankful hearts that are being filled daily with His redeeming love.   Godly stewards love and serve their neighbor as they would want to be served, and they “serve with” (or con-serve) creation in ways that enhance its fruitfulness and its testimony of God’s wisdom and glory.   As we fulfill this purpose, we are fulfilling what is described by the Westminister Short Catechism, as the “chief end” of mankind; namely “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  In short, we are “fitting in” to God’s plan for us on the earth.

Ann Voskamp:  "God gives us gifts to serve the world."
To illustrate further, it is worth noting that WORLD News Group's new documentary series on “Emerging Christian Leaders” begins in September, 2012 with the feature of Ann Voskamp, best-selling author of the book, One Thousand Gifts.  In the trailer for this documentary, now on YouTube, Ann Voskamp, speaks about how God’s creation presents to us the model of servanthood, and invites us to “fit in” to this pattern as stewards of creation.

Out of human desire to “fit in” with our peers, we often expend much time, energy, and resources.  Indeed, sometimes we may still go through the motions of serving God, loving our neighbor, and caring for God’s creation, but fall short of “fitting in.” May God help us to remember the deeper purpose for which He has created in us this need to “fit in;” namely, that we discover that ultimately we do not “fit in” anywhere here on Earth.  As C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory (addition mine),

For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging
[“fitting in”] to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance.

“What a disappointment!” we might say.  But let us be reminded that we are called to live by faith as defined in Hebrews 11: 1-2; 13, 16 (emphasis mine):

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
For by it the men of old gained approval.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises,
but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance,
and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God;
for He has prepared a city for them.

By God’s grace, as we live by faith while here on Earth, we can share in this hope of “a better country” in which we will perfectly “fit in” because we will be welcomed by the only One that ultimately matters, our Heavenly Father.   C.S. Lewis’s words again best describe our ultimate “fitting in” as we are welcomed by our Father:

The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God.  To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

The door on which we
have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

Prayer:   Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing Yourself through creation and through your Word, recorded and preserved for us in the Bible.  Thank you for allowing human creatures the privilege of being called “children of God” through faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross.  Thank you for empowering us through your Spirit and showing us how to love our neighbor; and appointing us stewards, “servant kings,” of your creation.  What a humbling role; yet, how many times I falter out of arrogance and selfishness.  Help me to follow Your example and instruction that I may “fit in” to your purpose and plan to bring glory and praise to You while I live here on Earth; and, to anticipate by faith that time when I will see Your Son as He really is and experience ultimate glory through the sense of your approval, the ultimate “fitting in” as I realize fully what you created me to be.    Amen.

Related Sources:
Lewis, C.S.  “The Weight of Glory.”  Preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942: published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941, and by the S.P.C.K, 1942.


tammy said...

How many times have I also been drawn to the outdoors when I am out of sync with others and God. Before too long I begin to hear his voice. It is not that nature is God, as the humanist thinks, but that nature speaks of Him so clearly. I said` this morning while out enjoying His creation that I will never get over how He has made things. The Hebrews verses you quoted have been my life verses. What a hope we have as we look to the day when we see the city He has prepared for us!

John said...

Hello, Tammy. Forgive me for not acknowledging your richly composed comment above--spoken as from one whose heart ("mindset," or "disposition" as Oswald Chambers is prone to use) has been opened by the Spirit and the "veil" removed (2 Cor. 4) so that you can see truly the purpose and hand of God in creation.

Regarding your experience of being brought back into sync by being in creation and "hearing" God's voice, I've had the same experience of seeing how out of sync I am by observing and seeing how much other creatures (ants, squirrels, etc.) are "doing what they were created to do" and "look at me!"