"The kingdom of heaven is like a cruise ship"...said Jesus never.
Or did he? He did say it was like a banquet, a wedding feast, a party. And what better designation of party is there today than a cruise ship? Remember "The Love Boat"? Captain Stubing, Julie and Gopher working to "set a course for adventure, your mind on a new romance." If you had to pick someone to be on a cruise ship, who would you pick?
I see no one chose steward.
There is a great story about a steward in Genesis 24. Abraham has just lost his wife, Sarah, and in his old age he's worried about his son Isaac's choice of a wife. He calls in his most trusted servant, the steward of his household, and sends him on a journey to find a wife for Isaac among Abe's ancestors. Here are 5 thoughts from that journey that can help us understand our own stewardship better.
1. A steward takes an oath to fulfill his master's goals (Ge 24.1-9)
Um, you want me to put my hand where??? This oath is like a blood oath on steroids. It is an intimate covenant between Abraham and the steward that the steward will act in full faith to accomplish Abe's goals, not his own.
It's so easy to allow our goals to jump in front of our master's. Even being the people of God won't guarantee that we can miss out on what he is trying to do. In Mt 21.33-44 Jesus tells a parable about a man who built a vineyard and leased it out to tenants to farm. They did all the day-to-day stuff that is required of a vineyard. But when it came time for the harvest of grapes, the tenants decided they wanted to own the property, and were willing to go to great lengths to try and get it.
In our own lives, we may not not beat and kill our master's servants, but we are too easily forgetful that it is God's goals we're supposed to be after. How do we determine whether or not we're after God's goals? How do we know what God's will is? Romans 12.1-2 gives us the pattern: we offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Daily. We avoid being squeezed into the world's mold, and instead allow our minds to be renewed by the Spirit and the Word. Then we'll be able to know and approve what is the will of God.
2. A steward lays out a plan that includes both faith and common sense (Ge 24.10-14)
The steward takes 10 camels, a bunch of swag, some other servants, and travels the miles to Mesopotamia. He stations himself by the local well (common sense) then prays that the right woman would come along (faith). And when he asked for a drink of water, she would say she'd also water his camels (10 camels drink a lot of water, so this is BOTH faith and common sense!).
How do we know if our plan includes faith? In Lk 12.13-21, Jesus gives us the clue: our decisions need to be made in a way that is "rich toward God" and not just about our own needs. Nothing wrong with success in life, but as stewards our faithful/common sense approach to that success demands investment in God's kingdom.
3. A steward treats his master's things like they were NOT his own (Ge 24.15-31)
The steward had lots of things with him--gold, fancy clothes, camels and other servants. I wonder if he was ever tempted to just pretend to be the owner here. He could have rolled into town and just pretended all the stuff was his. But instead he's keeping in mind he's a steward, not an owner.
I used to have a ton of books. My wife would say I still have too many. Back when I had a much larger library, I was always loaning books out. I would cringe though when people would say "I'll treat it like it was my own." Actually, I prefer that they remember it's mine and treat it accordingly!
In what ways are we tempted to treat "our" stuff as really ours? The reality is that God is the giver of every good thing we have (Ja 1.17). Like the parable of the talents (Mt 25.14-30), we've been given charge of many things that don't belong to us. One day we'll give an account to the owner about how we handled his stuff. And I'm hopeful that we'll all hear "well done" on that day. I'm really looking forward to exploring what it means to "enter into [my master's] fullness of joy."
4. A steward takes care of his master's business first (Ge 24.32-61)
Long journey, really tired. Do you get to the end of your busy day/week and just want to think about your own needs for awhile? But the steward won't eat until he's accomplished his task, fulfilled his oath to his master.
Jesus knows that the stuff of life will constantly tempt us to advance our own kingdom first. We spend vast amounts of time and energy on anxiety about our own kingdom. But if our stuff truly belongs to him, we let him worry about it. Take a look again at Mt 6.25-34. Maybe read it every day this new year.
5. Summary: A steward is someone whose life purpose is no longer his own.
The steward now makes haste to get Rebekah back to his master and to Isaac. His only purpose seems to be to fulfill his oath.
The call to stewardship is a call to live life differently, to live life in a kingdom ruled by God, not by us. This is, in fact, the gospel--the call to be a steward in the kingdom of heaven. We tend to think of the gospel message as Jesus dying for us. That is not the message of the gospel, but the means by which the gospel was attained. The message of the gospel, as Jesus so often articulated it, was that the kingdom of heaven was now at hand and available for us to dwell in. There is a new king, and the way to find true life and joy is to forfeit our own throne, take up our cross, and follow Jesus into death (Mk 8.34-37). There we will truly find life.
So if you're thinking about a year-end gift to your church or ministry today, by all means make it. But remember that that stewardship is not a 10% "tip" to God for his service to us. God is not the steward of this ship. That's our role.