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In many churches, the word “stewardship” has a particular meaning, and it is often heard with dread. “Stewardship” is a code word for what is elsewhere called “development” or “advancement” or, more bluntly, “fund raising.” When stewardship season rolls around in your church, it’s time to get our your check book (or credit card, or, now, donation app).
Yet, stewardship includes so much more than giving to your church, however importance that is. Psalm 8 celebrates real, basic stewardship. The psalm begins by praising the majesty of God as revealed in creation. Yet the glory of God in the universe accentuates the apparent insignificance of human beings: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (8:4). The startling answer to this question comes from the very creation of humanity, as revealed in Genesis 1 and underscored in Psalm 8. God, in fact, created humanity “a little lower than God” and “crowned them with glory and honor” (8:5). Moreover, he delegated to human beings the care of his creation: “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet” (8:6). God made us to be his stewards who manage his creation for his purposes and benefit.
Today is Independence Day in the United States, a day of patriotic celebrations for citizens in my country. I thought it would be appropriate for me to offer a reflection that is suitable for this day, even though quite a few readers of Life for Leaders do not live in the United States. If you’re from another country, what I write will be relevant to you, though the date won’t have the same significance as it does for my American readers.
In one of his letters to Timothy, the Apostle Paul urged him to offer “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for all people (1 Tim 2:1). Then, becoming more specific, Paul added that prayers should be offered “for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (2:2).
I wonder why Paul felt it necessary to urge Timothy to pray for his political leaders. Could it be that this sort of prayer might easily haven been neglected, even by such a faithful Christian as Timothy?
Yesterday, I began considering the question “How does God lead?” as revealed in Genesis 1-2. Though the text doesn’t mention divine leadership specifically, we would be well served to consider how God’s activity in creation exemplifies an approach to leadership that can instruct and inspire us. So far, we’ve seen how God’s “leadership” is shaped by vision and exercised through delegation.
Empowering Direction. In Genesis 1-2, God tells the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). These are clear imperatives, given from a superior to those who operate under the superior’s authority. Yet, these directives are not limiting or demeaning, but expansive and honoring. They do not squelch creativity and innovation. Rather, they encourage it.
As I finish up my look back at Genesis 1-2, I want to ask a simple question of this text: “How does God lead?” Since this devotional is called Life for Leaders and since it is published by Fuller Seminary’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, it seems appropriate to reflect a bit on God’s leadership in the biblical account of creation. This is not only a matter of theological curiosity, however. Since we have been created in God’s image and invited to participate in God’s work in the world, then examining God’s way of leading will help us to know how we should lead as well.
The words “leader” or “leadership” do not appear in Genesis 1-2. For the most part, these chapters focus on what God did in creation, with the last verses including human activity as well. Yet, if leadership is a matter of “enabling change over time,” as my colleague Scott Cormode observes, then there is a strong sense in which God leads by creating the heavens and the earth. Moreover, Genesis makes it clear that God envisions a world in which others, namely human beings, will also be change agents. Thus, God could be said to exercise leadership of human beings while inviting them into leadership as well.
In the last couple of months as I having been working my way slowly through Genesis 1-2, I was impressed once again by the picture in this passage of the relationship between male and female. In Genesis 1:27, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Then, God blessed both male and female together and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). Humankind, as male and female, bears the very image of God. Humankind, as male and female, is given authority and stewardship over creation. This passage reveals God’s intentions for a deep collaboration between man and woman in the work he assigned to human beings.
As we look back upon Genesis 1-2, we see that God created us for community. This community is epitomized in the relationship of man and woman, which, among other things, made possible the growth of community as the first humans were fruitful and multiplied.
In Genesis 1, God created humankind in God’s own image as male and female. Community was built in from the start, an essential element of human life. In Genesis 2, the creation of human beings is seen from a different perspective. God created the man first. But then God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (2:18). There it is, plain as day: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God creates us for relationship, for fellowship, for community.
Now you may want to say, “Wait a minute! The man wasn’t alone. He had God. In fact, his relationship with God was unstained by sin at this point in the story. The man and God could walk together in the garden, experiencing an intimacy we can only imagine. Why, then, would God say that the man was alone? Wasn’t relationship with God enough?”
In today’s Life for Leaders edition, I continue to reflect back on things I have learned through our devotional study of Genesis 1-2.
Through my work with the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, I regularly interact with highly productive, extremely busy people. Many are marketplace leaders who oversee substantial organizations. Others are entrepreneurs who devote countless hours to their start-ups. Still others are pastors whose work never ends, or non-profit leaders who are quite literally taking on the world. I find myself at home with people like this because I also work hard, often with much joy in the adventure of leadership and productivity.
Work comes naturally to leaders. Rest? Well, that’s often a different story.
My friend Tom was born with defective kidneys. Thus, on a fairly regular basis, he has to go in for a kidney test. The doctors want to see if his kidneys are functioning well enough for Tom to continue on without invasive medical treatment. So far, so good. But, when it’s time for his kidney test, Tom is understandably nervous.
How about you? Are you nervous about your kidney test? Now, before you email me to say that you aren’t having such a medical procedure, let me hasten to say that I’m not thinking of the sort of thing Tom has to endure periodically. Rather, I’m translating Psalm 7:9 in an overly literal way. We read, “[You] test the minds and hearts, O righteous God” (7:9).
Today I’d like to wrap up some recent reflections on work and God’s glory. In the last two installments of Life for Leaders, I’ve been suggesting that one of the main ways we are able to glorify God is through our work. I didn’t make this out of whole cloth. I found it in Genesis 1-2, where God creates human beings so they might work in the world. If God made us for work, then we can honor and glorify God through working.
In yesterday’s installment of Life for Leaders, I considered how the centrality of work in Genesis 1-2 is consistent with the traditional affirmation that the “chief end of man” is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Work is one way, perhaps even the main way, we can glorify God in this life.
This may sound confusing if you tend to think of glorifying God as what we do in church when we sing praises to God. No question, this counts as glorifying God. But there is so much more to glorifying God than praising God, no matter how essential and wonderful this might be.
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