How to Become a Good Steward - Growing Closer to God Through Service
Recognize that your life's blessings come from God.
Don't be this person:
A man is desperately searching for a space in a church parking lot on a wedding day. As best man in the wedding, he can't be late. "God," he prays in desperation, "I'll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life if you just find me a space!"
Suddenly a spot opens up. "Oh, never mind God," he says. "I just found one."
Excerpt from The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything
If you are reading this article, chances are good that you have already invited God to be an active part of your life. The invitation you extended to Him is responded to with a multitude of blessings and obligations. Recognizing the blessings and fulfilling the obligations make you a good steward and, in turn, bring you ever closer to God. Obligations, the second part of the equation, we will discuss in a later article. For now, we will start with the blessings. Recognizing blessings may seem easy, but it actually takes work.
As a follower of Christ, you are special and your blessings come directly from God, your Father. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning, you are blessed. Throughout the day, no matter how great, ordinary or difficult, God is with you. Through the Holy Spirit, He consoles you, He pushes you, He makes you laugh. He puts difficult people in your life. He helps you relax. He gives you green lights when you're in a hurry and sometimes He makes you late to avoid accidents. He gives you extra work and responsibility to mold you into a better mother, father, friend, teacher, student, doctor, etc. He gives you good parking spaces, sometimes in the front of the lot and sometimes in the back of the lot. And sometimes, if He wants you to walk a little farther for your health, He may just give you a space outside of the lot. In every emotion you experience, every laugh and every sigh, God is blessing you.
It may be easy to see God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all that brings us pleasure. We recognize these blessings easily and often don't hesitate to thank God. It may not be so easy to recognize God in blessings that bring us pain. But He is there, supporting us, challenging us, feeling what we feel. And while we cannot see the big picture, He is painting it as we mourn, as we anguish, as we cry. Sometimes it takes days, months or even years to recognize and admit that difficult times in our lives were actually blessings in disguise.
God is a mystery - this is for certain. We cannot fathom the extent of His love for us. After all, how can He love us when we're often so undeserving to the point we may not even love ourselves? While His love for us is beyond our understanding, we can accept it. By accepting it, life becomes easier and more meaningful, and things that gave us pressure before have little power over us now. If you have invited God to be an active part of your life and you recognize that all your blessings come from God, you are either on the way to becoming a good steward or you're already there. You are surely an example to the rest of us.
One of my proudest moments as a parent came a few weeks ago when I overheard my young son saying his nightly prayers. He thanked God for a variety of things and almost concluded when he remembered something. "Thank you also, God," he said, "for the 60 out of 60 on my English test. I couldn't have done it without You." I caught my breath. I couldn't have done it without You, he said. That acknowledgement meant more to me than any perfect test score.
Let us all take time to thank God several times a day for our many blessings. If the coffee tastes good in the morning, thank God. If there's gas in the car, thank God. If you have enough to pay the bills, thank God. You get the picture.
Love God back.
At one Sunday Mass many years ago, my mother was sitting with my family. When it was time for the offertory, I gave my older child sitting next to me the envelope to put into the basket. My mother was sitting next to our younger child and didn't want her to feel left out. She took three dollars out of her purse and handed it to the three-year-old to put into the basket. Our daughter was delighted, and when the basket reached her, she separated one dollar bill and put it in the basket. The other two she put into her pocket.
In our previous Step on our journey to becoming good stewards, we contemplated God's love for us, feeling its intensity through the blessings, both joyful and painful, that He gives us on a daily basis. So what do we do with the love God showers upon us?
We return it to Him.
Returning God's love may seem difficult, if not impossible. After all, God is God, Creator of the Universe, the Alpha and the Omega, Lord of Heaven and Earth, the great I Am. He loves us so much that He gave His only Son to die for our sins. And us? We are human, prone to sin, pressed for time, proud, unforgiving. So, no, we cannot love God the way He loves us - for He is perfect and we are not. But we can love God in the way He told us in His Word and in the way Jesus showed us in His ministry. This brings us to the obligation part of becoming a good steward.
In the Bible we learn the true meaning of loving God. It is more than having that intense feeling of elation and longing for Him. It's more than attending Mass on Sundays. It's more than reading His Word. In fact, it is much more action-packed.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). While Jesus was speaking of all God's commandments, He also gave us a new commandment to keep, "This I command you, love one another." (John 15:17)
Jesus further shows us how important His new commandment is in a conversation He has with Simon Peter. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" When Peter answers yes, Jesus tells him, "Feed my lambs."
Jesus asks Peter again, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter tells Him yes once more. "Tend my sheep," says Jesus.
Peter becomes distressed when Jesus asks a third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter assures the Lord he does. Jesus replies, "Feed my sheep." Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus tells Peter that to love him is to feed his sheep, his people. He wanted to make sure Peter got it before Jesus was to leave him; He wanted to make sure we get it today.
In order to become good stewards we must love God back, and in order to love God back, we must use the blessings God gives us to bless others. We are an extension of God's hands, His heart, His voice. We must extend the promise of Jesus to those we minister to, extend the hope of life eternal with its unimaginable beauty. And when Jesus tells us that whatever we do for others, we do for Him, we further discover the awesome opportunity to encounter Jesus, not only in the Eucharist, but in others as we share our blessings with them.
Mother Teresa described it most beautifully as she wrote of Jesus in the faces of the destitute she served. "Hungry for love, He looks at you. Thirsty for kindness, He begs of you. Naked for loyalty, He hopes in you. Homeless for shelter in your heart, He asks of you. Will you be that one to Him?"
So often we share what we have because we've been taught to, because we know it is good, because we know it pleases God. However, searching for Jesus in the faces of those we serve brings a whole new perspective to giving. It becomes more personal, more meaningful, more glorious. And do you know what is also glorious? The ones we serve will see Jesus in us.
Let us continue to recognize God's many blessings in our everyday lives and let us add the words "I love you, too" to every thank you we offer up. Let us reflect on returning God's love in a very active way and start to think about the spiritual gifts God has given us to share. "Will you be that one to Him?"