As a warning, this blog will be far more rewarding with a passable knowledge of the works of J.R.R Tolkien but it should be life-giving regardless. As a follower of Jesus, Tolkien’s work often reflects the teaching of Jesus in dynamic ways, bringing truth to light in remarkable ways. To be honest, I think life itself is more rewarding with a familiarity with the works of Tolkien.
The concept of stewardship has too long been relegated to the area of finances, falling short of the full calling of being a steward. The idea of stewardship started long before there was currency in the world… even before sin came into the world.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” – Genesis 1:26
At the moment of our creation, mankind was chosen as steward over all God created on the Earth. It was part of our fabric when he made us. This didn’t mean God was absent or distant in the garden or anytime thereafter. We were simply given the responsibility to rule with his authority.
The fall brought about a separation between man and God but the purpose and call as stewards remained. Everything that was given by God; the creation around us, the gifts we have, our position in life, our privilege, wealth, authority, even the breath in our lungs was given to be stewarded. Humans were created as the King’s stewards on earth.
The earth and everything in it is not ours to possess but to tend to. This is a difficult concept for us to grasp in a world telling us to accumulate wealth, possessions and experience for our own gain. It is very difficult to grasp this concept when we grow up with privilege. There is an entitlement bred into us through circumstances. Unlearning selfishness and pride is a difficult feat. A parent’s role is to model and train their children in the way of a steward, whether they have much or little. Those we consider privileged, however, inherit a more weighty responsibility.
“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48
Jesus made this statement during his explanation of a parable (it is worth reading the whole thing) instructing his followers to always live in readiness. In other words, there is never time off from being the Lord’s stewards.
I was rereading The Lord of the Rings a few years ago and was struck by the character Denethor. He is the Steward of Gondor for most of the series. We are introduced to him first through the internal conflict of his sons who resemble aspects of their father’s character and beliefs, but fall short of the presence he carries. It has been many generations since the last king of Gondor left a Steward in charge before dying in battle, leaving a succession of Stewards in his wake.
Denethor is a strong leader, who most consider a good man. The zeal with which he defends against the armies of evil is applaudable, and his tactics have protected all of Middle Earth. But he has lost sight of the position he holds as Steward. He is not the King, but managing with the authority of the King.
“I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.”
– The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor
I read this, and my heart ached. It didn’t ache just over the story I was reading but in light of the parable of the tenants, seeing how easy it is to claim what is given as our own.
9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant[b] to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?[c]
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
– Luke 20:9-18
This is such a sad commentary depicting the story of Israel rejecting God’s servants sent to call Israel back to their role of stewards and ultimately rejecting him. It is also a glimpse into what happens when anyone called by his name loses sight of what they are called to. It is the same thing that occurred in the depiction of Denethor. Like the religious leaders in Israel, no one could question Denothor’s zeal. But they all forgot whose throne (or land) it was when the messenger came.
We may not be sitting in a seat of power like the examples above but we all have something entrusted to us, even if it is just the breath in our lungs, revelation, or our own hands. We must ask ourselves the question: How am I stewarding what has been entrusted to me? Since it was entrusted to me by God, am I making the decisions he would? Am I treating what was entrusted as though it is for my own fulfillment or my stewardship? Am I equipping those in my charge to live as faithful stewards rather than entitled children?
If you think about it, we all, like Denethor, come from a long line of stewards for we were all created with that intention by the Lord. Over time, Denethor came to the point of forgetting this and claiming ownership over what was entrusted and rejecting the rightful king. Israel did the same thing in rejecting the messengers of God and even God himself.
How will you respond to Jesus’ return to take control? Will you cling to what you currently hold? Or will you give it over?
I was in Winnipeg recently visiting family. My papa has for a long time been the standard for me of what it looks like to be a good steward. I asked him the question of what has marked this season of his life and he said stewardship. It looks different in this season for him, but it is always the lens with which he views his life.
For a long time in his retirement he spent hours a day investing a set amount of his wealth on his own. He was part of a club where they would do it together. He would get great joy in doing this. I understood the reward and rush of the challenge and competition, but it always struck me as strange until I learned on this trip everything he made from it, he gave away. The more money that came in, the more he was able to give away. The source of his joy was in his faithful stewardship of what was entrusted to him. I am so thankful for this rich example. I continue to learn from and be blessed as his Grandchild. From season to season of his life, he has understood and walked out the rich example of being a good and faithful steward.
I wish to take inventory of what has been entrusted to me, including the gifts, possessions, people under my care, and each breath in my day. I want to see myself as a steward of everything found on this list rather than an entitled owner. I want to remember I was created to Steward what God has made and given to me for however long the season may last.
Surrender is paramount in this process. It is what the wicked tenants in the parable failed to do. They knew who the land belonged to and refused to surrender it back. Taking inventory and offering our thoughts and possessions back to the Lord is a practice reminding us we are stewards and not god’s unto ourselves. Not only does this process relinquish control but involves letting go of what was not given to us, but we took for ourselves, so God can place it in the hands of another.
God knows what is good for us to steward and what should be for another. He knows our capacity far better than we do. To quote yet another Lord of the Rings character in Gollum, we don’t want to find ourselves saying “It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious”. In a western world filled with entitlement and chasing after what we want, we stray further from the peace that comes in stewardship and the joy that follows. It is time to flip the script.