“For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Genesis 18: 19
Not only are we to be stewards of the earth, we are also supposed to be stewards of each other. We are called by God to attend to each other’s spirituality as part of our stewardship of the family.
Adam and Eve were given stewardship over the earth. They were to be “keepers” of the garden that God had given them. Only one generation later, their son Cain asks a question of God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Are we to keep both the earth and each other? The answer is yes, we are, which today’s Scripture illustrates in addressing Abraham’s family stewardship.
Abraham deals rightly with his nephew Lot on a number of occasions. In Genesis 12 Abram goes to Egypt because of a famine. At this point Lot, his nephew, has been traveling with him so that when they return to Canaan, the land promised to Abram by God, the Promised Land, Lot is with him. There is some quarreling between the servants of Lot and Abram as their prosperity grows and they have many flocks and herds. Abram gives Lot the choice of which lands to take and he chooses to go to the east, placing his tents near the city of Sodom. Even though they part, Abram does not give up on his responsibility towards his family, towards Lot.
In Genesis 14 four kings invade the area and take away Lot and his possessions. Abram responds. Genesis 14:14: “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.”
Abraham’s choice of responsibility and stewardship over his family continues for generations. Part of his stewardship over his family is educating them and teaching them how to be his children, to be in his image as he is in the image of God. We find that, unlike Cain, Abraham’s offspring are life givers rather than life takers. We are to follow Abraham’s lead which is to follow Jesus, as Matthew 1:1 states, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Christian stewardship of the family begins in the home. We know that schools have changed quite a bit in recent years, and the home has, too. Since 1946 a high school teachers’ poll revealed top students’ offenses to be things such as talking, chewing gum, and not throwing away waste paper. Now teachers encounter far worse behavior that involves robbery, assault, burglary, and arson.
I would expect that parents face more serious challenges as they teach in the home. No matter what the challenges are, we are called to help each other develop a spiritual anchor so we will not drift from our spiritual home. The anchor is found in being stewards to one another. Whether the family is blended, facing or recovering from divorce, facing loss of a family member, and whether there are small children, no children, or children away at college or fully grown, these three points apply and will help your family be better stewards of each other.
1. Talk about God. The first point is to talk about God at home. We are all out of practice on this. We go to church and direct our energy toward God for one hour, then we put God on the back burner for the rest of the week. We need more than an hour to focus ourselves upon God. There was a man whose funeral included not only his involvement in the church but his beliefs about God. After the service his children remarked how they wished they could have known this part of him, but they missed out on this whole dimension of who he was. Talking about his spiritual life was not a part of his home life.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 states, These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. If it seems like a tall order to suddenly get the family talking about God, think of it not as as getting together to talk but rather gathering to listen to each other. Stephen Covey writes that the biggest obstacle in personal communication is not the inability to say what’s on your mind, it’s the inability to listen as the other person says what’s on his or her mind. Covey says, “Many people do not listen with intent to understand. They listen with intent to reply.” This kind of listening isn’t really listening at all. The book of Proverbs says,
He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
The family can sit down and ask the question, “If you had to make a prayer list of things to pray about, what would be on that list?” Then listening, the real listening of spiritual conversation, can happen. Parents and spouses tend to reply before they understand what is being said, and that is why communication breaks down within families. Another idea might be to telephone a family member and ask the question, “How is your spirit?” “How is your relationship with God?” That is a very caring opening line for spiritual conversation.
2. Develop Rituals. A second principle for family stewardship is to develop and sustain spiritual rituals in the home. Church does not have to be the only place where our lives enter into organized rituals that recognize God’s presence. We remind ourselves that God is near when we bring God into our home, such as the Jewish tradition touching the mezuzah on the doorposts of their homes. This ritual withstands the test of time in that tradition, but not all rituals in the home do. The Presbyterian tradition in which I grew used to have a section in its Book of Common Worship for worship in the home that was unfortunately removed years ago.
Sometimes the repetition of a home ritual puts it in danger of losing its meaning or context. A groom asked his new bride why she cut the ends off of a ham. She said that she did not know, but that her mother did it, who revealed that her mother did it because the pan was too small for the ham!
A family ritual that I remember , growing up in Alabama, was my mother reading Little Visits With God to us at night. These short stories involved children facing moral situations with a prayer and a lesson at the end. We expected these stories and noticed when they were missed. There are numerous good devotionals that have been created with a specific life stage in mind. A devotional time might open new avenues of spirituality in the family. It might reveal new possibilities of growth within the family.
A recent publication, Three Questions for a Frantic Family, is written by an executive who brought his business expertise to his family. He writes that the three questions take about ten minutes (a good time for devotionals) to cover. The first question deals with the family philosophy, that asks, what does our family really believe in? what are our core beliefs and what makes us unique? The second question asks what the current priority of the week should be- what should the family’s energies focus upon that week? The third question asks how to implement the answers to those three questions. Those three questions are a type of devotional approach, and there are many others that might work for you.
These rituals provide evidence to the family that the spiritual dimension is not being neglected. As I mentioned before, they are an anchor dropped that keeps the family from drifting from their spiritual home.
3. Practice the faith together. Talk about God, create rituals, and finally, the third principle of stewardship of the family is to practice the faith. Put your faith into practice by serving someone together. Visit someone, go to a soup kitchen, or create a ritual of a once a year service project such as giving away turkeys at Christmastime. When a family serves others together, spiritual bonds develop. It is difficult to find these situations to serve, but the church will help provide ideas and opportunities to serve as a family, such as the food packing service project in two weeks.
At food packing, the family comes to a super charged event of organizing groceries for our service agencies to distribute. I encourage you to come because it is faith in action and a perfect example of how a family can practice stewardship. Serving others as a family teaches compassion, one of the most important character traits we can nurture. Many times the world seems to promote selfishness. One way to combat that is to develop servant hearts within the family. Once a family puts these hearts to use, they want to impact their world, and Christian service is a wonderful way to help them quench that craving.
Before you can begin these three principles, you need to ask yourself where you stand spiritually. Ask yourself where you stand in your relationship with God. Remember Paul and Silas preaching in Philipi? They were imprisoned but did not escape when an earthquake threw the doors open. The jailor suddenly did a spiritual inventory on himself and decided he needed to change. He asked Paul and Silas what must he do to be saved, and brought them home to his family for a meal. Scripture reports that the whole household became Christians.
The were brought into the family of faith, the family of God. The Bible points toward spiritual stewardship of the family and does not withhold how a family can be broken. Jesus tells us how God believes in the stewardship of the family using parables such as the prodigal son. That parable has a son returning to the family after insulting everyone with his irresponsible behavior. The father welcomes him home just as God welcomes us home with great celebration. Jesus tells the disciples that nothing can snatch them from his hand. He tells the crowd that these are his family, referring to the disciples. Jesus wants us to realize that nothing we can do will separate us from God. Nothing will keep God from loving us, because we will always be a part of God’s family.
When we make a decision, as the jailor did, to bring the good news of God to our homes, whether we utilize one or all of these three principles, or whether we discover a new one altogether, we are exercising better stewardship of our family. As you complete a spiritual inventory, just those simple questions of where you are with God, keep at the forefront of your mind- as God cares for you as a part of God’s family you are called to care for your family. A family is more than just a group of individuals with the same last name or the same address. A family is a team, a group of people committed to one another. The message of the gospel is that God is committed to us; the hope of the family is that together we remain committed to God and committed to one another.
Because we are in the line of Abraham leading all the way to Christ, not in the line of Cain, our families should be characterized by listening to one another, knowing one another, being obedient to Christ together, growing spiritually together, accepting one another unconditionally, and sharing a common purpose together. Let us talk about God, create lasting rituals that bring an eternal perspective, and serve together. Take these three principles home with you and practice good stewardship in your family. Amen.