Have you ever seen the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks? If not, please do. It is the story of a FedEx executive, Chuck Noland, whose cargo plane crashes on a remote island. He is instantly ripped away from his modern world of comfort and forced into a day-to-day struggle for survival. He does not know if or when he will be rescued.
One of the most joyful parts of the movie occurs when he learns to start a fire, in addition to learning other skills. Though Noland ultimately survives, he has to produce everything he needs for himself, so most of his waking hours are dedicated to mere survival.
God did not create us to live autonomously like Noland is forced to in the movie. Our individual efforts at stewardship impact everyone around us as well.
God calls us into community with one another to serve each other. In our modern world, we do not have to worry about how to build fires. We purchase matches or lighters or better yet, central heat. We get up every day and use products, and we are completely ignorant of their design, production, and origin.
We have the pure pleasure of using our uniqueness to serve others in all of this. How else is a city or a culture built but in the coming together of strangers to trade their talents and gifts with one another? This is what we do when we pursue our callings in business or through other work.
God created us with different gifts and skills so that we would come together, and in that coming together we become interdependent upon one another.
We need each other. In that need, we are able to serve each other. God weaves a rich tapestry of our humanity through our uniqueness. Together we can achieve things impossible to achieve on our own.
In this way, we are “ignorant beneficiaries” of the thousands of technologies we use and depend on each and every day. When we focus on our unique gifts and skills, we are freed from having to figure everything out on our own. We can serve others with the talents we have rather than trying to perfect skills that are out of our reach.
When we embrace the notion of whole-life stewardship, we are freed from having to merely survive. Instead, we can thrive, we can bring about flourishing, and we can bring glimpses of hope to a dark world.
Here is a small example of how different life is in the developing world versus the developed world:
In any number of developing countries, women wake in the morning with children in tow. Their daily routine includes: gathering baskets and walking to the nearest stream or river (which is often far away), filling their baskets with dirty water, washing their clothes, bathing themselves and their children, and walking back to their village. One leg of this trip is often several miles in back-breaking heat. And tomorrow, they will have to get up to do it all over again.
These women, just like you and I, were created in the image of God, and just like you and I, they have inherent dignity. And yet we do not even have to think about where and how to collect and purify water. Why the difference?
The answer lies in stewardship in the form of specialization. In developing countries, every single person often has to fetch his or her own water. Meanwhile, we can just purchase our water from people who specialize in doing that.
Whole-life stewardship is a powerful biblical principle that can transform the world by bringing about greater levels of flourishing for the believer and non-believer alike. We can do this by seeing stewardship as the responsible use of everything in our lives, not just our money or out time. It means using our unique, God-given gifts and talents to serve others and glorify God. Are you pursuing your vocation whole-heartedly and using your talents to the best of your abilities? That’s whole-life stewardship.
But in order for people to exercise whole-life stewardship, they need freedom and an environment that promotes their God-given creativity and purpose.
God does not promise us material wealth, but he does tell us in Jeremiah 29:11 that he wants a hope and a future for us. We need to live in a society where opportunities for profound acts of whole-life stewardship are plentiful.
What can you do in the service of others and the King? You can prayerfully seek your calling and do it with excellence.
Your work may seem mundane or unimportant, but it is the single most important way you serve others, some of whom you may never meet.
Embracing whole-life stewardship allows us to serve others and brings great joy to ourselves in the process.
By: Hugh Whelchel
Hugh Whelchel is Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and author of How Then Should We Work? – Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Hugh has a Master of Arts in Religion and brings over thirty years of diverse business experience to his leadership at IFWE.Read More Articles by Hugh Whelchel