I recently had lunch with a man whom I respect that is in his seventies. He told me, “I don't know why it has taken me so long to learn the lesson that all I have is God's. He's had to teach me this by taking things I thought were mine away from me.” Wow! I then recalled how difficult that lesson has been for me to learn as well. It seems like we all are challenged with the understanding that all we have is only on loan from God.
Here's our tendency: We think that because we possess something, we own it. The truth, however, is that all we have our health, our time, our abilities, our family, our money, our ministries, and churches are gifts from God given to us for a certain period of time and for a particular purpose. They are temporary and may go away, or may be taken away at any time, and certainly one day they will return to the Lord when we pass on to heaven.
Likewise, times when we've prayed and prayed and God finally delivers what we've prayed for, we can take those answers and hold them in a way that they become our hope, our security, and our joy rather than the One who gave them to us in the first place.
Abraham, the father of our faith, struggled with this very idea. In Genesis 12 God promised him offspring and descendants. 25 years later, though, still no son. So he and his barren wife Sarai (Sarah) devised a plan for Abraham to bear a child through their handmaiden Hagar (a common custom for continuing the family line in the ancient world). Hagar gave birth to a son and they named him Ishmael. So Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands and decided to achieve God's will their own way. The problem is, this wasn't God's provision.
So God comes to Abraham and says that Ishmael is not the promise and that He will provide a son through Sarah. Sarah conceives and Isaac is eventually born. I can't imagine the joy and wonder that Abraham felt at the gift of his son. He was the promise finally delivered.
Years later, however, God came back to Abraham commanding him to sacrifice his now teenage son Isaac. Possibly over the years Abraham had taken ownership of Isaac and forgotten that his son was a gift from God. Maybe Abraham lacked humility in this gift or took for granted this miracle. Or possibly, God simply wanted Abraham to remember how gracious the Father was to provide Isaac.
Regardless of the reason, God instructs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Amazingly, Abraham takes his son on the mountain and to the altar. He raises the dagger, but then suddenly an angel from heaven calls out for him to stop. The voice says, “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Gen. 22:12)
Abraham was willing to give back to the Father the very thing the Father had given to him. He was asked to hold it loosely, to steward it faithfully, and to release it when God asked.
You see, the way we handle the things we possess gives evidence as to whether we believe they are the Lord's or ours.
When we believe that the things we possess are actually ours or exist because of us, they begin to control and define us rather than the other way around. Consequently, our security and identity becomes rooted in them. And then, we are unable to separate ourselves from them, or release them, or trust God with them because to do so would mean to lose our selves. This was never God's intention for the gifts He gives His creation.
Let me remind you that you wife and your children are not yours; they're on loan. Your money, your time, your talents are not yours; they're on loan. The Random House dictionary defines a steward as “a person charged with the responsibility of managing another person's assets that have been entrusted to his or her care.” We are stewards, not owners.