Houston Graduate School of Theology

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Academic Excellence, Personal Transformation, Leadership Development

But Such as I Have

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by Dr. James Furr, President and Professor of Church and Culture, Houston Graduate School of Theology

An apparent stressor for many of us these days is the continuous flow of requests for our time, attention, and money. We are beckoned by ceaseless opportunities to embrace the cares, causes, and campaigns reaching out to us for help. How do we determine our responses?

Besides our ability to assess circumstances and compatibility, we are wise to remember that our judgment is always influenced by cultural values and patterns. A dominant notion of Western culture is that these choices are primarily our personal decisions to make. Faithful Christians are mindful that we are stewards of God’s gifts; that we are blessed to be a blessing. The practice of shared, prayerful discernment should guide our service to others.

Another common cultural assumption is that all social life is based on a system of fair exchange, of balanced giving and receiving. This reminds me of Philip Kenneson’s wise counsel in his book Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community. In a section addressing how we spend our time, he could just as easily have been dealing with our stewardship of leadership, skills, or money. Note his commendations:

We might, for example, begin by trying to avoid talking about time as if it were one more commodity to be saved, spent or invested. In a similar way, we might try to avoid thinking or talking about “investing” our time in one another and start thinking and talking about “devoting” our time to people. I admit that such changes might seem small and incidental, but I would not want to underestimate the power that certain ways of thinking and speaking have over our imaginations and affections. If I “invest” my time in something (or someone), by definition I do so with an expectation of a return on my investment. In contrast, to “devote” my time to someone is already to acknowledge his or her worth; the act itself is one of devotion (p. 128).

 Imagine your parents during your teenage years saying, “Get in the car. We are taking you back to the hospital because your life has not provided an adequate return on our investment.” Kenneson’s insightful work guides us to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. Like gardeners, we are called to wise action that bears fruit, but we are not the ultimate source of transformation in people or organizations. We offer to others the small fish and loaves of our lives as God intervenes in our midst. Like any relationship for which we have visions and hopes, seeing a desired “result” may take time, and may or may not align perfectly with our preferences at any given moment.

 When Peter and John approached the temple gate called Beautiful, they memorably responded to a crippled man’s request for alms in a way he could not have imagined (Acts 3:1-10). We can’t predict, much less control, the outcome of our devotion to others. Sometimes, the Spirit leads us to support those who are running the race well or, perhaps, struggling a bit, though we have reasons to be confident about their future. Sometimes, we pour out of lives for someone whose future is uncertain, but we choose to encourage and nurture them anyway. And sometimes, like Peter and John, we offer such as we have—and miracles happen.