Many people make commitments, at different times, to improve themselves. New Year’s Day brings a new rush of resolutions. Many of us repeat the same resolutions we made the previous year. Many Christians give up something, perhaps a particular comfort food or habit, during the season of Lent, but are no better the following year. Major life transitions may also challenge us to review our priorities and desire to be a better person.
Ironically, most of our resolutions and recommitments are self-centered. They focus on how we can make our own lives better or how we can feel better about ourselves. Few people really think about how they can make the world a better place or truly draw closer to God.
This is the first of a three-part series about stewardship. As you read each part, I challenge you to take a different approach than you may have in the past. Many of us are trying to find way to improve our physical health. Instead, why not commit to improving the health of the body of Christ?
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, ESV).
Paul goes on to describe how each part has its own distinct function. Different parts need to be connected to the body, and each contributes to its overall health. Likewise, every Christian has a blessing to offer to the body of Christ. We each have different spiritual gifts, natural abilities, interests and passions that equip us to bless the church in different ways.
In this three-part series, I will encourage you to consider how you can bless God’s Kingdom by giving of your time, talents, and treasures.
The Bible often mentions the importance of giving our first fruits to God. This term comes from the Old Testament, where worshipers were expected to bring the first crops they harvested as an offering to the Lord. The term first fruits expanded to include other “firsts”: the firstborn son was consecrated to the Lord; other first blessings were given over to God.
Many Christians are quick to think of first fruits in terms of finances. True disciples pay tithes as a priority, even if there are other pressing financial needs or wants. However, first fruits is not merely a reference to money: It is a principle that applies to all aspects of Christian stewardship. Giving to God is always a priority item. We do not worship God as an afterthought or give Him our leftovers: We give Him the best we can offer.
The Bible’s first account of sacrificial worship bears this out. When Cain and Abel offered sacrifices, Abel offered the first fruits of his flock, while Cain seems to have haphazardly pulled some of his produce together (see Gen. 4:3-4). God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Was it because Abel offered a blood sacrifice and Cain did not? This is a popular explanation, but it is weak. Many explain God’s displeasure with Cain’s offering by citing Hebrews 9:22: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Yet, there is no indication in Genesis 4 that Cain and Abel were seeking forgiveness at that point. Some fellowship and peace offerings in the Old Testament were vegetables and grain. It seems as though the attitude was what mattered: first fruits represented not only the first, but the best. Abel gave his best, while Cain just gave haphazardly.
God wants and deserves our best. He wants worship and fellowship to be a priority. However, many Christians fit corporate worship in when it is convenient. Favorite television shows, hobbies, the children’s weekend sports activities, and other diversions may keep us from church. If we truly love God and are excited about our salvation, we should be eager to give Him our time. Yet, many Christians give the first fruits of their time and energy to the world (their jobs, leisure activities) instead of to God. Some come to church only if nothing else is going on.
Our time at church goes beyond singing a few upbeat songs and listening to an inspiring sermon. True fellowship involves looking for ways to be an encouragement to others: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). We should seek opportunities to bless others.
We should also bless the body of Christ with our prayers. A serious disciple of our Lord will choose to make time for prayer. Prayer comes before television, not when there is nothing to watch. If we decide to pray “when I get around to it,” we will never commune with God.
My current goal is to pray the four Daily Offices of prayer indicated in the Book of Common Prayer [morning, noon, evening and compline (before bed)]. I usually succeed in praying three of them (I have to confess, I can get lazy around compline time). Getting those prayer times in is not easy: I have to choose to sit down and pray the morning office before work. I have to turn my eyes from my computer at lunch time to pray the noon office. I have to really force myself to pray the evening office. These do not come easily. It starts with a decision that “This is important.” Sure, I can find a TV show to watch or a website to visit, but if I want to pray, I will make the time.
If you are serious about giving God the first fruits of your time, chart your course. How much time will I spend in prayer every day? When will it be? How much of it will be Bible reading, and how much will be prayer? Where will I pray? (This last one is important: You need to find a place where you will not be distracted or interrupted.) Then, based on these decisions, make a commitment to pray. Write it in your planner as an urgent appointment. Eventually, it will become a habit, like eating three meals per day.
It is interesting to note that Paul mentions prayer at the end of his description of the full armor of God in Ephesians 6. He says that we should pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18). He urges his readers to pray for him. This should remind us to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially our spiritual leaders. Your pastor needs your prayers. If your church does not publish a prayer list or notify members about prayer requests, ask you pastor how you can pray for the church. Commit to being a prayer warrior for your church.
If the word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), then prayer is our spiritual missile. It is the weapon that can engage in spiritual warfare across great spans of space and time. Prayer for the church and its members is a vital ministry that all believers, regardless of skills, gifts, or spiritual maturity level, can participate in.