Many moviegoers remember Jimmy Stewart, that fine actor from decades ago. In the movie Shenandoah, he plays Charlie Anderson—a proud, independent Virginia farmer during the Civil War. A widower, he has six sons, a daughter, and an expectant daughter in law. Charlie goes to church only because he promised his deceased wife he would. He is, in fact, angry at God for the death of his wife, Martha. One of the more famous scenes in the movie is his dinner prayer, which goes like this:
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it. We sowed it and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t be eating it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we’re about to eat. Amen.
The phrase that sticks out to me is, “…we thank you just the same…” In other words, “You didn’t do much, but I’ll throw you a prayer bone.” This kind of prayer reveals a person whose life is his or her own, and God is in a compartment off to the side—and a not-too-relevant compartment at that. It is an acknowledgment that there is a God, but that we are not connected in any meaningful way.
We all know people who live like that. They are sure that it was their hard work that got them to college, their hard work that manufactured success, their efforts that gave them a nice house and car, and their wisdom that helped them raise good kids. The problem isn’t that they didn’t do good work—of course they did. The problem is that they see themselves at the center, and so notice themselves to the exclusion of all else.
Could it be that God gave them their gifts for engineering, teaching, singing, or fixing things? Could it be that God gave them the personality that fit well with the ambitions their company had for them? Could it be that God put the teachers around them that made the difference? Could it be that their faithful parents sacrificed their own dreams to put food on the table? Could it be that they had examples of responsible adults to model? Could it be that by luck, or by God, they were born in a part of the world where their efforts would be rewarded? Could it be that their sex, or race, were never obstacles to their hard work?
Stewardship is the recognition that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1: 17) Stewardship is the matching of our gifts and efforts with God’s gifts and graces. Stewardship understands that without God all the efforts are vain and are vainglory.
When you sit down to dinner tonight, make your prayer more than a passing “we thank you just the same.” Remember that you are a steward of all God has given, and God has given you a lot.
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Director of Development
United Methodist Foundation of Indiana