The story that follows is an occasion in the ministry of Rev. John Schreiber in which a woman's pledge was beyond anything her pastor thought she could afford. She not only gives generously, but demonstrates that doing so can be a source of joy.
A Life of Joy
The Rev. John Schreiber, Bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod, tells a story about a visit to a parishioner he made while he was a young pastor. It was one of those stewardship campaign calls in which he knew, at some point, that he was going to have to ask for her coming year pledge. He dreaded that moment, because this woman was a single mother on a very low income -- poverty level. She struggled to get by, he knew, but the church council had agreed to an "every member visit" and this woman was on his list.
On the day of the visit, Schreiber found himself sitting at her kitchen table, making small talk and generally avoiding the subject of why he was there. Finally, she got to the point, saying something like, "I suppose you want my pledge." He stammered that he'd been hesitant to ask, knowing her circumstances.
With her pledge card lying on the table between them, she laid her faith on the line: "I want to pledge $30 a week." Schreiber was dumbfounded, saying "I know how much you make -- you can't afford that!"
That's when the loud and clear lesson came through as the woman replied, "It's the least I can do. Jesus gave everything and all for me. Write it down."
It's easy to imagine a broad smile on her face at that moment. The comfort and happiness would light up the room. Think about the emotions flowing through her as she made that sizeable financial commitment.
That woman, who had little in the way of material comforts, who just managed to get by and eked out a hand-to-mouth existence, pledged $30 a week to her church. And she did it with confidence and no small amount of joy. She had been blessed, and she knew it.
Maybe it starts with Luke 21:1-4 (CEV): "Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box. He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies. And he said, 'I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others. Everyone else gave what they didn't need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had.'"
Maybe that's just it, she knew she gave from what she had, or what she had first been given. The woman John Schreiber visited that day modeled the life of a steward. That's a strong lesson she teaches us.
- We don't give because we're pretty well off and won't miss a few bucks.
- We don't give because we somehow feel obligated.
- We don't give because we owe "dues to the church."
Sometimes we get so caught up in our giving that we forget why we're giving. We forget about our joyful response. The women in the Luke 21 story and in Pastor Schreiber's congregation knew exactly what their reasons were. Do we?
When we give from what we have - and with an awareness of all the blessings we have - that's when we truly become joyful. That's when we become true stewards. God leads us there. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 16:11: "You show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures forevermore." There is a fullness of joy just from being in God's presence, and that joy shows up where we least expect it.
We give in joyful response and often it's a joy we haven't known before. After all, it's the least we can do.
- Where is the joy in your stewardship journey?
- Take a piece of paper and write a short paragraph that describes the kind of joy you think the woman from Pastor Schreiber's congregation felt. How is it similar to the joy you feel when you give to your congregation? How is it different?
- What percentage of her income do you think the woman from Pastor Schreiber's congregation was giving? If you gave that percentage, how do you think you would feel about the income you'd be giving away?
- If someone was telling a joyful story about you and your stewardship, what would it be?
From Salt Seasonings, April 2003. Any part of Salt Seasonings can be reproduced for local use with attribution.
Mark Quade is an independent stewardship consultant.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.