The highest-paid dead celebrities and God’s provision for our souls

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The highest-paid dead celebrities and God’s provision for our souls

November 10, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

A 1967 photo of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings" and an Oxford University Professor (AP Photo). Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant smiles as he jogs to the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

J. R. R. Tolkien and Kobe Bryant

A 1967 photo of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings" and an Oxford University Professor (AP Photo). Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant smiles as he jogs to the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Some people make more money dead than most of us make alive. A lot more.

According to Forbes, J. R. R. Tolkien’s estate earned $500 million in the last year. Kobe Bryant earned $400 million; Elvis Presley earned $110 million. Their income included sales, streams, licensing deals, and other sources as well as estate acquisitions.

Unlike world-class celebrities (dead and alive), you and I are supported not by our fans or our estates but by our Father. The income that supports us and our families comes from the Lord through the giving of his people. You may earn additional income in other ways, of course, but at least part of your financial support comes from the One you serve.

Here’s the part it took me years to learn: everything I need to fulfill my calling comes from God. Not just my salary—everything. And yet, he calls me to use the resources he has entrusted to me and will hold me accountable for such obedience.

One of the great challenges of my life is balancing these two facts.

“The jar of flour shall not be spent”

1 Kings 17 finds Elijah on the run from wicked king Ahab in the midst of a drought the prophet had declared by the word of God. He is in trouble in two ways: the nation is struggling with starvation while the most powerful man in the land is hunting for him.

The Lord directed him, “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (v. 3). There he drank from the brook and was fed by the ravens (vv. 4–6).

Then, when the brook dried up, the Lord directed Elijah to Zarephath, where he “commanded a widow there to feed you” (v. 9). Such a person would be the least likely to have resources to spare. And in fact, she did not: she was gathering sticks to make a last meal for herself and her son before they died. But the Lord declared to her through his prophet: “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lᴏʀᴅ sends rain upon the earth” (v. 14). And it was so.

Here we see displayed the timeless balance between divine provision and human obedience.

God provided through a natural brook and the supernatural gift of food via ravens. Then he provided through a natural “jar of flour” and his supernatural expansion of that resource. In both cases, Elijah had to obey commands that must have made little sense at the time. Not because his obedience earned God’s favor, but because faith positions us to receive what grace intends to give.

As I work, God works

All through my life and work I have struggled with this balance. I know that I cannot convict a single sinner of a single sin or save a single soul. All that matters for eternity must be the work of the eternal God.

At the same time, Scripture asks, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). You and I are called to love God with all our “minds” (Matthew 22:37). Like Jesus, we are to grow “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Even at the end of his life, Paul still wanted Timothy to bring him “the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).

Here’s the balance, I think, a principle I first discovered in Fisher Humphreys’ marvelous systematic theology, Thinking About God: As I work, God works. As I do and give my best, he does with me and for me more than I could ever do with and for myself. But he uses my obedience as a means to his eternal ends. He partners with me to use the spiritual gifts and innate abilities he has imparted to me.

I will be held responsible one day for the way I used what he entrusted to me (cf. Matthew 25:14–30). At the same time, my obedience enables me to partner with God as he does what only he can do through my life and work.

“Do not neglect the parish of your own soul”

As we do our best so God can do his best, there’s one other factor to remember: such a commitment to excellence starts with ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have. If we allow those we serve to deplete our “well,” we have no spiritual water for those yet to be served.

There is a well-documented epidemic of burnout among ministers today. This factor is one reason why.

This issue was highlighted for me recently in a sermon I read by Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584. He offered these perceptive observations: “If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you preach first by the way that you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head” (my emphasis).

He continued: “Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.

“My brothers, you must realize that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during, and after everything we do. . . . This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.”

“O Lord, strengthen my hope”

Are you working as if all depended on you while praying as if all depended on God? Are you caring for “the parish of your own soul” so you can care for others in your parish? Are you trusting God for his best while giving him your best?

Henri Nouwen captured our reliance on our Father’s provision with these perceptive words I invite you to offer to God:

Dear God,

I am full of wishes,
full of desires,
full of expectations.
Some of them may be realized, many may not,
but in the midst of all my satisfactions
and disappointments,
I hope in you.
I know that you will never leave me alone
and will fulfill your divine promises.
Even when it seems that things are not going my way,
I know that they are going your way
and that in the end your way is the
best way for me.
O Lord, strengthen my hope,
especially when my many wishes are not fulfilled.
Let me never forget that your name is Love.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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