Are you living like a “bucket” or a “pipe”? This is a rather odd metaphorical question, is it not? Yet, it is only odd until you consider the purpose of a bucket and the purpose of a pipe. A bucket is designed to hold things (liquids, dirt, etc.). A pipe is designed to convey things through it (fluids, gases, etc.). The bucket holds what it receives and the pipe transfers on what it receives. So, in regards to the wealth that God has graciously entrusted to you, let me ask, “Are you living your life like a bucket or a pipe?” Are you holding on or passing on?
The Way of the Bucket
It is easy enough to live like a bucket and there are three reasons why we can indeed find ourselves living like a bucket.
#1: We can find ourselves living like a bucket when we ignore the ultimate end of all buckets.
I saw a bumper sticker some time ago that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” I thought, “What an accurate way to express the world’s view of life and possessions.” But it immediately occurred to me that yes, this is true if the game of life is all about accumulation, but the sad tragedy is that he who dies with the most toys still dies and then someone else will get to play with all his toys.
David reminds us in Psalm 49:16-17 niv,
Do not be overawed when a man grows rich (when he has a big bucket and it is full), when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him.
God condemns the rich farmer we discussed previously for this very thing: “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared (what is left in your bucket)? So is the man who stores up treasure for himself (kept his own bucket full), and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).
What we keep in our bucket will eventually leak out, be stolen, taxed, evaporate, or spilled out when you “kick the bucket.” This should give us reason to pause as we consider the folly of living life like a bucket.
#2: We can find ourselves living like a bucket when we bestow on ourselves “Most Important Person” status.
When what we want and need becomes the center of our attention, we will find ourselves living like a bucket. Jesus sternly warns us about the narcissistic attitude that we are the center of the universe. Again, the parable of the rich farmer is the classic example. The farmer was incredibly successful and had more than his current “bucket” could hold, so he chose to get rid of his smaller bucket and get a larger bucket so he could hold all the new stuff that he had accumulated. Jesus nails the selfishness of the farmer in Luke 12:15 when He warns, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
The farmer’s bucket was full and overflowing and he was proud of it, but God was not proud of him.
#3: We can find ourselves living like a bucket when we embrace the belief that filling our bucket is the way to find real happiness.
John D. Rockefeller honestly admitted, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” However, we still want to believe the lie that “happy is the man whose bucket is full.”
Henry Ford confessed after becoming a multi-millionaire, “I was happier doing a mechanic’s job.” Yet we still want to believe that “happy is the man whose bucket is full.”
Solomon—who was perhaps the richest man to have ever lived—agonized about the futility of his riches in Ecclesiastes 2:11, “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (niv). But we still want to believe that “happy is the man whose bucket is full.”
Solomon observed in Ecclesiastes 5:13 what happens when people try to keep what is in their bucket for their own selfish enjoyment, “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of the owner” (niv).
The Way of the Pipe
I think we can agree that even though our sinful, fallen nature entices us to live life like we are a bucket, it is a cruel fantasy that ultimately leads to disappointment, destruction, and death. But what about living like a pipe? Let us consider this alternative.
#1: We will find ourselves living like a pipe when we understand God created us to be a pipe and not a bucket.
In God’s economy, a pipe is infinitely more useful to Him than a bucket! He created us to be conduits and not receptacles of His blessings. In fact, let me ask you, “What happens if a pipe gets confused and starts thinking it is a bucket?” What is supposed to pass through gets stuck, becoming clogged and in need of being roto-rooted—so it can go back to doing what it was made to do—which is to let things flow through it, not just to it.
Do you know what happens to the body when its arteries get clogged up? Or, what a problem it is for the body when your colon gets clogged up? When your internal plumbing is not working, your body is going to be greatly hindered in its normal activities.
God has created many of us to be high-capacity pipes because he wants to pump huge amounts through us to support Kingdom causes worldwide. Let us look at what Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
Instruct those who are rich in this present world (high capacity pipes) not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share (let it flow freely), storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
Nothing produces “life indeed” like doing what God has created us to do. God has positioned us to turn on our spigot and let it flow!
As R. G. Letourneau said when asked how he could be giving ninety percent of his income away each year and yet still be getting richer. He smiled and confessed. “I keep shoveling it out and God keeps shoveling it right back in—and He has a bigger shovel!”
#2: We will find ourselves living like a pipe when we really believe that what we are letting flow through us today will ultimately flow back to us later.
This is the great eternal “payback” for being a pipe. The bucket gets what it gets while it is here and that is its reward. But the pipe receives a different payback. All that has flowed through it for all those years of life are being recorded and it will all be waiting for us when we relocate to our permanent residence. Malachi 3:16 says, “A book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name.” God is monitoring your out-flow.
Jesus assures us of this eternal “payback” in multiple places. In Matthew 6:20-21, He encourages us, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven by what we willingly divest ourselves of in giving to others in this life.
And again as we saw in Matthew 19:21, Jesus charged the rich, young ruler, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Pass it through now and it will be waiting for you in heaven. Jesus was not asking him to give it up; he was just asking him to send it on ahead for later use and enjoyment. Not a bad deal if we keep in mind that this life may last eighty years and eternity, well, it is a lot longer than that!
#3: We will find ourselves living like a pipe when the desires of God’s heart truly become the desires of our heart.
Psalm 37:4 is a very powerful verse, “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Most people have incorrectly interpreted this verse to say, “You delight yourself in the Lord and then the Lord will give you what you want,” but it more accurately should be understood this way: “Delight yourself in the Lord and then the Lord will give you His desires for your heart.” In other words, as we delight ourselves in Him, He will replace our heart’s desires with His heart’s desires, so that we will love what He loves and we will hate what He hates. That way we will have compassion on whom He has compassion.
And once God has our heart’s desires aligned with His heart’s desires, we will find ourselves driven to be a high-capacity pipe allowing as much grace and blessing as possible to fall upon those whom the Lord wants to touch and care for.
We must not forget the sobering words of our Lord who said, “From everyone who has been given much (high-flow capacity), much (high-flow capacity) will be required” (Luke 12:48b).
Jim Elliot, who was martyred trying to share Christ with a native tribe in South America, wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” What we accumulate on this earth we cannot keep and what we accumulate in heaven we cannot lose. Seems like a “no brainer,” does it not?
May I encourage those of you who God has blessed to be high-capacity pipes to freely open your spigot and let God’s blessings and provision pour forth on those who need a blessing from God! If we do, we will have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
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E. G. “Jay” Link is the President of Stewardship Ministries, a teaching, training, mentoring and content ministry working with churches and nonprofit leaders to equip them with the biblical knowledge and training resources needed to serve all ages and all economic levels of believers to effectively live their lives as good and faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to them. He is the author of three books, “Spiritual Thoughts on Material Things: Thirty Days of Food for Thought,” “To Whom Much is Given: Navigating the Ten Life Dilemmas Affluent Christians Face” and “Family Wealth Counseling: Getting to the Heart of the Matter.”