I was privileged to get to meet one of my wife’s grandfather’s in 2008. He was a missionary in Pakistan and over the course of his ministry he distributed tens of thousands of gospel tracts and New Testaments to people who had never heard the gospel before. It was in fact so foreign to them, that many had never even heard of Jesus. But he told me an interesting bit of psychology he picked up along the way. He began his ministry giving all this literature away for free. He ministered among some of the poorest people of Karachi and did not want to create a financial barrier between anyone and the Good News.
After a time though, he noticed that many of the tracts and bible he gave out were discarded before a person even left their seat on the bus. He realized people thought he was giving it away because he didn’t think it was valuable. So he started charging for his literature. Not much, a few annas, the equivalent of less than a penny in Canadian currency. It did not nearly cover the printing costs. Even a poor beggar could afford it. But it was enough. Now people hung onto their literature, they weren’t going to throw away what they had paid good money for.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Letting God rule your life is a valuable way of living. Jesus describes it as treasure, treasure so great you would gladly, joyfully, pawn your every possession to make it happen. It is something the Spirit of God has to reveal to you; we just cannot grasp all the marvel of what is on offer without His help.
Occasionally, I talked with folks (men mostly) who tell me the inconvenience of showing up at church every Sunday morning is what keeps them from being a Christian. That and all the rules. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. I have heard Christians counter that these rules are for their good and attending church is actually enjoyable. In other words, it is not so onerous.
That is not what Jesus teaches here. In other places, He will make clear that the path of discipleship is a costly one. But here the focus is the value of what you get (the kingdom of heaven). That word ‘joy’ is what completes the picture for me. There is no careful accounting, weighing the risk/benefit ratios (though there is something to be said for counting the cost); no, rather there is the joyful destitution of all the formerly held value.
If you truly see what the nature of the kingdom of heaven, you will acquire it at any cost necessary.
A farmer toils day after day on his land, straining all alone to live his dream. Between expensive equipment and rising input costs, it is difficult to make ends meet. His wife works in town to help pay the bills. The financial situation puts a strain on the family and the farmer is particularly hard on his wife. He is difficult, mean and abusive.
One day there is a stoppage out in the field. The baler has ground to a halt. Cursing, the farmer shuts things down, climbs off the tractor and inspects the baler. After a glance, he is relieved that it is an obvious problem with a simple solution. Some twine from the last bale didn’t release properly and has become entangled internally. A pocket knife is kept close at hand for just such occurrences and a simple flick will have him back in business.
He does not see that the twine is holding pressure. With a snap, the twine gives way and the baler grabs his arm. He is caught and in terrible pain. After a few moments futile effort, he realizes he cannot pull himself free. With his loose hand, he manages to get his cell phone out but drops it and it tumbles out of reach.
Panic starts to take hold despite his best effort to remain calm. His pulse quickens. The blood oozing from his arm quickens. He casts his gaze around the field for something, anything, that might help him. And like a ray of sunshine, there is his wife, out on the range road. He waves her down.
When she gets there, she nearly loses her lunch at the sight, but soldiers on. He guides her through releasing his arm and then she swiftly gets him to the hospital as quick as she can. The doctors do what they can but the arm is not salvageable.
As he recovers in hospital, he silently rages inside. He does not vent his anger on anyone except his wife. She weathers the storm, knowing the trauma he has experienced is incredible. But it begins to wear on her.
One day she sees the doctor just leaving his husband’s room. She stops him in the hall. She is beginning to feel guilty, though she knows she did and has done and is doing everything she can. But she asks the doctor if she should have done something different on the day of the accident.
“No,” the doctor replies. “In fact, you are the only reason your husband is alive today. If you hadn’t seen him, freed him from the machine and gotten him here as quickly as you did, he could easily have bled out and died. I’m not even sure an ambulance would have been better.”
The farmer overhears them speaking and the doctor’s final words seem to flip a switch in his mind. Like another ray of light upon his mind, he sees how caring she has been. And the accident was just the tip of the iceberg. He sees how she has thrown herself at making his dream on the farm come alive. And he has been terrible, like a wolverine incapable of understanding even loving gestures.
He sees her beauty in a new light. He sees own pride and self-conceit for what it is. And finally, after years, the anxiety from the money, and the farm, and everything, begins to ebb. When he gets home, his kids hardly know him. He seems an entirely different man. They ask him what happened to him in the hospital, is he on some powerful mind-altering medication still?
“No,” he replies. “I just realized how rich my life truly is and all it cost me was my arm.”
Lord, your kingdom is where I want to be.