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. (Matt. 13:45–46)
A couple of years ago a good friend of World Vision’s ministry, Stu Phillips, said to me, “You know, you’re not very popular around the Phillips household these days.” Ouch! What had I done? Stu then smiled and explained.
Stu and Robin owned a fourteen-thousand-acre ranch in the Laramie Mountains in Wyoming. It was a very special “piece of heaven” that meant the world to their whole family. Stu explained that he and Robin had both read my book The Hole in Our Gospel, and it had convicted them a great deal about God’s concern for the poor. He had been praying when he clearly felt God was speaking to him. Here are Stu’s words:
“Then I heard a still, quiet voice: It was a voice I had heard before. God asked me two questions. First, he asked, What possession do you value most? One of the challenging aspects of God speaking to you is that he knows the answers, even when you don’t or don’t want to admit that you do. The answer was clear; it was the ranch. He then asked the second question: Given what you now know about the needs of the poor, how does that balance with the four months a year you spend at the ranch and the resources you have tied up here? I knew the answer instantly. I was stunned.
“My next reaction was to doubt what I had heard. Then I tried, hopefully, to negotiate with God. We already gave significant resources to poverty programs. We already used the ranch for godly purposes: hosting college groups from church, sharing time with friends in need of solitude, and appreciating God’s handiwork. Perhaps we could just increase our commitment to using the ranch for those purposes. Maybe that would satisfy God. And maybe it would, but it wasn’t his plan; it wasn’t his request. Robin and I put the ranch up for sale.”
So now I understood why Rich Stearns might not be such a popular topic of conversation around the Phillips’ dinner table.
“It took some time for me, for us all, to digest what had occurred. After hearing our plans, Stephen, our youngest son, put it this way: ‘God may have told you to sell the ranch, but he didn’t tell me.’ You see, the questions God had posed to me that day were in direct conflict with all of our plans as a family. But God then took hold of the situation as only he can. In the worst recession since the Great Depression, we received a serious offer the first week, twice our original purchase price. Robin and I were now more excited to see what God would do with these resources than we were saddened by the loss of the ranch.
“We have no illusions regarding the spiritual significance of our gifts. God has told us what impresses him, and our checks, regardless of the size, don’t do it. However, our obedience may. God isn’t impressed by a rich guy giving up a luxury that is well beyond the wildest dreams of those in poverty. He is impressed by the single mom who gives of the little she has to help her neighbor or the widow on a fixed income who sponsors a child.”
Stu and Robin had learned to love what Jesus loves, treasure what Jesus treasures, and value what Jesus values.
Why do you think God would ask the Phillips family to give up the ranch? What is your most treasured possession? Would you be willing to give it up?
Father, thank you for giving us good gifts and for teaching us to give good gifts to others. Please show me if I need to give up something in obedience to you—and help me to do it with the joy of knowing your love is at work.