If I ask you, over a cup of coffee, “Where did your spiritual journey really begin as an adult,” what would you tell me? Where were you? What were the circumstances?
For me, it was the night I graduated from high school. After being with some friends at a party, I realized I was a workaholic. I had academic success. My dream of a basketball scholarship was in hand. I was all-league in baseball. I had a really pretty girlfriend. And I sat alone, and empty, and just wondering what in the world am I here for. My little formula of “success will make you happy” didn’t pan out.
I remember that night, sitting on my bed, looking out my bedroom window. It was a very starry night, I remember. And I started asking the real questions that adults ask. Why am I here? Is there a God? What’s my purpose in life? Is there more to life than just setting goals and achieving them?
And that night, although I had a lot of childhood prayers of, you know, get me out of this jam and please help so and so, and I prayed what I think was my first adult prayer. And I remember looking at the stars and I said, “God, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me in a way I can understand.” And then, I figure everybody wants something. I remember praying, “God, what do You want from me? If You exist, what do You really want from me?”
And that’s going to be the question we’re going to ask and answer today on our journey toward true spirituality. How do we give God what He wants the most? We’re going to walk through this journey and this journey is going to take us to a point of a very, very important decision.
When you ask the big questions of life, they come back at you in a way where there are big decisions, decisions about future and priority and relationships. I mean, way more important than jobs and money and details.
And so I want to introduce you to a book that I read. It was by a Yale Law professor called “Risk, Reason, and the Decision-Making Process”. And it’s a series of true stories that are case studies.
And they read the case study, then they get in small groups and they talk about, “Okay, what were the risks involved in making this decision, what reasons did people make this decision, and what would you do?” And so they sort of peel it out, give a case study, let the groups talk a little bit, and then give them more information.
The goal was teach them to make skillful, wise decisions. And we’re going to be talking about a very, very important decision and there is just some great insight about making great decisions.
So case study number one. They’re brief, but they’re kind of fun. A 32-year-old engineer named John loves to go to estate sales to look for antique furniture and other potentially valuable items. One weekend, he goes to an estate sale in the southern part of the United States. All the items in this particular house are being sold together for a single price. Visitors are welcome to make a bid, and John learns that the winning bid will be about $95,000.
The house is old, in disrepair; probably built during the Civil War period. John, a self-confessed geek and history buff, recognizes a collection of rifles that seem to be from that timeframe. He then goes downstairs to a damp basement–using a small pocket flashlight, he finds an old roller top desk, and going through the desk, he discovers a false drawer. And in the false drawer is a small leather pouch that contains 22 very rare, pure gold coins, minted by the Confederate army during the Civil War. They could be worth millions of dollars, he believes.
John has to make a decision. What should he do? He has $10,000 in savings. If he can sell his car, his house, and everything he owns, he believes he can come up with the $95,000 and make the winning bid. What would you do? Students at Harvard Business School, at MIT, and other universities discussed this. So, face value, what would you do?
Case study number two. Sheila, a 20-something college art teacher at a community college was traveling in Europe over the summer. She had even started a small collection on her limited salary. And while in a small village in southern France, well off the beaten path, Sheila went to an auction where the locals had all donated family art to be sold to help finance the construction of a much-needed school.
One painting topped the list, and was said to be a rare, but highly valued copy of Picasso’s work. It was deemed as a non-original because the signature at the bottom was different from all of his other works. Sheila, however, wrote her Master’s thesis on Picasso and was aware that in the first year of his work, he did not sign his name but only put his initials there.
She looked and studied the painting carefully and came to the conclusion that she actually was in the presence of a priceless piece of art. It was believed there were only two or three of these paintings in existence anywhere in the world. If this were so, Sheila was standing before something worth a very great deal of money.
The $25,000 asking price was a joke with regard to what it was worth, but it was a bigger joke with her income. What Sheila would have to do was sell her Volkswagen Jetta, sell her entire art collection, and withdraw her entire savings of $600. What should Sheila do? What would you tell her?
You know, when you get something like this, you ask, “Okay, what are the risks?” The risk is that if the coins are phony and John does that, he loses everything, and the risk for Sheila is, if it’s not a Picasso, she’s going to lose everything.
The potential rewards are – and by the way, later in the study, they have a second page that the teacher brings out – the coins are real and they’re worth about $30 to $40 million; the Picasso was real and was worth about $100 million. So the rewards were super, if in fact it was true. But the cost and the risk were very high if it’s not. So with that information, what would you do and why?
Now, I want to give you three principles that flow out of these case studies. Here’s where the meat is for you and me. In every big decision, and I mean big, important, life-altering decisions especially, the number one thing you need is – just write this word down – “truth.” Truth.
The issue here is the validity of the find. If the coins are legit, if they’re true, if it’s a Picasso, if it’s true… And for you, when you’re trying to figure out what you should do with your life and the relationships that you’re in, you need to first and foremost say, “What’s true?”
Second, write the word “knowledge” there under your observations. See, Sheila had knowledge that other people didn’t have. She had done some work, she’d done some study. She was prepared to take advantage of a situation because she knew things that other people didn’t know. John was the same way. He’s a computer geek. He’s a history buff. When he saw the rifles, he saw the house, all those things gave him insider’s knowledge about what he was really looking at.
And after truth and knowledge, the last thing, just write the word “faith.” These are the three keys to making great decisions. What’s true? Do you have the inside knowledge? And then, faith is literally the courage to pull the trigger.
It’s one thing for John to say, “Hey, I believe this. This is true. I’ve done some evaluation.” And then, can you hear John, going back and talking to his wife? “Hey honey, we’re going to empty our savings account, sell the house, sell the cars, everything that we have because I just found these gold coins and…”
And even if he’s absolutely convinced – because I’ve watched this happen a lot – you know there are things you’re convinced of, that you really believe are true. Your logic tells you it’s true. At times, even the Bible tells you it’s true. At times, the research and history even says it’s true. But when you look at the weight of the risk, there are a great deal of people that never have the faith or the courage to pull the trigger and act on what they absolutely believe is true. And so they don’t make the decisions or they make no decisions, which is really a decision in itself.
These two remind me of a case study by Jesus that teaches us also about risk, reason, and the decision-making process. When Jesus is teaching this – it’s out of Matthew 13:44-45 – by this time, His popularity is growing and people… He is deemed to be the King of the universe, the Messiah. And He’s saying that, “I’m the King over a kingdom and all a kingdom is, is the rights and the power and the authority that someone has to rule.”
And He was teaching a completely new way of life, completely different from the religious time, completely different. He was loving, and He was kind, and He was holy, and He was radical. And everywhere He went, there was either a riot or a revival. And there was something fascinating and powerful. He did things that no one else had ever done. He raised people from the dead and He spoke about God and He revealed the Father.
And people were beginning to follow Him. But as they began to follow Him, it forced them into very big decisions; big decisions about the way they used to think, big decisions about other relationships, big decisions about their time or their money or their future.
And so He gives them two similes or pictures–parables. He makes them up. He says, “The kingdom of heaven…” In other words, “following Me and how life works with Me as the King of your life is like a treasure hidden in the field which a man found, then he hid again, and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and he buys that field.”
Now, that’s a very short sermon, but there’s a lot in there. And just in case, very common in Jewish teaching–parallelism–they’ll give you a truth and just to make sure you get it, maybe give you exactly the same truth with a different picture.
So look at verse 45. “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and upon finding one pearl of great value” – of exquisite value; of over the top, priceless value is the idea – “he went and sold all the pearls that he had and he bought it.”
So if you have a pen, pull it out. Let’s go up to verse 44. I want you to see something. Underline the two words “treasure,” “hidden.” And then, the two words “man,” “found.” And then, the two words “hid,” “again.” And then, the two words “from,” “joy.” And then, the two words “sells,” “all.” And then, the phrase, “buys the field.”
And if we were doing a little Bible study together, I would say there are four observations we could make that are very, very simple but unveil what Jesus is saying. A man, number one, finds a treasure. The man, after finding the treasure, sees how much worth it has. He hides it again. Number three, he has an emotional response. He is absolutely exhilarated and joyful that he has come into all this money. And then, number four, in order to get that field, he sells everything he has so when he owns the field, he’ll get the treasure inside.
Now, here’s what you need to understand. Jesus isn’t talking about money and treasure. He’s making a very profound spiritual point and principle about decision-making. And what He’s saying is this. He’s saying there are certain things that we can see and certain things we can’t see. “And the kingdom of God and following Me is akin to…”
And this would be in their day; it would make sense because this actually could happen in their day. They didn’t have 401ks. And so you would take your treasure and you would hide it and dig it someplace on your land. And the goal is you would tell your relatives – your sons or daughters – where it is. But sometimes, people, you know, they aren’t ready quite to hear it, and they die before they tell anyone. So it could be on a piece of land for two or three or four generations.
And so the people realize that this story is really plausible. And so He says, “Here’s a man who is in a field. Maybe he’s walking with a stick, and he hears something, and he opens it up, and there’s a little chest, and there’s a fortune in it. And he covers it back up and he is just exhilarated with what he’s just found. So he recklessly, with abandon, sells everything he has that’s not worth very much to get something that’s worth a whole lot.”
Jesus is saying when you understand who He is, and how life really works, and what really, really matters now and forever, and you get the treasure of what it is to have relationship with Him, and the plan that He has for you on this earth, you would–with reckless abandon and joy–forsake all else to get that.
Put another way, His thesis is total commitment is the channel through which God’s biggest and best blessings flow. Total commitment. He sold all that he had.
Surrender. Total commitment. It was all or nothing in order to get that land with the treasure inside.
Total commitment. Surrender. This is very counterintuitive. Jesus is this amazing teacher calling people to a life and it says that the values are upside down in the world that you live in. And the way to gain is to give, and the way to life is to die. And He says, “I have a plan, and in following Me there is a treasure that’s unspeakable. It’s unspeakable for the now. It’ll transform you. It’ll transform every relationship. It has the promise of eternity. It has the forgiveness of your sin. It has focus and purpose and answers all the big questions of life. And this treasure I want to give to you, but here’s the entrance to the decision – surrender.”
Surrender is the channel through which God’s best and biggest blessings flow.
Now, Jesus told these two parables to get into their world in such a way that they would get a new set of glasses, because when you talk to people that want to follow God about total commitment, it’s “Well, I know pastors are supposed to be totally committed and maybe missionaries and there’s always like, you know, a 98 year old lady who really prays like 37 hours a day,” and there are only 24 hours.
And we know she’s totally committed, but I mean, we’re just like regular Christians and that sounds really scary and I really want to love God. I’m glad I’m going to heaven. I’m glad Jesus forgave my sins and, I would like to be a good person.
In fact, I think I’m a little bit better person than most people. But total commitment sounds like scary, like I mean lock, stock, barrel… I mean, God has the say on my time, my money, my future, my family – ah… And so what most of us do is we see the lens of total commitment negatively.
Here’s what I want to tell you. When Jesus taught about surrender or total commitment, it is the channel to get God’s very best in your life. But He said it’s for joy. His motivation is positive, it’s wise, it’s logical, it’s shrewd. It’s not so much renouncing as it is a reevaluation. Is $95,000 as valuable as $30 to $40 million? Now, when we look at it like that, it’s easy. But when you look at the treasure that God has, it gets a little more difficult because you can’t see it.
Now, just as Jesus made up parables to help people in their world understand what’s going on, I took the liberty to make those two parables up.
If I would have come out here and said, “Total commitment, surrender is the channel through which God’s biggest and best blessings flow. Now are you totally committed or not? Are you going to step up or not? Are you going to get with the program?”
All your defenses would be, “What? Uh… Uh… Uh…” And you would have totally missed the point.
But all of you who were kind of leaning forward thinking… Here’s the only thing you thought about Sheila and John – I wish I were them. Right? I wish I were them. And you know what? Sheila… Is there anyone would say, “Oh, Sheila and John were noble, where’s your focus? The focus was on what they got.
And that was Jesus’ point. And that’s His message to you.