The Ultimate Treasure
Suzanne is a single mom who was buried in debt. She is raising two children on a job that doesn’t pay well. Suzanne came to my office and shared her hopes, dreams, and fears. As we talked, I asked her about her goals as well as her assets, liabilities, and expenses. One of the things she really wanted to do was to take her sons on a nice vacation to Europe. That was her dream, but she was afraid her piling debts would keep her family from experiencing the good life.
One of Suzanne’s expenses was smoking cigarettes. We calculated that she was spending $40 a week on cigarettes. “I’ve tried to quit,” she told me, “but I guess I haven’t been too motivated.” I showed her that by saving the $40 a week, she’d have over $2000 in a year. For some reason, this reality had never dawned on her. Actually, we found several other expenses that she could eliminate, like cable television and some magazine subscriptions, and in the end, she chose to keep cable but drop the magazines.
As the year went by, Suzanne was able to pay off $1500 in debts, and a year after she came to see me, she took her boys on a vacation to the beach in Florida. When she got back, she called to tell me, “Jim, it wasn’t Europe, but we had a great time together. And I feel even better because I paid for our vacation with the money I would have spent on cigarettes. Thank you!”
All of us value-in fact, truly treasure-something or someone, and we devote time, attention, and other resources to it. We may have very different treasures, and we may have very different means of fulfilling our dreams, but we are devoted to the thing that matters most to us. Some of us devote ourselves to success or comfort or popularity. Some are devoted to feed the hungry or cure a disease. And some are devoted to a person. The famous French philosopher and physicist, Blaise Pascal, observed this drive in all of us. He wrote, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
The question is: What treasure is worth the investment of your heart, your life, and your money?
One of my favorite parables Jesus told is actually two parallel stories. Both of them talk about something of value. He said, “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic-what a find!-and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. Or, God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
In the first story, a man was walking along and found a treasure that had been hidden in a field. In that part of the world, armies marched and fought for centuries. When an army approached, people often buried their prized possessions in the ground to keep them safe. For some reason, this treasure had not been recovered. The man realized that the value of the treasure was so immense that he sold everything he had to buy the land.
The second story is about a merchant whose job and passion was finding prize pearls. One day, he found one so magnificent that he responded just like the wanderer: He sold all he had to buy the pearl.
In both stories, the value of the treasure prompted action that would be considered extreme if the treasure and pearl weren’t so valuable. I believe the treasure and the pearl in these stories are Christ himself, who is so valuable that nothing compares to him. It’s precisely at this point that many of us become confused or just say “yeah right”. We may realize that Christ’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance are the most wonderful treasures in the world, but fear, anxiety, and selfishness focus our affections on us, not him. We live in tension, with emotions and values in conflict with each other. One of the purposes of this article is to clear away some of the confusion, to surface the long hidden perceptions that cloud our hearts, and to clarify the choice to treasure what matters most every day. As long as we are human, we won’t get it perfect, but with clearer insights, at least we might see the choices to live for selfish goals or for a higher purpose.
How do we know what we really treasure?
All we need to do is examine our thoughts, our dreams, our checkbooks, and we’ll begin to see our treasure. When I have a few minutes to think and daydream about the future, what do I imagine? Too often, I think about looking good in someone’s eyes-or more accurately, looking better than that guy in someone’s eyes. And I have learned to measure my value by the performance of my portfolio or the quarterly profits of my business. If my treasure is the approval of others, I’ll always be a puppet dancing on a string, being pulled by a word of affirmation or a frown on someone’s face.
There’s a better way to live.
Jesus said that our time, thoughts, and resources could be devoted to what matters most in the universe. In fact, he invites us to be partners with him in the greatest adventure known to man: loving people. He told his followers, “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or-worse!-stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Risk Losing Your Grip
Elisabeth Elliot often has piercing insight about spiritual things. We are wise, she observes, to loosen our grip on money so our hands can grasp something far more valuable. In Keep a Quiet Heart, she wrote, “Money holds terrible power when it is loved. It can blind us, shackle us, fill us with anxiety and fear, torment our days and nights with misery, wear us out with chasing it…. Poverty has not been my experience, but God has allowed in the lives of each of us some sort of loss, the withdrawal of something we valued, in order that we may earn to offer ourselves a little more willingly, to allow the touch of death on one more thing we have clutched so tightly, and thus know fullness and freedom and joy that much sooner.” *[Elisabeth Elliott, Keep a Quiet Heart, (Revell, 2004), pp. 38-39.]
As we learn to value the things Jesus Christ values, we live the richest, most rewarding, and most challenging life we can live. Sure, it’s complicated, and there are many risks. That’s what an adventure is all about. I’m learning that life is not as simple as some folks suggest-it’s more like a twisted mystery most of the time. In the struggle for our soul, Christ has promised that his Spirit will guide us, even when we aren’t aware of his presence.
May your new year be filled with peace, joy, and love.
Jim Munchbach is Managing Editor of Money Bible for iPad, iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Money Bible helps people face financial matters with purpose and contentment. Money Bible invites you to tell your story to share your experience, strength, and hope with others.
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