Wealth is desired and pursued. The stock market is setting new record highs almost every day. But is that real wealth? What the bull market gives the bear market can take away. So why would I propose getting advice on wealth from a bankrupt farmer? It starts with a Texas tale…
Wealth: Some History
Some things stick in our minds and we don’t always know why. That’s how it is with my failed farmer. Many years ago I heard a sermon about real wealth. I don’t recall the text, the preacher or the place. But I never forgot an illustration he used. It concerned a west Texas farmer. Maybe I identified with it because I was born to a west Texas farm. My childhood included a great deal of time spent on my grandparents’ farms in the Texas panhandle. But I can’t fully explain holding on to this story. I just did.
The preacher told of a farmer/rancher in west Texas who had reached the end of his resources. Times in the early 20th century were hard. The dust bowl, the great depression, and two world wars defined those days. The bank had filed papers to foreclose on the farmer’s land. And I remember the pastor saying that the farmer resigned himself to losing everything he had. So he was on his way to the bank to sign the foreclosure papers.
Before he arrived he was met with some incredible news. Oil was discovered on his property.
The pastor’s point in that sermon was the fact that the farmer had been a wealthy man all along. He just didn’t know how much wealth he had.
A parallel point is how believers suffer when we don’t recognize who we are in Christ. See Who Am I? Putting The Pieces Together. But events surrounding that farmer illustrate another extremely important truth about real wealth.
Wealth: Fool’s Gold
A common figure of speech distills a valuable lesson. One must distinguish between what is false and what is real. It’s that way with wealth. We have other valuable terms like ponzi scheme and pyramid scheme. Do you remember Bernie Madoff? He helped a lot of wealth disappear!
My farmer illustrates some Biblical truths about wealth. First, if you thought a piece of land was rich in oil and nobody else knew it, what would you give for that piece of land? That’s the same scenario presented in Matthew 13:45-46 where Jesus likened the Kingdom of Heaven to what He called the Pearl of Great Price. Salvation (God’s divine forgiveness of sin) is the most valuable treasure one can find. And Jesus also contrasted this treasure with earthly treasure in Matthew 16:26. One has truly lost if:
All they have is all the treasure this world has to offer.
But the failed farmer illustrates something beyond that. And many believers don’t understand it.
I’ve recently mentioned our studies in Philippians. And the west Texas farmer came to mind in relation to Philippians 2. The ‘famous’ passage in that chapter ends with:
Every knee shall bow…and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
But what did Paul say next? We often stop paying attention after seeing a high point of Scripture like Philippians 2:9-11. But we should always guard against that. And that’s where the farmer came to mind!
Paul then said (Philippians 2:12) we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But Paul also wrote, It is by grace you are saved and that not of yourselves lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8). So is our great treasure a matter of grace or work? The farmer can tell us.
God created the earth and all that is within it. The oil was God’s creation. And it was God’s grace that allowed the farmer to buy that land. But what had to happen to turn God’s grace (oil) into spendable treasure? Wells had to be drilled. Oil had to be pumped, transported, and sold. We would call those things: work!
The farmer had an unrealized treasure. It was his all along but he was unaware. Believers are often that way as well. Ephesians 1:3 sets God’s gift of ‘every spiritual blessing’ in the past tense (we have been given…). We have to realize the Treasure that is ours in Christ Jesus. And we must learn to think His thoughts in order to act like children of the King. We are the King’s kids and that is the treasure that can’t be taken away. But working it out, or turning it into visible reality, is the work we must do. And there’s good news there as well.
Wealth: A Joint Effort
Paul did a little word play between Philippians 2:12-13. The work in vs. 12 is our work. We study, discipline ourselves, obey Biblical instruction, treat others as Jesus would, etc. But the work in vs. 13 is God’s work. He is at work in us, and with us, to transform how we think and what we do. And that transformation is what gives glory to our Father.
We can see these things in the events surrounding our broke-but-rich farmer (to a point). He didn’t do the drilling, hauling and selling all by himself. He had help turning buried treasure into visible reality. But since his help was paid for this is where we leave him. Our Help is divine and given to us out of grace. And our Help cannot fail. He will complete the good work He began in all who believe (Philippians 1:6). Do, here are questions to ponder:
- How do you suppose a poor farmer acted and/or carried himself?
- How long do you suppose it took for him to start acting like a rich man?
- What made the difference?
Soli Deo Gloria!
P.S. – The cover photo is just one element of my identification with the farmer in the story. That picture hangs in my house. I am not sure I would have purchased it though it can be had as a poster or be found on the Internet. That picture hung in my grandparent’s house. It was eventually passed to me. So I hang on to it because it’s funny and it ties me to my past. But when I see it I often think of the story I’ve shared here. And about that story…
I assumed it would be fairly easy in this day of web searches to find this story as I heard it. Two hours of searches didn’t pull it up. HOWEVER, I did come up with what is most likely the basis for the story. If you look on this link, the farmer’s name was probably Bennett. The foreclosure and oil discovery are part of this historical article. And the events took place in west Texas not all that far from my family roots.