Following is a TRUE story of ACTUAL events that REALLY happened to one of my church members recently.
David is a retired gentleman who lives in town. He has always been a hard worker, dedicated family man and an otherwise good ol’ Midwesterner. Among his many hobbies, David likes to grow all sorts of vegetables in a garden in the back yard. Since he is retired and enjoys gardening, he spends much time making sure his garden is very productive and well kept. His tomato cages are overflowing, the zucchini and all other manner of fruits are abundant, so much so that David’s extended family is treated to fresh vegetables most of the summer and canned veggies all year round.
One morning, David awoke to see a man in his backyard, helping himself to some of the tomatoes. His backyard is fairly private and enclosed by a fence, so he was surprised to see an elderly fellow picking some of his prized tomatoes. But instead of shooing the man away, David watched him for a few minutes.
The man appeared to be an older gentleman with a weathered face. He wore tattered clothes. He looked to be a person of limited means who had possibly come upon hard times. In testament to David’s generous character, he assumed that this man must have wandered in from the tracks not far from his home and decided that the man must need something to eat, so he let him take as many tomatoes as he wanted. He said, “it looked like that guy needed those tomatoes more than me, so I let him take them.”
David went back to his business about his house. He didn’t pay the odd encounter much attention until there was a ring of his doorbell. When he answered the door, there was the man with weathered face and tattered clothes with a bag of fresh-picked tomatoes. The man asked David, “Wanna buy some tomatoes?”
What is your initial reaction to the above encounter? Shock, disgust, sympathy, incredulity or something else? How out of touch with reality or desperate must this person be if he somehow thought it was ok to steal tomatoes and then try to sell them to the man he stole from. I don’t care what the circumstances or who’s involved, that’s just plain crazy.
And yet, I wonder how often we treat God with the same kind of contempt. How often do we ask Him for a favor or bail-out, and then try to bargain with Him as if we have anything to give Him that he hasn’t already given to us? How often do we loft prayers to heaven with some empty promises, thinking that this will somehow sway God’s favor our way this time? This way of thinking, as insane as it is, comes naturally to us.
And how does God respond? He responds by not giving in to us and by not giving up on us. He’s already told us that we have already found His favor in His Son. He’s given us every blessing of this life and the next, so it really is crazy for us to think that we have anything more to offer Him than what He’s already given to us.
When we mistakenly think like the old man in the above story, He forgives us and instructs us in His Way so that we can be freed from the burden of trying to pay Him off somehow. Respect for our neighbor’s property comes from a respect for God’s property which is the fruit of faith. The same kind of faith that seeks to see life from God’s perspective.
Salvation is only free because Jesus has already paid the price for it on the cross. Spirit given faith leads us to see that we don’t have to try to win His favor. So now, when we offer anything to God, we do so knowing that we only give Him but His own.
He is the Owner of all that we have and the Creator of who we are. We are merely temporary managers, stewards of His riches. We are but caretakers of a trust that promises to yield an eternal reward for those who inherit it. When we do well by it and well by Him, not trying to pay Him off, but rather freely serving Him in faith, we avoid the mistaken logic of the man who somehow thought he could get away with selling tomatoes to the keeper of the garden. This too, is a gift.
“If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag.” Deuteronomy 23:24