Jesus told two little stories in Matthew 13:44-46 about men who unexpectedly discovered something, which they then gave up everything to obtain—a treasure in a field and a pearl in the market.
Hidden treasures in a field were probably not unheard of in ancient times when people feared their assets could be stolen by an invading army or local thieves. It was indeed a surprise for your plow to thud against a box of gold as you tilled another’s property.
The pearl on the other hand was on display for everyone to see, but the merchant perceived value that eluded others.
Both parables remind us that God’s kingdom is both surprising and precious. The truths of His teaching throughout Scripture remain beyond price to those inclined to faith. Both the farmer and the merchant sold everything they had for what they found. Jesus’ question, both then and now, is, “Will you give up all for the kingdom and for truth?”
The God of new beginnings places before us the opportunity to experience new blessings this year.
As we begin a New Year, we can reflect on what could be. Your family may expand. You hope for a new job or relocation to another city. Are you retiring? Perhaps there is a “bucket list” experience that you will surely accomplish in 2023.
The problem is we all have memories of failure, disappointment, and simple procrastination as we reflect on the previous year. But we need not remain trapped by the past. The God of new beginnings places before us the opportunity to experience new blessings this year. In Psalm 37:4-5 we read, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (NKJV).
What are the “desires of your heart?” I remember walking many times along solitary wooded pathways at Andrews University in 1979. In the quietness of those leafy trails, I would speak aloud to God the promise of Psalm 37:4-5 many times in my prayers. To my young eyes, everything appeared unclear about my future as a junior theology major. Would I find work as a pastor? Was there a young lady who would want to share the life of a minister with me? Could I find meaning to my life, which was so important to me? The desires of my heart were clear and equally matched by the uncertainty of their fulfillment. Yet in my simple faith I clung to that promise (and others) that spoke of the care of my Friend Jesus and His plans for me.
The speed of life when you’re 21 years old is remarkable. Some months after those walks in the summer of 1979, the answers to my woodland prayers were given in a single afternoon. My call to ministry and talking with the young woman who would become my wife and partner for over 41 years happened on one day. A letter from Elder John Hayward, president of the Illinois Conference, and a phone call with Jennifer Christian were God’s answer to the prayers of a young man who asked God to fulfill His promise.
I can say that since college God has shown up with answers to countless other prayers. Not everything in my life has been easy, pain free, or even obvious about God’s will in every instance. I also recognize that not every story has the same “happy” ending. Many are those who pray as earnestly as me and still await “the one” with whom to share a life. Did God not listen? There are others who have heard God’s call for pastoral ministry and never received the invitation for employment. Where was God then? These fair and legitimate questions humble me and raise a caution flag about answering too quickly about what God is doing. Quite simply, I do not know all the reasons for why life proceeds as it does for any of us.
One place to find answers to these questions is in the words embedded in the promise of Psalm 37:4-5. These are the crucial words: “Commit your way” and “Trust also in Him.” These are words speaking of an ongoing relationship. This truth is amplified in the whole of Psalm 37. David starts by naming the problem: the bad guys seem to win in this world. But this isn’t the last word for God’s children. Stitched throughout this Psalm of David are words of hope such as “The Lord knows the days of the upright” (verse 18), “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delights in his way” (verse 23), and “He is their strength in the time of trouble” (verse 39). And David closes with the final declaration: “they trust in Him” (verse 40).
What I concluded was that “the desires of my heart” are transformed in God’s unfolding pathway through the years of my life. The desires of our hearts are indeed assured when we choose to trust in the ways and leading of God. Our happiness is guaranteed by Him.
Which brings us back to Jesus’ parables of the treasure and the pearl. What would you give to have happiness, purpose to life, and assurance of a great future? The good news heralded by Jesus is both a challenge and an opportunity. The opportunity is that it’s the gift of God’s grace that makes it all possible. “Come to me, all you who are laden down with the cares of life and uncertainties of the future, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, my paraphrase). We can never add to it by our own efforts or diminish it by our neglect.
What I concluded was that “the desires of my heart” are transformed in God’s unfolding pathway through the years of my life.
It is also paired with the challenge. Jesus wants all of us. Not one day out of seven. Not merely a quick check-in at bedtime. We must empty the bank of our own self-determination to buy in utterly to His kingdom. But what an amazing bargain! My brokenness for His healing. His perfection for my sin. A future with God that dawns anew every day.
Bradford C. Newton is the president of the Pacific Union Conference.