Parable of a Car Dealership?

Let me begin by saying that I am a very lucky man.  I have a great wife and three beautiful children.  Apparently however, being a father and a husband means I also have to be a grown up.  It is a wonderful thing actually, and it means that God has entrusted these three little people to my care.  In addition to this sentiment, it also means that any notion of driving the quintessential little red sports car must give way to a more family-friendly (and more sensible) vehicle.  Enter the reason my wife and I found ourselves at a car dealership in Des Moines recently.  As luck would have it, we found a car we liked very quickly.  It was a white Chevy crossover with three-row seating.  It was the right price, the right mileage, and the right timing.  If only the buying process itself could have resembled the happy little television commercials that show families smiling and high-fiving the sales person as they drive off the lot.  Instead, it was largely an exercise in sweaty palms, nervous anxiety, and a lot of discussion about monthly payments.  We arrived at 4:30 in the afternoon, and ended up driving away in a new vehicle around 7:00 p.m.  The very personable salesman even filled our gas tank for us on the way out of town.  He assured us that they don't do this for just anyone.  

What was interesting however, was what transpired during the actual paperwork process. As we were sitting down to fill out the purchase agreement, my daughter called our attention to something.  Moments earlier, she was knee-deep in trying to help corral her two younger (and very bored) brothers.  It turns out that there isn't much to do for little boys at a car lot!  At any rate, she looked at me and pointed out the window.  "Daddy, isn't that our car?" she said.  I looked up to see another family of five getting into our "sold" vehicle with a different salesman.  They were checking under the hood, looking at the three row seating, and trying out the heated seats - just like we did.  As we were nailing down what our interest rate would be, they were driving our car off the lot right in front of us.

Our own salesman looked as puzzled as we did.  Eventually it became evident that we were in a heated battle with two other families for the same vehicle.  Anxious looks from across the showroom floor at each other was the order of the day for about an hour.  Wondering who they were, and if they needed this car more than we did.  Maybe it wasn't meant to be?  The only reason we ultimately won the battle was due to the fact that technically speaking, we got there first.  And by "first", I'm talking about a matter of minutes.  

What a strange day.  In the process of leaving the dealership and cleaning up the half-eaten bags of Cheetos and spilled Sprite from my kids, I began to think about how we chase after certain things in life.  So interesting how very large purchases (like cars and houses) are often bartered in the blink of an eye.  Thousands of dollars spent in the span of a handshake and series of quick signatures.  

But what if the world chased after God in the same way we fight for a new car or a nice house?  I am reminded of two parables that Jesus tells us from the New Testament in the Bible.  The first occurs in Matthew chapter 13, and goes as follows: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it."

And the parable immediately ahead of this is similar in content: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

We are lucky to have these accounts of what the kingdom of heaven is like.  Surely God did not have to give us these descriptions.  He wanted to though, and Jesus permitted us to have an idea of what the pursuit of all things Holy can (and should) be like.  I envision a few analogies that make me giggle, such as us battling two other families for the front row at church instead of a cute little SUV crossover.  Or perhaps people fighting for study Bibles instead of regular Bibles, so that they can benefit from the scholarly notes in the margins.  But should I be giggling?  Are any of us lucky enough to know people who actually do seek after God as their "pearl of great price?"  I mean really, what would we think if we heard that John the Baptist was dressed in sackcloth and baptizing people by Lake Fisher, or open air preaching up on the town square?  I think most of us would make the appropriate call to the authorities, and then we would steer clear ourselves.

There is an excellent story about a man named Caleb in the Old Testament.  Caleb was someone whom Moses had given charge to go out and explore the Promised land.  He was to return and give Moses an account of what he had seen.  What he saw was intimidating at best: the land was full of large, strong warriors and well fortified cities.  On the face of it, prospects looked grim regarding a successful invasion of this area by God's people.  But God had promised this area to the Israelites ahead of time - formidable army or not.  Caleb was one of the few who did not let fear and intimidation sway him from claiming what God had promised.  He was ready to go, and I suspect he was counter-cultural and probably a bit politically incorrect, even for his day.  He chased after God with his whole heart.  

But how do we cultivate a Caleb heart?  Are we sure we really want to?  A good many churches are probably guilty of selling Jesus without counting the costs.  "Check out this new car" they might say.  Or "low miles and a shiny exterior!"  Never mind the fact that it takes premium gas only, or that sometimes you will need to make monthly payments, even when there isn't quite enough in your bank account.  The good news is that the choice to follow Christ is free in the temporal sense, but it will definitely come at some spiritual cost.  It will have something to do with repentance, and a good bit to do with forgiving others.  The sticker price is clearly labeled and there isn't any fine print; we just need to make sure we read the whole thing.  

And surely this is what God would want from us, or it wouldn't have been recorded in the Bible for us to be reading 2,000 years later.  He invites us to seek Him and to study His word.  But what about those times when reading and listening to church sermons aren't enough?  How do we work toward a fearless heart then?

I have a feeling that cultivating a heart for God begins with personal prayer.  It has less to do with volunteering for another church committee, and more to do with consciously pointing our thoughts toward Him.  If God is a personal being, then prayer is the language by which we connect to Him.  The longer we spend communicating this way, the more of God we receive.  Our hearts begin to change, to open up.  And if we are not careful, we may find that before long, our pearl of great price may just be Jesus.  Prayer slows things down, it forces us to contemplate things.  It is a way to spend time with the eternal Father, and it's a cornerstone teaching of the Christian church.  And the good news is that God actually cares what we think and whether or not we take the time to converse with Him.  Even about the small things ... even about buying a used car.  

As we left the dealership that night, my wife and I were very tired.  A two hour trip lay ahead of us, and we hadn't had dinner yet.  As we walked out of the building, I held the door open for a family who was just leaving also.  I think it was one of our opponents - a casualty of the vehicle finance war that occurred only hours earlier.  As they got into their truck and drove away, the driver leaned on the gas pedal and caused the engine to roar as they sped by.  The battle cry of an unhappy customer no doubt.  My wife and I looked at each other.  We had won today.

It was a peaceful drive home that evening when we finally hit the road.  The kids were tired but happy.  Did I mention the car has three-row seating?  I prayed a prayer of gratitude before bed after we arrived home. I thanked God for what He had given us.  I will also ask Him to make sure that I remember He comes first, no matter what.  To try to act more like Caleb and less like doubting Thomas.  This is a difficult thing to do.  More difficult I think than many of us realize.  I am also grateful that we have God's grace in our lives to help us while we struggle with these things.  We need not do it perfectly, and in fact I don't think it is in us to do so.  We can simply rely on this divine ability from God through prayer to help us change the things we chase after in life.  To slowly but surely shift our priorities from 'what about me' to 'what about Him?'

The new vehicle is working out just fine.  Other than a burned out blinker that needs fixed, I think we will be very comfortable driving it for some time to come.  At least we have a while to breathe easy - the first car payment isn't due until next month.  I will just need to make certain there is enough money in our bank account to cover the cost.  It's no little red sports car.  Even so, it is exactly what we needed.


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