I traveled quite a bit when my children were young. I led outreach teams to foreign countries and could be gone for several weeks at a time. We didn’t have a lot of money, and so when it came to bringing gifts home to my kids I had to get creative. For my two young boys, I began to bring them rocks from the different countries I visited.
For one trip, I traveled with a team throughout the North African nation of Tunisia. On one of our days, we toured some of the ruins of Carthage, the ancient enemy of Rome. I don’t know what it is like today, but back when I was there, we were allowed to wander among the crumbling columns dating back 2500 years. With remains of the timeworn pillars lying about on the ground, I picked up several pieces for my return-home gifts.
My boys were delighted (as they had been with all the rocks I had given them from previous travel). They listened to me explain where these had come from, how old these pieces of masonry were, and why they were actually very precious because of the history they represented. A few days later I found out that they had taken their rock collection outside with some friends to “play with.” The stones of ancient Carthage were never seen again. Perhaps one day archeologists will find them and ponder whether Carthaginians might have had an outpost in East Texas.
It’s a difficult task to teach children how to value things that they don’t see immediate value in. Truly, it’s difficult to teach adults that as well.
All for a Bowl of Stew
There’s a story in the Old Testament that illustrates how blind “big kids” can be to the treasures they have right in front of them (Genesis 25:29-34). Esau, son of Isaac and older brother to Jacob is said to have come home from a grueling day in the wilderness. He smelled the stew that his younger brother was making and insisted that he give him some. Jacob, the devious younger brother, agreed on the condition that Esau deliver over to him the birthright that was unique to the oldest son. “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” he said. He then agreed to his brother’s demands, gobbled down his bowl of lentils, and went on to whatever he was doing next.
A birthright in that culture was a claim to twice the inheritance of all the other siblings. It also carried with it the responsibility of caring for the elderly parents. When Esau surrendered this privilege to his younger brother, two things were likely going on. He possibly thought about the burden it would be to attend to his parents in their old age and didn’t mind letting go of that duty. He had earlier shown a disregard for his father and mother by marrying a local Canaanite girl against their explicit wish. But it is also probable that the double inheritance felt so far away in the future that it held minimal meaning for him in the moment.
After all, he was hungry now.
Esau was a man of the moment. How he felt in any given minute was the reality he lived in. We’re told in the New Testament that it was later that the elder brother realized what he had done. “. . . Afterward, when [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:15-17 ESV).
This older brother is a tragic figure. His physical appetites and inability to delay gratification blinded him to the treasure that had been promised to him and was his right. The scriptures say he “despised” his birthright. He severely undervalued that which should have been cherished. But he only recognized the prize after it was too late.
What Am I Missing?
It makes me wonder about my own sight. In what way have I overestimated the value of the temporal pleasures or trinkets in which I am presently indulging? What activities, pursuits, or habits blind me from what should truly be prized and stewarded? Treasure that carries an eternal worth typically does not scream for attention. It’s the pursuit of short-term happiness that loudly calls to us, demanding to be satisfied. Only after it dissolves into nothing do we typically begin to consider that we might have invested in the wrong kind of wealth.
God in His love has a future awaiting me that is sometimes difficult to comprehend right now. His plans encompass eternity and values that transcend the present moment and even this present life. So, how do I set myself up to be more alert to the quiet and shy true treasure with eternal dividends that surrounds me even now?
I have to get better acquainted with what He values.
God’s profit system will aways center around faith, hope, and love and the relationships around me – even the ones that are difficult. Who are the people in my life that I overlook, undervalue, or even misuse? Those relationships could be the doorways into unimaginable troves of treasure – the kinds that pay back over the long-haul and into eternity. That which will ultimately make me most wealthy is likely hidden right under my nose, wrapped in the most mundane commitments. This seems to be God’s way.
Eyes for the Long-Term
I need to have more of the vision of the Old Testament heroine, Ruth, a counterexample to Esau. She defied all the “common-sense” reasons of her day to disregard relationship with a penniless old woman. Instead of returning to her home country after her husband’s death to remarry, she linked herself to the futureless, old widow, Naomi. It is only at the end of her story that we learn that her ultimate treasure went far beyond merely getting a wealthy new husband. She was blessed to be known as the great grandmother of King David. And fast-forwarding to the New Testament, we learn that she is one out of only three women listed in the genealogy of Christ. She chose well. And because of her faithfulness, I believe her fame will continue on into eternity. It was her sensitivity to what was truly valuable and her hope for goodness in the future that set her up to be a long-term blessed woman.
I want to be like her.
But many of us struggle with the childish mindset of my two boys when they were little, ignorantly playing with potential archeological treasures. They saw only temporary play things. That which they had been given as a special prize was lost forever because they didn’t know how to honor it. Let’s not be like Esau and despise that which belongs to us as God’s children.
Oh Lord, teach me to see and honor that which makes me eternally wealthy!