It all started in February of 2007 when I saw Donald Miller speak at the Fusion / Right Now Conference in Orlando, Florida. At the time, I was working as an Account Manager at a Fortune 100 Company, I had a six-figure salary, and I was a year removed from my divorce. Money, materialism, and the American Dream had been my Lord for quite sometime (which was a huge contributor to my divorce), and I knew that this needed to change.
Fortunately, that’s when I first heard Don first talk about the formula for every great story: A character who faces an obstacle meets a guide who give them a plan and calls them into action. Then the story either ends in a tragedy or a comedy and then the formula repeats this cycle in the next chapter or sequel.
After revealing this formula, Don then gave example after example of how this formula was used in ever major blockbuster story since the beginning of time. From Luke Skywalker and Yoda in Star Wars, to Katniss and Haymitch in the Hunger Games, from Harry Potter and Professor Dumbledore in the Sorcerer’s Stone, to Joseph and Potipher in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Then, he asked us to examine our own personal story: “What obstacle are you currently facing? Who is your guide? Do you even have a guide? If so, are they a good guide? What action are they calling you take?”
He challenged us to examine the worthiness of the story we were living:
“What is your plot line? Are you the hero of your story or merely an extra. Is the obstacle you face in the realm of changing the world or are you simply saving up to get a Volvo?”
And that’s when it hit me.
In my life story, the first few chapters were really good! I grew up poor and different, but with a great family and role models who helped me overcome the obstacles of poverty, higher education and corporate success. But now? What obstacle was I trying to overcome? Was my obstacle simply my next pay raise or promotion? Was I seriously just trying to overcome next quarters revenue metrics? Was I really the guy saving up for a Volvo?
The hard truth was that my story had grown stale. I wasn’t really saving up for a Volvo, but my goals had become a big house, a boat, and a higher salary. The worst part about story I was currently living wasn’t just the current chapter, but even worse was the next chapter which would have likely entailed A bigger house, a bigger boat, and even higher salary.
As I sat there listening to Don’s words, I could help but think how uninspiring the story I was living really was. Then Don summed it all up with this: “Can you imagine how you would feel at the end of the movie when the guy finally got his Volvo?”
The troubling part about this whole situation was that I didn’t end up here accidentally. From the time I was thirteen years old, I had carefully planned out my story: I would work hard in school, participate in plenty of extra-curricular activities, I would go to a great college and get a degree in computer engineering, then I would work in the industry while getting my MBA and then transition into the field of Technical Sales. So, not only did I accomplish my goal, but I did it by the age of twenty-four and without having to get an MBA. Unfortunately, that’s where the plan ended and it never included anything about a divorce.
Then Don said something that would change my life forever: “It’s time to get a better story. But this time, let’s go for a page-turner. Do you know what makes a story a page-turner? Not only is exciting, but you have no idea what’s going to happen next.”
“That’s it!!! That’s the kind of story I want to live! A page-turner!” I thought to myself.
The first few chapters of my life story had been great and they had laid the foundation for more great chapters. Sure, I was currently living a mediocre story that nobody would be inspired by, but I had the power to change my story. I could get a new story. All I had to do was decide what kind of story I wanted to live.
That Sunday at church, the Pastor preached a sermon on the Rich Young Ruler out of Mark 10:17-27. In the story, a rich young man asks Jesus what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life and Jesus responded that he must follow the Ten Commandments. The rich man then told Jesus that he had followed them and Jesus responded by telling him to go and sell all of this possessions and give them to the poor and then to go and follow Jesus. The rich young man then goes away sad because he loved his wealth more than he loved Jesus and he was unwilling give it all away and thus, unable to inherit eternal life.
The story ends with Jesus telling the disciples that it is nearly impossible for a rich man to get into heaven because his love of money is almost always greater that his love for God.
And that is exactly where I was at.
Yes, I loved Christ and I was extremely grateful for His death on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins, but I was also completely infatuated with material things, capitalism, consumerism, and personal wealth. The question was which one did I love more?
There was only one way to find out for sure.
In no way do I think that Christ calls everyone to sell everything they have and give it to the poor in order to follow him, but I have no doubt that He called me to do so. Not because the poor needed my things or because He wanted to punish me, but because He knew I was on the fence when it came to my loyalties between money and Him and that it was time I got my priorities straight. As much as I didn’t want to do it and as much as I wish it wasn’t what He had called me to do, I knew it was what needed to happen, regardless of how difficult it was going to be.
Over the next few months, I negotiated back and forth with God as to what He really meant by “sell all you posses and give it to the poor”. Did He really mean “sell everything” or was this some kind of metaphor for simply liquidating excess clothes and dropping it off at the Good Will? Round and round I would go, trying to transform His message into something that would allow me to minimally but acceptably follow Him. Unfortunately, that’s not the way He works.
Each time I would approach the proverbial negotiating table with God, our interactions were almost always the same:
“Hey God, how about if I give 25% of my wealth to the poor?” I would ask.
“That sounds great!” He would respond. “And in turn, I will give you 25% of the treasure I have stored up for you!”
“Um, but God, I don’t just want 25% of the treasure you have stored up for me. I want 100% of the treasure you have for me!” I would say.
“You can have it all!” He would shout joyfully. “All you have to do is trust me 100% and do what I have called you to do.”
“Easier said than done.” I would mumble under my breath.
“How do you know? You’ve never tried it.” He would fire back.
“How about I give you 50%?” I would counter.
“That sounds great!” He would reply. “And I’ll give you 50% of the treasure I have for you.”
The problem was that I knew His treasure was way better than mine could ever be, yet I still struggled to let go of mine. Why? Because I thought that I had made mine by myself and that I controlled mine, which was an illusion in itself. The truth was that without God I wasn’t even capable of breathing, much less succeeding financially and in the corporate world. The fact was that He had been taking wonderful care of me every second of my entire life. The difference was that now He was calling on me to both recognize this fact and then intentionally choose to act accordingly.
“But I thought I was in control, God?!”
“I know you did. That’s why I’m trying to let you down easy.” He would respond.
“Well, if I’m not in control, then why is so important that I surrender control (that I don’t have) to you?”
“Son,” he said, “Your hands are currently full with all of the things that you treasure. You say that you want the treasure that I have for you and I am ready and able to give it to you, but your hands are full. Unless you set aside what you’re currently carrying, how can you possibly accept what I’m trying to give to you? Your hands are full!”
“So all I have to do is let go of what I’m carrying and then you’re going to give me more?” I asked.
“Over and over again.” He replied.
“What do you mean over and over again?” I asked.
“Son, this isn’t a one time deal and I’m not going to bless you with treasure only for you to horde it for yourself. I’m going to fill your hands with treasure so you can give it away to others. And as soon as your hands are empty, I will fill them up again. Over and over, I will rain down blessings and provision on you. The faster you give it away, the faster I will refill your hands.”
More than anything, I wanted to be in partnership with God where He would bless me not just so I could be blessed, but so that I would be able to bless other people. To do this, I first had to empty my hands.