Emptying Barns

“God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21)

The verse above is the conclusion to Jesus’ parable of the man who built bigger and bigger barns for his wealth, often referred to as the Parable of the Rich Fool. In this parable, a man is blessed with productive land and an abundance of crops. His response to this blessing was not to share with those less fortunate than himself, or to invest the money in a manner that would help his community. Rather, the man decides to pull down his existing barns so that he can build larger ones, so that he would have more room to store up his goods for himself.

Having not been acknowledged (or even mentioned) previously in the story, God suddenly shows up to speak directly to the man. God calls him a “fool” and tells the man that what is required of him is his soul – his whole life – which belongs to God himself. The things that this man thought he possessed were nothing compared to what God himself owned, the claim that God has on all of us as his possession.

Today, as I write my article for this issue, I face the prospect of picking up my household and moving to another part of the country. I realize these days, this is something fairly common for people to do. But it forces me once again to take stock of all the “things” I claim as my own.  I remember back to the first days, when my wife and I were newly married, it seemed as if each time we moved — from seminary to internship, then back to seminary and on to my first call — the moving truck kept getting larger and larger. By the time I moved to my second call, my children were just reaching school-age when we moved into the church’s parsonage. Not long after, we bought own house in the town of Maple Lake, where I served most of my ministry. Again, the amount of “things” continued to grow.

It was not until I shifted from parish ministry to full-time in the publishing ministry, that my wife and I became so-called “empty nesters.” While it was true that the birds had grown and flown off, the nest itself was still filled with many things. Not until the next move did we have our first experience with down-sizing.

It was more difficult than I would have imagined. Though the new house to which we were moving was about the same size as the one we were moving from, the amount of storage space available went from plentiful to minimal. Hard decisions had to be made, and we were not entirely successful in our attempt to divest ourselves excess inventory.

But now, as we prepare to move again, I am surprised to find this process far less difficult. I would like to think it is because I am older and wiser, and am better able to travel light. I would like to think that I have learned the lesson of not building bigger barns, having a greater faith and trust that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). But I am not sure that this is the case.

Rather, I think it has more to do with the experience of loss, and how God shapes us by what he takes away. Like the Vinedresser, pruning the branches of the vine, I have come to understand that God’s blessings are not just in what he gives, but perhaps even more visible in what he removes.

As one who believes in a Savior who “takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), I recognize that there are many other things that God has taken away — hard experiences by which he has shaped me in faith. The things that I once thought of as my own now seem somehow less tangible, compared to the value I find in the unseen things of faith.

After a lifetime of praying, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread,” I have learned not only the value of what God gives, but also the value of what he does not give. Perhaps that is why God does not promise us our yearly bread, our monthly bread, or even our weekly bread. What he promises is daily bread. Having the Lord empty my barns has made me more conscious of my dependence upon him every single day. For that I am grateful.

In teaching the Word, I have often compared the life of faith to a candle that begins tall and slowly burns down as we mature. I have suggested that our prayer as disciples should be that when our time on the earth has ended, there would be nothing left but a nub, for we would have given all we have and all we are for the sake of Christ.

In my own life, what I have found is that this is the only way his light will shine in us. Only by the burning of the candle is the light of our Savior made known to the world. For only by his Light is the darkness of this world overcome.

So I give thanks that God came to me in Christ while I was still a fool, while I was building my barns. I give thanks that he has opened silos and poured out the grain I thought was my own, and instead, has claimed me as His own.

— Pastor Steven E. King

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