For the bulk of my life as a believer I thought this scripture was overly dramatic. After years in the church I'd seen hundreds of well-meaning, dutiful Christians teaching others about their need for salvation, but few of them could convince me that the impact on their lives was akin to that of finding "treasure".
I was a youth pastor for several years, and a reasonably successful one at that. But six years into this career, I saw myself as victim to a bait and switch. There is no doubt that when I entered the kingdom through the door of salvation I knew I needed forgiveness and a mended relationship with God. But somewhere in the frustrating journey afterward I came to conclude that the "treasure" of the gospel was elusive (or a lie). What I had found was important for holding onto, but it hardly felt worth selling all I had to own.
As a pastor I hunted for this elusive treasure, all the while feeling like little more than a used car salesman, selling kids on a gospel that made little sense to me. My ministry was successful (in terms of numbers) but I saw no lasting fruit. I observed very little joy and had none of it myself. And so the questions in me grew along with the unrest. "There must be more to this...or have I just made a big mistake?"
As best I can recall, every church I had attended growing up as a kid was successful at building programs, but I look back with disappointment and anger that the treasure of the gospel wasn't clearly communicated to me.
Am I alone in feeling this way? I know now I am not.
The beauty of the gospel and Jesus seem to have been cunningly hidden from my view... even inside the walls of the church. I grew up believing Jesus was little more than a lawman and the gospel was little more than a "lifelong lesson in sin management..." as Dallas Willard writes. It did not bring joy and hope, but more duty. More obligation. It didn't feel life giving, but soul killing. A church that preaches this false gospel becomes to the world little more than pharisees and blind guides. How pungent.
I looked at myself and asked "What have I become?" That was the low point. However, with perfect timing, God saw my eyes roaming the horizon for a better story to live in and rescued me from my small false gospel. If you find yourself in a similar state of heart when it comes to issues of faith, we could talk for a while over a cigar, but I can promise you that Jesus without the shroud of religion is too beautiful to describe.
It is crucial to show some kindness here. The human institution we call church is filled to the brim with brokenness, pain, and confusion. So is there any way around the church producing some of it as well?
Can God embrace a brokenhearted man one day and send him out the next with perfect healing and clarity? Not possible. But many are shocked to discover brokenness in Christians, especially in ministers.
Just like an American missionary in China spends his first year offending with his table manners and makes the natives suffer his broken tongue, so God allowa the world to suffer believers who are immature, naive, and even stupid.
He imparts perfect mercy, forgiveness and sonship in a second.
And then He invites us onto the narrow path. Narrow not because God desires it to be so, but because few men seek the life to the full Jesus invited us into. It's along this holy path that God's boys become men. This is where we become what we have it in us to become.
At the very best we are well meaning, taking life one small step at a time as if walking a pitch dark corridor with a candle in hand. And yet the message of Jesus has prevailed through history. And it still prevails, no matter how poorly we translate the Kingdom of God to the kingdom of this world.
Despite its weaknesses, the church is God's chosen vehicle to penetrate the world's darkness with power, beauty and love. And to those who see Jesus with clear eyes and the gospel with a humble heart...YES, they will sell everything they own to get more of it.
The great masses of believers are struggling with disappointment and misinformation. But thank God he comes for us. For you. For me. The God of heaven is not concerned with gathering crowds, money, or volunteers for the nursery.
He is after hearts.
God is the treasure and when we find him we are not victims of a bait and switch.
Religion is a poor substitute for Jesus and his Kingdom. If that sounds good to you, then pray and keep praying for the real deal. Seek and keep seeking. Knock and keep knocking. He will respond. He will expose the truth and reveal the treasure of himself.
And then you and can offer to the church what it is desperate for.