There once was a great king who ruled with wisdom and grace. One day a gardener arrived at court with a great carrot. He said to the king, “O King, this is the finest carrot I have ever grown. I wish to give it to you as a token of my love and esteem.”
The king looked at the gardener, discerned his heart, and replied, “I see you offer your gifts well. I will give you that large plot of land next to your garden so you may express your gardening gifts even more.” The gardener went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman in the court who overheard the conversation. He said to himself, “If that is what you get for a simple carrot, what would you get if ….”
The next day the nobleman brought a great stallion to court. He said to the king, “O King, this is the finest stallion I have ever bred. I wish to give it to you as a token of my love and esteem.”
The king looked at the nobleman, discerned his heart, replied, “Thank you,” and began to leave the court. The nobleman was distraught. The king then paused, and added,
“Let me explain. The gardener gave the carrot to me. You gave the stallion to yourself.”*
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Ten years ago, I was on a plane heading for New York to give a presentation. The man next to me was a professor of public speaking at a major university.
Somewhat sheepishly, I asked for advice, “What is the key to great public speaking?”
After some preliminary comments, he said this: “At the beginning of World War II, when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England, he said, ‘I felt as though my whole life had prepared me for this moment.’”
“Sam,” he continued, “the best public speakers feel as though their entire lives have prepared them for this moment.”
His words pierced me more deeply than had any other past comment or deliberate insult.
I was devastated. I didn’t feel prepared for anything of significance.
My soul longs—and I believe every soul longs—for a purpose, for a deep meaning, to know that we matter. We long for something transcendent.
Yet I believe most of us fritter our lives away with little dreams. We eagerly await our next vacation or our next car. We squander our money—or our dreams—on the next new iPhone or matching shoes and purse.
I know a man, a really good man, whose life is filled with drudgery. He dutifully cares for his wife and family; he dutifully pours out his life in service; and he dutifully attends to work. He resists opposing desires—like wanting to dodge a service he hates, or aching to “take it easy”—with willpower.
His life, he feels, is dull and empty. His life, he says, is “dreariness and doldrums; I go through the motions without a purpose.” Drudgery has been his life for years. He is joyless.
The driving force of his life—that which gets him out of bed each morning—is willpower, his determination to battle contrary desires. His joyless obligations rule his heart.
I feel sorry for him and his life of dreariness and drudgery. And, yes, he is a Christian. His joyless life unfortunately reflects the lives of many believers. It’s why many nonbelievers don’t like Christianity. They don’t want our dull life. They don’t want to become like us.
Yikes! The gospel is meant to be a transforming power of joy. What has happened to us?
A few years ago, a client of mine visited us for a series of meetings. He asked for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested The Gandy Dancer, my favorite restaurant. The very next day he came to my office and raved about the restaurant. He was going to recommend it to every one of his colleagues.
Smiling, I asked what he’d ordered. “Nothing,” he said, because he’d been too busy. But he had “stopped by and studied the menu, and everything looked incredible.”
That is how many of us believers live our lives. We read the menu and miss the meal. It’s as though we’ve come to believe that Christianity—boiled down to its core essence—is an abstract impersonal menu of truths.
But it isn’t; and that mistake leads to a bland, malnourished, and starving life.