I was pumping unleaded at the Exxon station across the street from the General Conference building when I first heard the whistling. Whistling—at least the musical kind—is rare enough in public these days that I turned to find the source. And what was that tune? Difficult . . . complicated . . . not in the usual whistler’s repertoire . . .
It took a few seconds for the song to register: “Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum”—“If I Were a Rich Man,” Tevye’s prayerful complaint from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The whistler emerged from behind the gas pumps, a tall, bearded, Tevye-looking fellow, clutching two steaming hot dogs and a 32-ounce soda cup. He strode across the ice-strewn parking lot, brimming with unself-conscious merriment, and slid onto the seat of his Chevy pickup.
As the pump meter raced at the rate of $3.19 a gallon, I pondered both the whistler and the song. Was this tuneful stranger whistling for himself, or for me, or maybe for the wider universe? And was he actually happy with his lot—as the whistling would seem to imply—or was he instead warbling an existential cry for redress? If he were a rich man, it’s not likely he would be buying hot dogs and a soda at an On the Run mart. Had he, like the apostle Paul, stumbled on the secret of happiness, both economic and otherwise? “For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be
content” (Phil. 4:11, NKJV).
Wealth, of course, is a relative status. The billionaire whose company has just clawed its way into the bottom rank of the Fortune 500 feels as insecure as the first-grader who discovers that her Crayola box has just 16 crayons while her peers all have 32. We estimate our margin—and thus gauge our generosity—by a continuing assessment of where we stand relative to our colleagues, our neighbors, and yes, even our relatives. Do I have enough to give to others’ need, or does a healthy prudence dictate keeping everything undercover for that proverbial and distant rainy day? Do the causes I believe in open my wallet, or only my emotions? And will the Lord actually require of me an accounting one day for that talent buried in the credit union or hidden in a pension plan?
Across the face of Adventism, investment opportunities abound, though probably not the kind your broker is advising. Just yesterday I heard of a union conference in Africa that, in faith, placed an order for 1.5 million copies of the Missionary Book of the Year—and still needs as many dollars to get the word out. A dozen desperate letters cross my desk each month from Adventist youth pleading for financial help to finish their education at an Adventist school so they can serve the church they love as pastors, evangelists, nurses, or teachers. Keeping the light shining from the lampstand of your local congregation requires money to buy the oil and trim the wicks, lest the bushel of self-centeredness obscure God’s truth in your community.
Before another Sabbath starts, consider the offering you can bring: resolve to act as the wealthy person you already are because of Jesus. Once you estimate your true worth in the light of eternity, you too, like the penniless apostle, will glory in “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8, NKJV). And He who owns the cattle on a thousand hills will use your gift to bring fish into 10,000 nets. The gracious Lord will put before you some cause, some need, some project in which you may invest some bit of what He has given you.
You may count on Him for that, for Scripture is replete with illustrations that He knows how to count—sheep, prodigals, and yes, even misplaced coins.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published February 24, 2011.