After speaking with Ray for a moment, he told me he felt impressed to call me. That didn't surprise me because there have been times I have also felt moved to call him too. My brother calls these mysterious and invisible impulses: "the coconut wireless".
Ray has taken on a major new direction and challenge in his life in beginning an oil company, Bethel Oil, and starting a few wells in Illinois. It has been many years since Ray was in the oil business. He had long ago left that world behind to answer a call to serve the Lord in China. A couple years ago, God called him back to the fields. At the time, oil was going for about $50 a barrel.
Ray's vision is that funds produced from the fields could be used to support missions and ministry all over the world. It's a great concept. But getting oil out of the ground requires far more than a great concept. Watching Ray find investors, work with his exploration team, prepare studies, secure drill rigs and workover rigs, try various methods to overcome obstacles, deal with weather, push through exhaustion, prepare reports, do endless paperwork, secure and maintain land leases and everything else has only raised my respect for his ability to see something through from the A to the Z of it. At this time in my life, I admire people who can work hard by faith -- perhaps for a long time --before they actually see the rewards of their labor. In our instant gratification society, it is a shining gift.
That's why Ray's call uplifted me so. Like him, I have recently changed my life in a big way. Like him, I am developing a vision that will first require a great deal of endurance before the fruit will appear. I am no oil man, but I am pioneering a new endeavor of a different kind that requires a new team, a new level of learning, a new approach and a new philosophy of ministry as well as a new lifestyle. In other words, Ray and I are each "betting the farm" on things that can only be validated in the actual doing. It feels good to talk to someone who knows something of this path.
Will Ray find lots of oil? Who can say for sure. But he's risking everything he has because he believes it is what God is asking of him. Will I succeed in developing an intergenerational community-based ministry network after having been a traditional local church pastor my whole life? Who can say for sure. But I am also willing to spend that acumulated competence in order to make a meaningful contribution that, Lord willing, will extend far beyond my own lifetime. It is, I believe, the supreme task of people at my life stage to do just that.
I once heard John Wimber talk about this phenomenon in a way I am only now really coming to understand. He was reflecting on Jesus' brief parable of the pearl merchant. In it, a man who buys and sells pearls (he doesn't collect them or hold on to them -- he is a merchant after all) comes upon a pearl that, if it could be bought, would re-sell at a great profit (Matthew 13: 45 - 46). To buy this pearl, the man would be required to sell everything he had so he could obtain the purchase price. His faith in the ultimate profitability of the pearl motivates him to go "all in" and do so. It is a gutsy move, to be sure. But it is not a senseless one if a man understands the potential value of the sacrifice.
Wimber said that he had come to see that this story was not just a parable about giving up one's old life in order to come to know Christ and have salvation even though that is often how the text is preached. Upon closer inspection, the story reveals itself as a parable of the kingdom of God. It speaks of the way of life that citizens of the kingdom should prepare to adopt if they are going to invite the fulness of God's reign within them and around them. "I came to see," Wimber said, "that this is something I will do over and over again as a believer". I think he is absolutely right about that.
Selling all to buy the pearl is something my friend Ray gets. He thinks I get it, too. That's why, when he calls me, I feel like I am talking to a true compadre in the faith. That's why I always try to pick up when Ray is on the phone.