Auctioning the Promised Land


Our old, green Bronco, with its spotlight perched on top, quaked and moaned over each pothole. Air leaking around the doors whistled a whining tune, but it faithfully carted me up and down every country road on the map, searching for a farm.

One farm seemed like a good possibility, but as the owner sensed my interest, he raised the price out of my range. All realtors, newspaper ads, and "for sale" signs were checked out. Every sign seemed to say "Farm for Sale," until I got close enough to read it.

After our oldest son died while crossing our busy street to catch his school bus, our pursuit kicked into high gear, driven by the parental instinct to protect our kids. Any weather or time, the spotlight mounted on the Bronco helped the search at night after office hours. Still we found nothing.

My wife, Ruth Ann, and I asked God daily for His will in finding a safer place to rear our four other children. We'd often talked about the virtues of a doctor bringing up his kids on a farm, and now the idea seemed perfect to us. But was it God's will?

Gradually becoming more desperate, I decided to try a more direct approach on my next Saturday afternoon off. Sign or no sign, I was going to look and knock on doors. After finishing rounds at the hospital, I picked up Roger, now my oldest son, and we tried some new roads.

We spotted a run-down century-old brick farm house half buried by over-grown trees and surrounded by wind-whipped hayfields. It overlooked a grassy slope and a shallow valley filled with cattails. The dilapidated barn swarmed with sheep, like a hen with her brood of chicks. Two massive oak trees stood guard on each side of the house, completing the picturesque setting. We stopped and stared.

"Hey, Dad, check it out," Roger prodded.

Checked Out the Farmhouse

We couldn't see any lane, so we crossed the hayfields toward the farmhouse. Some spooked sheep shot off, stumbling over one another toward shelter in the barn.

After a knuckle-bruising knock on the warped door, a crusty, elderly man cautiously opened it a crack. Lester Taylor, a bachelor with a weathered, unkempt face shyly greeted us. His faded bib overalls were tied with baling twine. Dirt-tinged, long underwear warmed his arms. He timidly invited us in.

Lester lived alone in one smoky room, sleeping on a cot next to his wood-burning cook stove, which had long ago grease-glazed the walls. Out back a rusty-handled water pump marked the beginning of the path through his garden to the outhouse.

His place smelled like a late breakfast, and the worn-thin linoleum floor creaked as I shifted footing. Our conversation began awkwardly, but when I got down to the nitty-gritty of this Saturday house call, he surprised me with, "I been thinkin' 'bout selling." By the end of our visit he promised he would sell his farm to me, and we even discussed the price.

But the big condition was he'd sell it to me when he couldn't farm any more. His calloused hand pointed a gnarled finger toward the borders of his beloved 154 acres of rolling cropland and woods with two small streams. I thought, Even if it can't be soon, what an exciting possibility. Our kids would have to plan a hike to get near the road! But, too soon, it was time to go. We'd talk again in two weeks.

Just before we left, Lester awkwardly shared some stomach symptoms and weakness that worried him. They worried me too. I admonished, "Lester, it may be a sign of something serious. See your own doctor as soon as possible."

Ruth Ann and I began praying daily about God's will for that farm.

Found Lester Was Hospitalized

In two weeks we returned but encountered only his frightened sheep being fed by a young man who told us Lester was hospitalized. The next day on rounds I stopped in and learned he was to have surgery by one of my colleagues. He repeated his promise to sell me his farm, "If this operation doesn't turn out right."

That morning I operated in the room next to Lester. I walked over to my colleague with some shop talk and, "I know your patient." I was invited to look myself. Horrible! Terminal! I mumbled, "Poor Lester."

After surgery, Mr. Taylor's elderly family doctor, who never told patients they were going to die, told Lester what he wanted to hear--that he'd be planting corn next spring! Despite severe weakness, Lester perked up with the "good news" that the operation had turned out fine. He stood firm on selling to me, but not now, for he'd soon be able to farm again.

Exasperated and frustrated, I could do nothing. Mr. Taylor was soon to die. If he knew it, he would want to sell. But my hands were tied.

Lester slipped quickly and was moved to a nursing home. While seeing patients there, I visited him also. A slight smile swept across his face, like a wind-wave in one of his hayfields, as he feebly explained his plowing plans for spring.

An inner voice whispered to me, Forget it! It's too late. You'll be accused of grave-robbing. There would be too many questions, you'll have to leave this farm in the Lord's hands. So sadly, I left without mentioning it. He lapsed into a coma and died a few days later.

After a respectful period I called the estate executor. He shocked me with, "Lester didn't say anything about any promise to you, and his seven out-of-town relatives can't agree on anything but a public auction."

"Public auction?" I reacted, "I'll pay any reasonable price. Lester promised me several times he'd sell it to me when he could no longer farm." But it became obvious that regardless of my offer, there would be a public auction.

Soon the farm auction posters were tacked on telephone poles, listing the equipment, the acreage, and the date, our 11th wedding anniversary. The sleepy rundown farm suddenly became a hot topic.

I'd never been to an auction, so I thought I'd go early because I'd heard there were some tricks. The land would be auctioned at 4:00 p.m., so Ruth Ann and I arrived about 2:00--to cut our auction teeth.

His Faith Wavered

Since our first visit to the farm, we had felt solid peace about proceeding. But a nurse friend close to Lester's family told me of super-high offers already turned down, and the rich folks there to buy it were unsettling. I began to have some doubts. My solid faith became flimsy.

Should I drag myself up to bid when all these millionaires who could buy and sell me many times over are bent on purchasing this farm? Even so, I knew I needed a firm top bid to avoid getting caught up in the action and turning my pockets and wallet inside out.

"Ruth Ann, let's go back home and pray about this some more." Away from rumors and noise, we again prayed for God's will and peace. We struggled with the disappointment of having invested so much time and emotional energy in this farm that now seemed wasted. But as we prayed, I remembered God promised all things work together for good for those who love Him and follow His purposes (see Rom. 8:28)

Trusting God to keep that promise for our family too, my uncertainty diminished. Win, lose, or draw, I gained solid peace about my top bid--the same one I had offered Lester Taylor: $400 per acre.

When we returned to the auction, there were many more people, and still more rumors flying around. But my wife and I were more relaxed and prepared to be happy with or without the farm.

Near four o'clock, excitement tinged the air as the sweaty, machine-gun-mouth auctioneer invited those who wished to bid on the farm to join him by the wagon. A group of rugged farmers anxiously spitting timothy hay stems, as well as well-dressed businessmen, joined him. I joined about 20 people to compete for the farm Mr. Taylor had promised to sell me.

Despite spending months mentally preparing for the auction, it started before I was ready! I found myself in the front row of the bidders, one of the few auction no-no's I'd learned, and there was no way to move gracefully before the auctioneer sputtered out the first bid: $335 per acre.

A number of faces dropped, and only four of us actually bid. Our bidding quickly assumed a pattern around a small circle. "$335, do I heaaar $340? Yes, siiir, $345 next," in rapid succession around and around our tiny quartet. The bids rose so quickly I knew I'd soon be out of the action, but I dutifully responded each time the hoarse auctioneer pointed at me. He pointed, we nodded approval, round and round our small circle of four men, ever mounting the spiral staircase to my limit.

I felt impending doom as we passed $385, moving rapidly toward my exit. Everyone was intense. We all wanted that farm. The other bidders were brisk and still seemed confident.

I nodded my last time, my final bid....right on $400!

Bidders Stop Bidding

Then it happened! As if someone had waved a wand and said, "Enough!" The next bidder, a tall, handsome white-haired businessman shook his head no! I thought, Well, surely the next one will grab it. No! He stopped too! And the last man did also!

A glimmer of hope crossed my face--but the auctioneer quickly dashed it.

"Now look, boys, you know you ain't gonna' buy no farm as nice as this here one for $400 per acre. Be serious. You money boys get your heads together and decide how much you oughta' pay for this farm, and while you're thinkin', I'll go over here and sell some of this good lookin' corn."

I couldn't believe it! I held the high bid at $400--but he was going somewhere else? By now I was really into this auction, and the suspense had me right by the throat. I spoke up.

"Auctioneer, sir, this sale was advertised for 4:00 p.m. It's now 4:12, would you please proceed and sell this farm?" A few folks cheered and relieved the tension.

A conference was held between the auctioneer and the executor of the estate, who had turned down my offer right after Lester died. The auctioneer returned with a cheerleader talk about how much more the farm was worth, and then reopened the bidding. He spent the next five minutes trying to extract as little as $402, but was met only by determined frowns and head-shaking. They were all shaking their heads no, and I caught myself shaking no, too.

After another conference, the auctioneer returned, pointing directly at me with, "SOLD TO THAT MAN FOR $400 PER ACRE!"

I silently gasped, Wow! It's ours! Thank God. I glanced up in the sky and promised, I'll take good care of it, Lester.

Even our old Bronco seemed to smile and wink its spotlight.

My wife, standing away from me, didn't know I held the high bid until she saw me take out our checkbook. I whispered, "Happy Anniversary."

I believe God planned to plant our family on the farm Lester had promised all along, but as with the children of Israel, in His way, in His time, and with no questions. Like Lester, some of our friends may be unable to keep their promises, or some may be unwilling, but God has promised to always make our most frustrating circumstances work together for our good, ultimately, when we're following Him.

He won't always hand us our dreams so dramatically, but we can always trust God to keep His promises.

What It Means to Be Born Again

Study these Bible verses for God's Word on the subject:

1. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).

Everyone is a sinner--there are no exceptions.

2. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).

Death means separation forever from God. Eternal life comes by trusting Jesus Christ.

3. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

God loved us sinners so much that He gave His son to die for our sins.

4. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom. 10:9).

To be born again, you must believe that Jesus died for your sins and declare that you accept Him as Lord of your life.

5. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:13).

This is God's promise to you that if you accept Jesus as Lord, He will accept you.

Call upon the Lord now as you pray this prayer:

Dear God, I know I have sinned by breaking your laws, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I want to be born again and receive new life in Him. I will follow Jesus as my Lord and obey Him in all that I do. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.