Author, The Happiest Man in the World: Life Lessons from a Cultural Economist
It was a beautiful March day in Israel. My son Jay and I were traveling with Shaul Amir, an executive of the large Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tel Aviv. Shaul wanted to introduce me to some of his close friends who were very important Israeli government people in the city of Haifa. We drove north, with the Mediterranean Sea on our left and the Jordan River to our right, to the base of Mt. Carmel, and then on toward Sidon. Before we reached Haifa I, spotted a signpost that pointed to Zarephath.
“Shaul,” I excitedly asked, “is that the same Zarephath that is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures when they talk about Elijah and wicked King Ahab and how God made it not rain for three years?”
“How would you know anything about our old prophet Elijah?” Shaul inquired with a bewildered expression. “How would you know anything about Zarephath? You know I grew up just over there on the side of Mt. Carmel. I rode horseback all over this area when I was young.” We had a marvelous conversation as we drove on. I told him all I remembered about the story and he filled in the local color.
You see, King Ahab was the most wicked king Israel had experienced to that time. And his foreign wife, Jezebel, was twice as evil. God got their attention by sending Elijah to the king so he could tell Ahab that God was going to stop the rain until he sent Elijah back to see him later. Jezebel and the king didn’t like the message, so they decided to kill the messenger (nothing new in history).
Eventually, God had to send Elijah to the village of Zarephath, where he arranged for an old widow to hide him and take care of him until the rains started again. When Elijah arrived at the edge of the city, there was the old woman gathering sticks to build a fire. “Please bring me a glass of water,” requested Elijah. As the woman turned to fetch the water, Elijah called to her and said, “Oh, yes, and while you are at it, please bring me some bread, also.”
That was enough to trip the trigger of the old widow. She was thinking what a stretch it was to even consider getting the old man some water, since there was almost no water available because of the imposed drought. But now he was asking for some bread! She replied, “I don’t have any bread, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son that we may eat it – and die.”
Elijah responded, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’ ”
The woman went away and did what Elijah had told her to do. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family, for the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry as the Lord had said through Elijah. (I Kings 17:7-16)
Shaul, Jay, and I had a spectacular time discussing the story about the village of Zerephath on our way to Haifa. Whether we risk our life on our belief in the economic concept of scarcity, insufficiency, and lack, or dare to believe in the possibility of abundance, is really and finally up to us. . It is our call. It is like what my old dad used to say: “Be alert to the image you hold in your mind, because you ultimately become what you think about all day long.”
Many times as I would be in flight somewhere on the millions of miles I have flown in the past thirty years, I have thought about the strange and glorious adventure Anna Marie and I started on when we decided to risk our lives on this call to obedience and abundance. At the beginning of the adventure it looked more like “de-abundance” than abundance. We had spent our life radically accumulating wealth for ourselves that would last us until we died. We had worked hard and acquired sixteen times more than I had thought we would ever have in our entire lifetime. But, it was not satisfying. We were doing well, but we were not doing good. We were not happy, and as I looked around none of our friends who were addicted to accumulating more and more were happy, either.
After a lot of discussions, we decided to give away what we had accumulated and start over again. Perhaps we needed to learn that God couldn’t trust us with heaven’s riches until we could be trusted with no riches. I never suggest that anyone else do just as we did and give away all his or her accumulation. But for me, I had to break the radical accumulation addiction and I needed to do it cold turkey. I needed to change from a person who was bent on getting to a person who was bent on giving.
A mental and spiritual disposition of getting springs from a fear that there is only so much available in the scheme of things and we must hoard, covet and redistribute what someone else has for our own taking. The doctrine of shortage promotes bondage; the doctrine of abundance promotes freedom. After all these years I have come to believe that it is through relinquishment that you come to true abundance. To have relinquished the old paradigm and embraced a new and different concept of abundance was the best business deal I ever made in all my life. But the choice to move from a paradigm of scarcity, choice and cost to one of abundance, choice and fulfillment is a very personal decision.
I have often thought how Washington Carver must have felt in his experiments with the lowly peanut . . . we are merely scratching the surface of the scientific investigation of the possibilities of sufficiency and abundance. Our new adventure required us to purposefully let go of those things that we had considered as our security blankets, but were in fact items of bondage. We then had to allow a new image of trust and expectation to become our security. We kept focusing on My God shall supply all your needs . . . (Philippians 4:19). In starting over we had to push to the edge of the cliff, and then walk over the edge, expecting that there would be something beneath our next step or else we would be taught how to fly.
Now, some forty years after that decision and launch of the adventure, some of the results are being tallied. Over one billion dollars’ worth of medical goods have been donated through Project C.U.R.E. into over 130 countries around the world. Because of the help of over 16,000 volunteers and staff at Project C.U.R.E., literally tens of thousands of people are alive and economies are stronger. We had purposefully chosen to take our hands off the things that would last for a short time so that we could lay hold of the abundant things that would last forever. The best business deal we ever made was to choose, along with the old widow from Zarephath, to exchange what we could not keep for the abundance we could not lose.
Next Week: Supposin’: In Search of a Solution
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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Dr. James W. Jackson often describes himself as "The Happiest Man in the World." A successful businessman, award-winning author and humanitarian, Jackson is also a renowned Cultural Economist and international consultant, helping organizations and governments to apply sound economic principals to the transformation of culture so that everyone is "better off."
As the founder of Project C.U.R.E., Dr. Jackson traveled to more than one hundred fifty countries assessing healthcare facilities, meeting with government leaders and "delivering health and hope" in the form of medical supplies and equipment to the world's most needy people. Literally thousands of people are alive today as a direct result of the tireless efforts of Project C.U.R.E.'s staff, volunteers and Dr. Jackson.