Last week I began to tell a story from Jerram Barrs. This narrative is taken from his book Delighting in the Law of the Lord. I tell it because it is such a beautiful accounting of the life of Jerram’s father-in-law, an owner of a small fruit farm of forty to sixty acres in the San Joaquin Valley south of Fresno, California. Dad, as Jerram called him, grew all kinds of tree fruit such as peaches, nectarines, plums, and persimmons, plus kiwis and grapes. This story comes from the summer of 1969 when Jerram was a seminary student. During those student days, Jerram and his wife Vicki traveled each summer to California so that Jerram could work on the farm to help Vicki’s father.
One day Jerram was walking back through the fields to the house for lunch. He came across Dad kneeling in his orchard before one of his young peach trees. He was holding a peach in each hand and saying: “Lord, these peaches are yours. These trees are yours and all the fruit they will ever bear. This orchard is yours. My farm is yours. I am yours. Thank you for your love to me in Jesus. Help me to serve you in all I do.”
As Dad finished and stood up, he was embarrassed to find Jerram watching and listening to the private moment between him and the Lord. Jerram asked him about what he had just done. Dad explained that he had this service of firstfruits every time any of his trees started bearing their fruit. He said, “I read that the Lord taught Moses to command the people to bring the best of their firstfruits to the house of the Lord and offer them to him, so I decided that I would have this little service with my firstfruits.“
Dad loved to read the Scriptures, and as he studied the laws in the books of Moses, he decided that he wanted to put into practice some of the various offerings and services in the Old Testament law. He knew that believers today are not obligated to obey the Mosaic law, but he understood that the spiritual principles and intent of these laws still apply to believers in Christ for, “Paul teaches us that everything in Scripture from former times was written down for our instruction.”
What were the results of Dad’s private ceremony?
- It shaped his attitude toward his employees and toward anyone with whom he did business. His bottom line was seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Many of his laborers were immigrants from Mexico. Many of the farmers in the area paid a minimum wage and treated the laborers poorly. Dad asked what would be pleasing to the Lord, what was just, merciful and fair. He knew that the law requires that he should treat aliens in the same way he should treat native-born laborers, and so he did. Many years later a man who had worked for him came to the house to thank Dad. “Every summer I would come up from Mexico and I would make a beeline for your farm,” the man said. “You treated us so much better than the other farmers. You did not pay the minimum wage or the ‘going rate’. You paid us far more. You often ate lunch with us. You brought us treats at break time. On very hot days you would come by with ice cream or ice-cold drinks. You asked about our families. Working for you changed my whole life and the way I have raised my own sons. I have tried to raise them to be like you. I am sorry I did not come back to thank you before.”
- Second, Dad gave generously without thinking about how much he could afford. He would ask, “What does the Lord want me to give?” He would pray that the Lord would lead him in his giving, and that the Spirit would put on his heart people who were in need and the ministries to which he should give. He understood that tithing was a basic minimum, and so he always gave more. Even though Dad was not wealthy, he gave away more than half his income. He gave to his church, to ministries, to orphans, and to individuals. He invited the local rescue mission to glean from his fields. Weekly, he took boxes of fruit and vegetables to a distribution center to give free produce to the elderly and those who were poor.
- The third consequence was Dad and Mom’s hospitality, to be generous with their home, their possessions, their food, and their time. There was a young man who came to English L’Abri in 1971 who had not had a stable life when he was growing up. This young man had become a Christian by reading the Bible on his own. He decided that the things he was reading were true so he came to trust in Jesus and wanted to do something useful with his life. He eventually came to L’Abri for a year. When he had finished his time there, he asked Jerram and Vicki where he might go and of Christians with whom he could make contact. They encouraged him to visit Vicki’s parents and wrote to them to tell them of this young man who might be coming their way. He did go and stayed with them for quite a long time. He worked on the farm. He continues to live in Central California and continues to farm. He is married and has two grown children of his own. When Dad died, the man spoke at his memorial service about their love for him and their extraordinary hospitality, “I was a stranger and you took me in. I was hungry and you fed me.” Such was their hospitality on multiple occasions.
- The fourth consequence of Dad’s dedication of himself and his possessions to the Lord was its impact on his children – three sons and a daughter. Two of his sons are farmers and the third is a doctor. The fourth child is Jerram’s wife Vicki. All of the sons are men whom people love to work for and with because of their integrity, fairness, and kindness. Vicki is like the wife in Proverbs 31. Each child is generous and hospitable, just like Dad and Mom.
This beautiful story so clearly portrays a life, entrusted into the hands of a loving Father, and God’s work in that life to the benefit of the community and beyond.
How does God want you to serve Him in all you do?