Seek First the Kingdom
The Helen Wilkins Story
Well, we all—even lawyers—have to eat, don’t we? Jesus knew that well when he taught,
…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:23, 32-33)
Easy for Jesus to say! He didn’t have to find new office space or meet a payroll—or did he? The Gospels tell us a lot about the everyday life of Yeshua and his disciples and followers: their habits, their travels, their questions, their disputes. Nowhere do we see them without food, clothing or a place to sleep. They did not stay at the Best Western, but their needs were met.
Does this lesson apply to lawyers 2,000 years later? Jesus taught me it does. When Rich Baker and I were a two-partner firm, with one associate, we became active in the Christian Business Men’s Association. Their objective is to help businessmen and women to give their lives to God through Jesus and then to educate them in the Bible and God’s ways. Their means are weekday noon lunch meetings where the members invite a guest to hear a speaker tell the story of his or her journey of faith. In the days immediately following the luncheon, the members go out, two-by-two, to drop in—unannounced—on the guests. CBMC calls it “Operation Shoeleather.” We would usually ask them their take on the meeting and answer questions or talk about our spiritual path if the guest was open to conversation.
Of course, in downtown Chicago, the configuration of offices usually required us to go through a receptionist who would politely ask, “Is he expecting you?” Well, we couldn’t lie and did not want to. However, not infrequently our answer “No, but we’re from an organization that sponsored a lunch he attended on Wednesday” would earn us a more skeptical smile and a polite “He has several meetings today, may I take your number?”
Now, to lawyers and most business people, time is money. It’s not quite that way for Jesus. His message in Matthew 6 primarily teaches that if we’re pressed for time, we should seek first God’s kingdom and He would add more time to our day! So, we persisted in making these calls even when it didn’t seem we had time to do so. One summer day, Rich and I took the usual four or five follow-up cards assigned to us by the luncheon follow-up coordinator and set out on our journey. At some point, we decided we should inject some humor into our approach since we both had sunglasses with us. The next receptionist we encountered saw two thirty-something smiling businessmen walk up to her. As soon as she asked “May I help you,” we put on our sunglasses, tried to look serious and, with our best Blues Brothers intonation, announced, “We’re on a Mission from God!”Needless to say, our rapport level with receptionists soared. After momentary shock or puzzlement, most seemed to get the “we’re evangelists, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously” message. These Operation Shoe leather calls bore fruit for the Kingdom—sometimes a lunch guest would pray with us, trusting Jesus as Savior or asking to be paired with a
Needless to say, our rapport level with receptionists soared. After momentary shock or puzzlement, most seemed to get the “we’re evangelists, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously” message. These Operation Shoeleather calls bore fruit for the Kingdom—sometimes a lunch guest would pray with us, trusting Jesus as Savior or asking to be paired with a Christian businessman for one-on-one discipleship. Frequently we would pray with him for his marriage, children, and stress from work or healing. Other times the man we called on was made to feel welcomed and left to wonder what could be so important that two lawyers who charge hundreds of dollars per hour would forego that income to seek me out? Occasionally we got a hostile reaction but, hey, Jesus had already forewarned us!
And whosoever will not receive you when ye go out of that city shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them. (Luke 9:5)
Oh and what about the needs, including money, Jesus said he would supply? Well, during one stretch of months, Rich, I and other attorneys on the Chicago CBMC Committee had a string of financial blessings on the Friday mornings we were doing Shoeleather. Many times, attorneys would return to their offices to find a telephone message indicating a case had settled or an old client had a new business or a delinquent fee had been paid “out of the blue.” I remember one attorney saying to me at the time, “I can’t afford not to go on Shoeleather!”
You’d think I’d learn, but the Lord has had to teach me some lessons many times—and He still gives refresher courses as needed. So it was at this phase in my journey that businessmen, clients, and fellow lawyers were always telling me their greatest need was “more time.” I was delighted to explain that God could multiply not just food, clothing and shelter for them but time itself (for example, by settling time-wasting litigation or disputes). However, they would give their best hours to Him, to seek first the Kingdom! Then Len Parsons called. He introduced himself on the phone as a stockbroker member of the Village Church in Barrington and teacher at a weekly Bible study at the Metropolitan Correctional Center AKA, the Federal lockup near the downtown federal courthouse. Len had gotten my name from a CBMC contact and wanted to find counsel for a young inmate who attended the study and had further legal problems pending. Of course, I said yes! (Just kidding.) Actually, I said “no” emphatically three times, since there was little possibility of being paid and I did not practice criminal law.
I first explained to Len that I was not qualified. When Len responded that the man was in for credit card fraud, was trying to turn his life around and still had credit card fraud charges pending in New Jersey, I think that gave me a second out. “I don’t go to New Jersey; he needs a lawyer from there.” Len persisted. I thought to myself how busy I was and put my foot down. I probably said, “I’m up to my neck at work, have a wife and four kids to provide for and am quite involved in church, CBMC and other tasks for God—No!”
God bless Len Parsons—he stopped urging, and his voice told me he was near tears. “Mr. Mauck, I’ve called three other lawyers and they all have the same good reasons. This young man is desperate. How can I help him?” All of which I tell you, dear reader, is to say that I did not respond enthusiastically, that I did not heed my own teaching on putting God first, but I did agree to go.
Have you been to prison, even visiting? Those heavy metal gates, doors, and their clank intimidate. Len turned out to be a very soft-spoken, gentle man, thirty years my senior. Joining him for the Bible study turned the prison experience into a scare and into a positive. The scary part: even though I look like a lawyer, I repeatedly felt my back pocket to assure myself my wallet containing my attorney identification card was still with me. The positive part: it turned out “Bruce,” a mid-twenties man dressed in nondescript prison issue, was seeking God. Not that he wanted to follow God, but he wanted God to get him out of jail! After the study, my attorney card allowed me another hour to counsel with him and Len. Bruce told me he was a first timer and was about four months into a six-month sentence. New Jersey authorities had given notice that upon completion of his sentence, they wanted him held to face up to two years more for other fraudulent credit card episodes. Bruce admitted his guilt and expressed remorse for his actions. But he was in a panic, like a bug in a frying pan that is heating up, he was frenzied.
When I informed Bruce I knew little about criminal law and nothing about criminal procedure, his anxiety escalated. My only hope to help Bruce was God, and God was his only hope. I explained that only Jesus could set him truly free and could do so even if Bruce stayed behind bars. Well, Bruce did not like that idea! However, by the grace of God, Len had planted the seed of faith with Bruce and watered it over the weeks of Bible study. But Len did not know how to harvest. He couldn’t close the deal! Somehow Len’s own education with Jesus had left out how to explain that repentance, trust in God’s forgiveness for those who would believe that Jesus died for their sins could lead to new birth and how to offer Bruce the opportunity to receive new birth.
So we had a good hour. I explained to Bruce how he needed to throw in the towel, raise the white flag, and come to Jesus. He finally realized that his life and eternity -not a few more years in prison—were the core issues. Through prayer, Bruce was born again. I never actually gave Bruce any legal advice, but I gave him the best advice a lawyer can give, “throw yourself on the mercy of the Judge Almighty.” Over the next two years, we corresponded. New Jersey dropped the additional charges. We don’t know why. Bruce moved to Minneapolis, found a job, found other believers to help him on his path, and found a wife! Me? I actually took over the Bible study for a few weeks and remember it as a time of spiritual growth.
So what? I spent a lot of time serving God but had no money to show for those Bruce efforts. I had put God first, reluctantly to be sure, but I had obeyed. Was God’s promise in Matthew 6 true for lawyers in the Twentieth Century?
A couple months later the Lord used that connection with Len to multiply those hours and lost income back to me. Len called me and asked me to perform another mitzvah, another Good Deed. An elderly widow in his congregational lived alone in a house on about 100 acres out in the Barrington countryside. Helen Wilkins had no relatives and was reasonably well off. She wanted a will. However, Len warned me that Helen was frugal to a fault and because of her isolation and age, would be out of touch with the cost of legal services. She would probably consider any fee more than a couple of hundred dollars to be exorbitant. And she wanted a home visit!
So I took my (financial) lumps and visited a lovely old lady. Helen was near 90 and frail, she exuded peace and was mentally sharp. She was wearing some type of house dress and invited me in to share tea. Her husband had died many years before, perhaps 30 if I recollect correctly. Her primary activities were attending church—a member would give her a ride—and listen to Moody Radio.
Since she and her deceased husband had no near relatives, she informed me that she wanted to leave everything, in equal shares, to ten Christian organizations. I explained that her primary concern should be arranging for proper care and financial management should she become incapacitated. She agreed to set up the “Helen Wilkins Revocable Living Trust” wherein she would designate a Trustee to handle her finances in the event she could not. She named Len and Les, her banker as co-trustees. After working out a modest fee, Helen and I agreed I would return in about a month so she could execute the documents. I would arrange for Len and Les to join us. Meanwhile, Helen would decide which ten groups to designate, and we would fill them in at the meeting.
On the appointed day, the three of us arrived. Helen greeted us and sat us down for more tea and a surprise. Delighted, she announced that instead of ten organizations, she would name only four plus four. She turned to Len and said, “I want you to name two, Les, you name two, and Mr. Mauck, you name two!” Helen designated her church and Moody Radio and two others. I was enabled to designate Jews for Jesus and Jesus People U.S.A.
About a year later Helen departed. For the following year after that God provided me interesting, meaningful and remunerative legal work winding up Mrs. Wilkins’ financial affairs and negotiating the sale of her land to a developer. And very typical of our awesome God, he added the privilege of steering about $75,000 to each of two ministries He and I both loved at a time when Rosemary and I were on a tight budget with one income and four kids!
So God showed me that He could take even the weakest of obedience (three no’s followed by a reluctant yes) and turn it into a huge blessing. He showed me that lawyers should practice what they preach!