Just today I heard a terrific businessman say that he tries to set his goals for the following year in mid-November so he can ease off and let them marinate during the holidays, then tweak them and be ready to charge forward come January 1. And immediately I thought of Phil Vischer, aka Bob the Tomato and the creator of VeggieTales. If ever anyone set a big hairy audacious goal it was Phil.
Phil believed God wanted him to create a “Christian Disney” company. He even called it “Big Idea.” The company soared. Millions were blessed. Then Big Idea went bankrupt. Phil had to sell Bob and his entire VeggieTales dream and work as contract labor for the new owners. He has a much different idea of goals and impact now.
When Phil told his story in his book Me, Myself and Bob we interviewed him on our radio show, The Things That Matter Most. (You can listen to the interview here.)
With the success of VeggieTales children around the world were hearing stories about God and Jesus that made them laugh. And made them think about sin, grace and redemption. And a heavenly Father who loved them.
Phil told us that the hardest part of his bankruptcy was asking the question, "What kind of God would stand back and watch a dream—a good dream, for Ministry and impact—fall apart?"
This is one of those questions that I’ve leveled at God too. And Phil wrote that, in time, God began to whisper an answer: "Beware of your dreams, for dreams make dangerous friends. We all have them…but dreams are, I have come to believe, misplaced longings…Because God is enough. Just God… And he isn’t ‘enough’ just because he can make your dreams come true…The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we’re pursuing impact. It occurs when we’re pursuing God…I realized God had let my dreams die, not because he didn’t love me, but because I was actually more important to him than any ‘good work’ I could possibly accomplish."
In our interview Phil talked about making an idol out of impact. If we focus on impact we will have a life of stress, anxiety and misery. His relationships with God and others were being slowly sucked dry by his massive striving to pursue his goal.
He has learned that if we focus on God we will have just the amount of impact that he wants us to have. And our life with God and others will be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control. He’s become convinced that what God wants us to do today has much more to do with loving the people around us than doing something big and impressive.
Actually it was a frivolous lawsuit that brought Big Idea down. A lawsuit that was thrown out on appeal. But not before it bankrupted Phil’s company. God could have changed the timing and protected Big Idea. But he didn’t.
We groan at the damage done by the secular entertainment culture and might think, Oh Lord, we NEED champions. Why would you allow someone like Phil to be taken out? He is such a devoted follower of Christ…does he really need to go deeper with you through the pain of these ordeals when he could have had SO MUCH MORE IMPACT?
I can only conclude that while I am deeply concerned about the impact of the gospel on our culture and being a voice of redemption, God cares so much more for the triumph of the gospel in Phil’s life. In my own life.
He cares far more about my worship than my impact. Not because he needs it. But because I do. So many dreams have died because of my rheumatoid arthritis. But God has given me so much more of himself, so much more joy and Life—the "true riches."
Phil Vischer is still the voice for Bob the Tomato and other VeggieTales characters. He is also at work on terrific new projects like Jelly Telly, What’s in the Bible and, my favorite, a Podcast you can download from iTunes or listen to here.
Above all Phil is grateful for God’s radical pursuit of his heart. I am too.
And as I begin to think about my goals for next year…I want to hold them lightly…and listen well.