A Middle Class Man: An Autobiography, Chapter 41: Sale of the York Street properties

Chapter 41: Sale of the York Street properties

Author: Alistair Knox

The following year saw the pre-Christmas optimism diminish as our work dwindled to nothing. The expected profits whittled away, and it became obvious that the test that had encouraged me had said nothing about taking the problems away - only about giving me the ability to bear them. The past had to be settled, but now I was ready to do it. Margot and I owned three buildings, on two adjacent pieces of land. I determined to sell them and start again, if possible. I felt that since I intended to use the funds to pay off my creditors, I would be permitted to do so without change of price, without any agent, and at the right moment. I had no idea what Margot and I should or could do except look around our district for land that I could not, at the time, afford. I made the problem a matter of prayer in which I asked the Lord to give an answer 'Yes' or 'No' from the Scriptures as to whether or not I was to build at all. It all seemed so outlandish that I nearly didn't ask. I kept saying, 'In the Scriptures, God never told anyone to build a house'.

In the meantime, I made my best builder, Peter Hellemons, my partner in a new building company; this left me free to get on with planning. Except for the last few months, the combined activity had been so complicated that I found it nearly impossible to do anything with sufficiently detailed accuracy. I was always so far behind with my accounting. I could succeed at either planning or building; it was combining the two that was difficult. The money I made from planning was swallowed up in the building costs. The whole process of dealing with the clients - from conceptual thoughts about designing a building to the placing of every screw and nail and the settling of every account - was so stretched out that it was almost impossible. Even the best clients would occasionally phone up years later expecting something to be done, for friendship's sake, that was beyond the bounds of sanity.

The gradual return of contract work allowed me to plan, receive payment for it, and then hand the construction on to Peter, who was able to build and return half the profit as well. For the first time, I was actually accumulating a little money. I also made it a condition of my prayers that I believe that if I were told to build a new house, it was to be done only for free, or for raising loan money. I was putting my faith to the test and avoiding any sense of duplicity. The whole thing would have to be a miracle because I simply did not have five percent of the necessary funds.

I wrote to all of my creditors, advising them of my position and asking for time to pay. They all more or less agreed to my request, and over the next two years I managed to settle every account owing, though it did claim every penny of my three properties. There was nothing left over. The couple renting the large house on the property entered into a verbal agreement to buy the experimental building for the exact sum I believed I should sell it for, and all went well until a valuer, acting for the bank proposing to lend on the property, valued it at £500 less than the purchaser thought he should. My tenant, Fred, saw me on the tennis court the next Saturday morning and said I should reduce my price by the recommended amount. I had been agreeably surprised by the valuation, and was confused by this turn of events. I was for the first time in my life prepared to stay out of any compromise and leave it all to God's economy. I said to the purchaser, 'Fred, I wouldn't let you have the house if you didn't really want it, and the only other thing is that I am sorry I didn't raise the price'. This remark caused him to rush around Eltham, trying to purchase some other house I had constructed. I was still puzzled the following afternoon as to why the deal had fallen through when I had felt it was all so right. I happened to be in the house alone at five in the afternoon, about half an hour before the youth-fellowship meeting, and I felt I could spend the time profitably by glancing through the Bible. I opened it at random to a page in Chronicles, where I found King David talking to his son Solomon. 'Only obey the statutes of the Lord', said the King, 'and then you will prosper'. 'That's true', I said, recollecting how my war-time delinquencies had brought about my present condition. David continued to tell his son how he wished to build a house for the Lord but had been prevented from doing so because he had been a man of war. He had commanded that Solomon build it. 'In my sorrow', David continued, 'I have laid aside timber and stone, and you may add thereto'. 'How strange', I thought. I had been urged to lay aside some special timber and tiles for which I had no present use. David again urged his son to obey the statutes of the Lord and told him as well, that he had more than sufficient money set aside. 'Moreover', explained the King, 'you have beside you hewers of wood and of stone and men cunning in every manner of workmanship'. I thought this a perfect description of the seventeen men who worked for me. They were a combination of carpenters, stonemasons, adzmen, and other related occupations, all because of the environmental nature of our buildings. I just felt that it was all an interesting coincidence when David concluded, 'And now arise therefore, and the Lord be with thee'. I closed the Bible and heard an inner voice say, 'There's your answer'. I looked up in amazement. Within two seconds, I saw my departed client Fred and his wife approaching from some thirty metres away. As they came through the sliding-glass doors to where I was sitting, the purchaser blurted out, 'This is a very embarrassing situation for me. My wife won't have any house other than this one'. 'I am pleased about that', I said. 'I suppose it will take a month or so to settle'. There was no argument now about price, and to my surprise he ran from one end of Melbourne to the other for the next five days, like a man possessed, to settle the transaction within a week. I never saw such a change, from unwilling to willing in all my life. I was being taught that God's will can be discovered by four things. The first and most difficult is to really want to know, and to accept it. The second is to pray about it and to seek guidance, but not to leave it at that, because the god of this age also suggests things to us in our prayers. The third requirement is to find confirmation from the Scriptures. God is the true author of the Word, and He will never deny what it says. The fourth requirement is to wait for the propitious circumstance. These factors had all been present in the current circumstances, and I was astounded by how conclusive it all was.

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